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Sustainability of Solar PV Systems in Malawi

Buckland, Hannah and Frame, Damien and Dauenhauer, Peter and Eales, Aran and Strachan, Scott (2017) Sustainability of Solar PV Systems in Malawi. [Report]

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    Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems can offer a low carbon, low cost and economically competitive method of providing electricity in such remote areas unlikely to be grid connected in the near future. As such, they are being installed in significant numbers across sub-Saharan Africa. Malawi’s off grid PV installed capacity has increased from 0.2 MW in 2007 to 5.7 MW in 2017. In 2012 there was an estimated 7,000 PV systems present in the country. Despite the increase of installed capacity, many solar PV systems fall into disrepair, usually only achieving 10% of their lifetime expectancy, due to lack of maintenance, poor initial design, end-user misuse, or insufficient ownership and business model strategies. Research into factors that affect sustainability of off grid PV systems is needed to support identification of appropriate interventions and ensure project longevity with reduced lifetime costs of systems serving rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. The study employs a novel scoring method which is used to support a sustainability evaluation of 65 off-grid community solar PV projects in Malawi. Projects are scored against the technical, economic, social, and organisational factors. An aggregated (total) sustainability factor is proposed here as a good early measure of project sustainability; however, there is insufficient evidence currently available to validate the accuracy this method as a predictor of long-term sustainability i.e. continued data collection and analysis of these sustainability factors, over several years, is required to obtain a sufficient evidence base to enable a deep understanding of the relative influence of the different sustainability factors for community energy projects in a variety of contexts.