A Solar Convergence: The Geographies of Solar Household Systems in Malawi

Mr Shanil Samarakoon1

1UNSW – School of Humanities and Languages, Sydney, Australia


With just 11% of its 17.5 million population having access to grid-based electricity, Malawi is one of the least electrified countries in the world. Like several sub-Saharan African nations, the pernicious impacts of energy poverty are disproportionately experienced by Malawi’s rural majority (over 80%), of which just 3.9% are connected to the national grid. In response, Malawian households are increasingly turning to off-grid solar technologies as a source of electricity for lighting, and powering appliances. It is estimated that between 10-15% of Malawi’s population are using some form of off-grid solar technology, ranging from entry-level solar lanterns to larger household systems. The growing importance of off-grid solar technologies is also reflected in the government’s “Malawi Renewable Energy Strategy” as it constitutes 50% (2.3 million connections) of the nation’s aspirational connection mix. In step with both local and global efforts to end energy poverty, international institutions like the World Bank and USAID have developed funds to catalyse market-based approaches to solar adoption in Malawi. However, as this presentation will highlight through ethnographic insights, the promise of Malawi’s liberalised solar market is complicated by issues of affordability, quality, low-levels of technical literacy, cross-border trade, and migration.


PhD Candidate  – UNSW School of Humanities and Languages

Lecturer – Centre for Social Impact, UNSW

Co-founder and Director  – Zuwa Energy

e: s.samarakoon@unsw.edu.au


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

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