National policies

Catalysing Modern Energy Service Delivery to Marginal Communities in Southern Africa, “ Regional Micro Hydro Project"




Over 60% of the population in the three countries live in sparsely populated rural areas out of reach of the central electricity grid which makes it technically and economically costly to extend electricity to serve them. Decentralised options such as MHS provide a solution in reducing energy poverty and drudgery.

Project Description

The lessons from this case study are derived from a 5 year project funded by the ACP – EU Energy Facility. It was developed and implemented by Practical Action in partnership with Malawi (Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust) and Mozambique (Kwayedza Simukai Manica) from 2007 until end of 2012. The main objective of the project was to improve access to modern energy services and increase uptake of renewable energy technologies in the energy mix in poor rural areas of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The specific objectives of the project were (i) Adapting and promoting at least 2 viable and innovative micro hydro schemes (MHS) delivery models (ii) Enhancing capacity for all relevant stakeholders in planning, designing and implementing decentralised community MHS (iii) Addressing the policy barriers to promotion of decentralised community MHS (iv) Strengthening local industry, government and finance institutions to support growth of MHS.The overall long term objective of the project was to improve access to modern energy services and increase uptake of renewable energy technologies in the energy mix in poor rural area of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Adoption, adaptation and application of community based management models in the establishment and running of micro hydro power systems was also emphasised.The project installed 8 new decentralised micro hydro schemes and rehabilitated 5 each with a design capacity of less than 100kW to serve remote rural communities.


45,000 men, women and children in rural communities of Mulanje district of Malawi, Manica Province of Mozambique and Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe, 10 Private Energy Enterprises, Rural artisans and blacksmiths, Manufacturers and equipment vendors, local partners,15 community based organisations


The project installed 8 and rehabilitated 5 mini grids. The combined generation capacity was 345kW . The energy services provided included electricity to health facilities, schools, micro businesses and households. The services in all cases were being provided at a fee and communities were trained in operation and maintenance of the micro hydro mini grids.The project removed the policy, technical and institutional barriers that limited the development and use of renewable energy sources to meet the energy needs of off-grid communities. The project created a enabling environment for the commercial uptake of the technology and stakeholder participation. Three business models for energy service delivery at community level were tested and include private energy entrepreneur ownership, community based and a mix between community, public and private initiative. All business models successfully demonstrated and the mix arrangement has resulted in a social company called MEGA in Malawi.

Business Model

In Mozambique individual owned schemes were preferred. In Zimbabwe, all schemes were community owned with the composition and structure of ownership differing. In Malawi a company called MEGA owns the schemes. Financial sustainability was ensured through the different business models crafted around the scheme. To enhance revenue collection, pre-payment system was installed and this was more viable and sustainable as the consumer pays for the energy in advance.

Lessons Learnt

There is evidence among the poor communities that providing energy without productive end use of the service compromises the system financial viability. Naturally there are operation and maintenance costs and often in the absence of payment for those services the system will naturally die. Also providing services for meeting basic requirements need a backup of ability to pay and often in rural communities’ livelihoods options are not diverse making it difficult to get extra income to pay for energy services. Ability and willingness to pay is also crucial. Making communities pay for electricity they use without linking to energy economic activities is a cost to the community.

Key Feature

Project has been a case study used to develop the policy and regulatory conditions for mini grids at SADC level. It is being replicated in various forms in the region. In Malawi we have the MEGA which is a social enterprise concept that builds on the model by regional hydro and seeks to integrate a series of small hydro to provide power at a commercial scale to rural households. In Chipendeke Zimbabwe, the project model focussed on energy for social services with the use of prepayment facility for billing and tariff setting. This has been replicated in Himalaya and Ruti by OXFAM and Practical Action with priority of connection given to business set ups. NGO’s and government partnered to address the policy issues MERA (Malawi),REA (Zimbabwe) and FUNAE (Mozambique). Monitoring brought to the fore the issue of beneficiary counting in terms of access and its definition. Partnership management and technical team in charge of designs and implementation oversaw the project implementation.

Other significant information

The project improved lighting and reduced dependence on paraffin for households which are connected to electricity. A marked increase in income was realized after the project as revealed by recent household surveys which show growth in the areas of self-employment i.e. small business from 6 percent to17 percent, cultivation (42 percent to 58 percent) and horticulture (6 percent to 28 percent) which were more pronounced. Use of refrigerators to store vaccines and drugs hence reducing the distance travelled to grid electrified health centres. Lighting at the health centre made it possible to have 24 hour maternity delivery services. There was a marked improvement in study time for pupils and planning and marking time for teachers as a result of access to lighting. There is also increased enrolment for pupils and staff establishment and retention of teachers. The quality of education has improved through the use of electricity powered teaching aides.

Main Donor

European Commission
(International agencies)

Implementing Actor

Practical Action (NGOs)