As the country ranked 174 out of 187 in the United Nations's Human Development Index, it is no surprise Malawi is also one of the most energy-poor nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Less than one per cent of its rural population is able to access its national grid and that figure rises to only nine per cent across the country. But victories are now being won in the battle to bring clean, green power to the country - and it is Scotland which is helping the fight.

Results published today show that a three-year renewable energy scheme led by Strathclyde University has benefited nearly 80,000 people in rural Malawi and brought reliable electricity supplies to schools, homes and health clinics in some of the country's poorest areas.

Funded by the Scottish Government to the tune of £2.3 million, the Malawi Renewable Energy Acceleration Programme (MREAP) has applied Scotland’s expertise in renewable energy to schemes in 48 communities across the country, resulting in initiatives such as a project to place solar panels on health facilities in the Chikwawa district, where malaria is rife.

Other initiatives include the installation of solar-powered pumps and lanterns, and the provision of biogas digesters which produce methane from so-called “green waste”. These can then be used for cooking and heating.

The MREAP scheme has also helped establish a fund for budding entrepreneurs - 14 grants will be made in all - and a new two-year postgraduate degree in renewable energy at the University of Malawi Polytechnic. It is hoped that this grass roots investment in education and business, alongside the small scale renewable energy schemes, will foster the expertise and commitment required for bigger projects which can start to supply Malawi's energy needs on a larger scale.

“The direct benefits that MREAP has brought to communities in Malawi by increasing access to renewable energy technologies is a real achievement,” said Professor Graeme Burt, co-director of the Institute for Energy and Environment at the University of Strathclyde. “Malawi now has a strong evidence base on which effective scaled-up programmes can be built.”

In January, two further renewable energy projects were confirmed as part of the Scottish Government’s £9m Malawi Development Programme 2015. One is a “micro-hydro” installation in Mulanje in southern Malawi, the other a scheme to bring off-grid electrification to four villages in the same region. Scotland will also be one of the first signatories to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which includes the commitment to ensure access to "affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy”.

Commenting on the work of the MREAP team and the ongoing efforts to help Malawi, Minister for Europe and International Development, Humza Yousaf said: “Across the developing world, a lack of access to cheap, reliable and clean energy is holding back progress. Nearly one in five people on this planet do not have access to stable modern electricity. In today’s world, this is unacceptable and a major barrier to introducing basic services in order alleviate poverty and reduce global inequality. 

“The success of MREAP is a testament to the importance of the special relationship between Scotland and Malawi. A project of the scale of MREAP not only benefits people in Malawi - who now have access to life changing modern energy solutions - it also opens doors for invaluable business and education opportunities for Scotland in the future.”