Glasgow Caledonian University

The centre for Climate Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University takes a global lead in action research and policy development within the field of climate justice. Our aim is to deliver pragmatic and lasting solutions which improve the wellbeing of society, enhance peoples rights and promote a climate-just world. Our work in Malawi so far has focused on climate justice, education, energy and water security.

Project 1: Impacts of solar mini-grids on tackling energy poverty for women in rural Malawi

Investigating the impacts of limited access to energy (namely electricity) on women in rural areas of Northern Malawi and explore the benefits of solar mini-grids for rural communities.

Glasgow Caledonian University 2

Area of work: Climate Justice, Gender, Renewable Energy, Solar
Location of work:
Northern Districts

Project lead:
Eilidh Watson
Contact Details:

Partner organisation:
Currently exploring potential partner organisations within Malawi

Funding: Glasgow Caledonian University
More information:

Description of project

Energy poverty is defined traditionally as having no access to basic energy services like electricity. Despite reports of recent progress of improved electricity access figures, the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that the world is not on course to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7.1: “Ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030”.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the IEA states that annual rates of connection would need to be tripled every year to attain on average 60 million people per year and achieve SDG 7.1. The population without access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is 600 million people, equating to 57% of the population (IEA, 2019) with 15 countries within this region having access rates below 25% (IEA, 2019). Malawi is one of these countries, the population with access to electricity is only 14.6% (IEA, 2018).

Electricity access is particularly low in rural areas, estimated to be less than 3%. This is a challenge for Malawi as there is a low urban population with over two thirds of the people residing in rural areas. Therefore, it is estimated that a high percentage of the population is experiencing energy poverty.

This research focuses on exploring how limited access to electricity is affecting women in rural areas, primarily as it is often a women’s responsibility to secure energy resources for a household. In order to meet household energy needs, women are responsible for collecting traditional sources of fuel like biomass, in the form of firewood and charcoal. With pressures from deforestation and climate change intensifying, collecting firewood is becoming increasingly difficult and women are spending more of their time collecting energy resources.

This research aims to explore, through qualitative interviews, what women in rural communities of Malawi hope for in terms of future energy aspirations and gain an insight into their energy reality. As women in these communities are often responsible for securing energy provisions, it is important for their knowledge and experience to be listened to.

In addition to this, this project aims to investigate the impacts of solar mini-grids for women within rural communities. Technological advancements of solar mini-grids mean that solar power in this form could be a low cost solution to meeting one aspect of a household’s energy needs.

Key successes and outcomes so far

The research project is within the first year. The research so far has involved completing an extensive literature review on the topics of energy, gender and climate justice. The next stage of the research project involves a field trip to Malawi between May and August 2020 to the Northern District in order to collect data.

Future and ideas for partnership development

Eilidh Watson is interested in collaborating or working with any academics or organisations that are working within energy spheres of Malawi. In particular, anyone working within rural communities in Northern Malawi with a focus on access to electricity.

In addition to this, Eilidh Watson is interested in connecting with other PhD students or researchers that plan to visit Malawi in 2020 and are looking for research partners.