Loughborough University
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Evaluating opportunities for sustainable rural water provision using solar PV in sub-Saharan Africa: a case study of Malawi

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posted on 2017-11-13, 16:49 authored by Esther Phiri
Globally, approximately 663 million people lack access to safe drinking water sources and nearly half of these people live in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where only 68% of the population has access to improved drinking water sources. Globally, it is estimated that 79% of the people using unimproved sources and 93% of people using surface water live in rural areas. In terms of water for agriculture, most of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa rely on rain-fed agriculture, which is threatened by the effects of climate change thereby worsening food insecurity. Adequate provision of drinking and irrigation water is believed to enhance development in areas such as health, education, food security and women empowerment. This interdisciplinary study used a mixed methods approach to develop a financing and decision support model for planning and analysing of sustainable rural water provision using solar photovoltaics (PV) in SSA, with Malawi as a case study country. The research methods included household surveys, stakeholder interviews, field visits and techno-economic analysis. Findings from the household surveys show that the current water sources are inadequate; the majority of the households used boreholes as their main source of water and they faced challenges, which included queuing, low yield, non-functionality, disparity in number of water points, theft and vandalism. For irrigation, households still rely on traditional methods of irrigation namely; watering cans with very few having treadle pumps, which are all labour intensive. From the stakeholders point of view, challenges included lack of finances, failure of current community management system, lack of coordination and lack of enabling policies. In the techno-economic analysis, a solar PV system was designed to supply approximately 200 households with drinking water. The design cost was calculated to be US$18,600 and the levelized cost of water was US$0.34/m3. The levelized cost was found to be almost six times what the households are currently paying and three times what they are willing to pay. To address this issue, the study developed a cross-subsidy model for the cost of water with that of basic energy services, particularly rechargeable lantern lighting and mobile phone charging. Using this model, the levelized cost of water was reduced by over half but is still two and a half times what they are currently paying for water. Further innovations were found to reduce the breakeven cost to only US$0.06 more of what they are currently paying. The novelty of the research is that no work in SSA, particularly in Malawi has developed such an all-inclusive integrated needs-driven approach that helps identify solar PV powered water provision solutions. These results provide baseline data for researchers, policymakers, planners, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders with interest in providing water and energy to the rural areas. This thesis recommends that with proper finance and management policies, enforcement of product and installation standards and training of households, solar PV can be used to improve access for drinking and irrigation water and at the same time provide basic energy services to the people living in the rural areas of SSA.


Commonwealth Scholarship Commission.



  • Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering


© Esther Phiri

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en