Access to energy is widely acknowledged as an enabler for development, and a lack of energy is a barrier to economic empowerment. Currently just 12% of the Malawian population have access to the national electricity grid, with rural electrification at only 5.3%. Solar photovoltaic (PV) microgrids offer increased access levels over pico-solar systems and solar-home systems, and are a successful rural electrification method in many areas of Africa. This paper addresses the research question of: “what is the market potential for solar microgrids in Malawi?” through a multidisciplinary methodology and outlines necessary steps to overcome the key risks and barriers for implementation nationally. Case studies of existing initiatives in Kenya and Rwanda have been used to inform a system and business design appropriate to Malawi. The market potential of PV microgrids in Malawi has been identified and quantified through a novel approach combining microgrid optimisation software HOMERPro with Geographic Information Systems tools. The methodology also includes an energy ecosystem mapping exercise to identify and frame influencing parameters affecting microgrid implementation nationally. The findings show that solar microgrids are cost competitive with diesel microgrids in all locations in Malawi, although the addition of dispatchable diesel generation may provide economic benefits in larger, more urban systems. To implement solar microgrids would cost approximately $210 per person and average operational expenses of $17 per person per year. It was determined that 42% of Malawians may be most cost effectively served by existing infrastructure, 37% would be best served by microgrids and 21% would be best served by solar-home systems.
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