SDG7: SolarAid rolling out pioneering model to fast-track universal energy access in rural Malawi


SolarAid is a UK-based, pioneering international charity tackling poverty and climate change by providing access to clean, safe solar lights in underserved rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Through its social enterprise, they are developing innovative enterprise programmes for solar energy distribution to help progress universal energy access.

In recognising the need for urgent action and with a focus on reaching the poorest and most vulnerable with clean and safe energy, Light a Village was first launched in 2021 in an area where 97% of people live in extreme poverty. The aim was to test new models for distributing and maintaining solar lighting in remote, off-grid rural Malawi. The second phase which began in 2023 builds on the success of phase one, greatly increasing the number of homes serviced from 500 to 2500, and proved it was possible to install 1000 solar home systems every 10 days. 

High Level SDG Summit is taking place in September and this year extra attention is turned towards SDG7, access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, as it has been reviewed by the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). Nearly 590 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are currently lacking access to electricity and it is estimated that by 2030, 560 million will still be without electricity. To achieve full access by 2030, 100 million people must be connected each year.

Energy poverty forces millions to use toxic, polluting lighting sources such as kerosene lamps, paraffin candles and grass fire to see after dark. It hinders development, preventing people from working or studying after dark and countless fire related accidents are happening across the continent.

Light a Village applies an game-changing ‘energy as a service model', meaning customers simply pay the utility provider for the electricity they use which results in instant energy access at an affordable, flexible rate for the lower income communities of sub-Saharan Africa. This approach differs significantly from how energy access issues have been tackled across rural Africa for the last decade, whereby, in order to access basic levels of electricity, customers have had to purchase the systems.

The project which was funded by a combination of generous donations, and matched by the Turner Kirk Trust, has now lit up 2500 homes in the area, and is already recording energy access rates of up to 99% of rural households within focused geographies, as well as high payment and usage rates, exceeding 89%.

John Keane, CEO at SolarAid says, “The clock is ticking and current solutions will not reach the hardest-to-reach within the time limit of 2030 set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This model demonstrates that it is possible to achieve universal access to energy within a short time frame, even within one of the poorest, most remote, communities in the world.”

Kenedy Buleya, who lives in Tambalasajiwa Village and had his solar home system installed in April 2023 says, “It was like magic. We were all so happy and excited to finally have light in our home. It was a beautiful moment for all of us. I felt so happy and proud to have this opportunity at last.. We spent the whole evening studying and doing homework with my children. It was the first time they have ever been able to do this in our home.”

Now that we have light in our home, we won't need to use dangerous sources of light like straw fire. It's also better for the environment to use solar power instead of burning things like straw. I have learned a lot about solar power. I didn't know much about it before, but now I understand how it works and how it can be used to help us. I think it's a really great technology, and I'm happy that it's being brought to our village.”