Sitolo Solar Mini Grid Project

This is a UNDP/GEF supported project being implemented by Community Energy Malawi (CEM) which is a registered Malawian trust and was formed as part of the Community Energy Development Programme (CEDP) under the “Increasing Access to Clean and Affordable Decentralized Energy Services in Selected Vulnerable Areas of Malawi” project. The aim of the project is to provide clean energy sources in the vulnerable areas.The project is being implemented in Mchinji district in the Sitolo area which is situated 18 km from Mchinji Boma (and 12 km from the national grid), to generate and distribute power. Sitolo village is not included in the national Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (MAREP). The village covers 3 Village Group Headmen (Sitolo, Kuluzeze, and Faifi) under Traditional Authority Mlonyeni. 

Sitolo village has 300 households and 1 primary school and 1 clinic. The 80-kW solar PV facility will initially connect 150 households, grocery shops, a salon and barber shops, one bar, a maize mill, the local school and health clinic as well as six street lights. In future, the system coverage could include more households and other productive uses (such as milk cooling and metal workshops). Also, CEM Trading will have programme of selling solar Pico-products and battery charging in an ‘energy Hub/kiosk’ in the same area. 

The Project will involve the installation of a 80-kW solar mini grid complete with a 3-km radius transmission (11 kV) and distribution (400/230 kV) system targeting 150 households. This project is supported by UNDP working in close collaboration with Department of Energy Affairs with CEM offering on the ground implementation supervision of the deliverables. 

The project engineering design is done by Mzuzu University (Energy Department). A first modelling, based on the estimated peak demand of 28 kW and energy production of 300 kWh per day, an 80-kW system may not be able to meet all of the peak load (84%), even if the maize mill is not included. The system would cost USD 435,000 including equipment (with 164 batteries of 3300 Ah), accessories and installation, of which half would be covered by a grant provided through the UNDP-GEF project (plus an additional USD 100,000 for technical assistance and staffing, local capacity building and village awareness creation). At this capital cost of USD 435,000, the system could produce energy at USD 0.08 per kWh (break-even) and sell at USD 0.10/kWh (allowing for a small margin). 

 A second review of the energy demand (by CES) suggests a higher household demand (by including refrigeration). The village maize mill would represent the largest single load on the system. In the village expectations are high and local mobilization for the mill is well-established with the building for the business under construction. Without load management, it would take system capacity requirements beyond the 80-kW threshold. However, the inclusion of the mill will bring sustainable income to support system operation, economic development for the village, and wider socio-economic impacts with the time saved from not having to travel 18 km on foot to similar facilities.


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