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Installing a clean energy minigrid in Mahavelona, Madagascar

Will developing countries benefit from the renewables boom?

Africa GreenTec Madagascar
Installing a clean energy minigrid in Mahavelona, Madagascar

Will developing countries benefit from the renewables boom?

Climate and Environment

The UN is helping to ensure that developing countries benefit from clean energy. In Madagascar, a promising initiative is showing the potential of clean electrification to change lives.

The technology already exists to bring clean energy to rural communities in developing countries that have previously never had access to any kind of electricity. However, as Moritz Brauchle, managing director of Africa GreenTec Madagascar, explains, these countries will continue to need support to turn their backs on fossil fuels.

Africa GreenTec is a social enterprise which provides sustainable energy solutions to some of the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa currently living without any access to electricity. With backing from the UN, the company installs minigrids – stand-alone networks run on renewable energy – to supply people in a small community or town with clean electricity.

Mr. Brauchle spoke with UN News ahead of the first ever International Day of Clean Energy, marked on 26 January.

UN News: What difference can access to clean electricity make to people’s lives in Madagascar?

Moritz Brauchle: It gives me goosebumps when I think about it. When we began our pilot project in a village in 2021, everything was pitch black by 6pm. The day was over. People would go home, cook and go to bed.

As part of the project, we installed solar street lights, cooling and clean electricity. Now, people are selling ice cream and juice on the streets, and they can go to the cinema. The rice mills that used to run on diesel are no longer polluting the air. 

UN News: What proportion of the population is living without electricity?

Moritz Brauchle: Around two thirds, unfortunately. The state utility is struggling with financing to expand the grid and connect more people, and they are currently running on diesel, which is very costly and polluting.

So, we go into areas in sub-Saharan Africa, where the people have no access to electricity whatsoever, and we build solar power plants with battery storage and a distribution network and really create energy access from scratch.

Using solar power, combined with batteries for storage, we can achieve a 20-hour supply of electricity in a day. In the last year and a half, we have had two outages lasting between three and four hours. This is better than many traditional grids.

UN News: Is it possible to connect minigrids to cover a larger area?

Moritz Brauchle: That's actually what we are currently working on, together with the German development aid agency: interconnecting minigrids to electrify a complete region. That’s what we plan to do in the next couple of years and in the really long run, integrate into a national grid system.

UN News: Your company receives grants and support for your installations in Madagascar. Can this technology be commercially viable in developing countries without this kind of help?

Moritz Brauchle: Yes, but two things would have to change.

First of all, we would have to earn more from carbon emissions certificates. This means receiving more money because we have helped to reduce carbon emissions by either replacing diesel generators or avoiding the need for new ones.

Secondly, we would need support from the state or, if the state is not capable of doing that, from an international organization such as Sustainable Energy For All to set up the grids because it is costly to start from scratch. Once that is done, we don’t need any subsidies to generate the electricity.

UN News: Was it hard to convince the authorities in Madagascar to move to this kind of energy production?

Moritz Brauchle: No, they’re strongly supportive, and we’re getting cooperation from the Energy Ministry. However, they need time. The regulations were set up for diesel generation, and we have to request environmental permits and submit studies. We need to get rid of this to get more people connected more quickly.

Mahavelona, in rural Madagascar (file)
Yann Raz/ Africa GreenTec Madagascar
Mahavelona, in rural Madagascar (file)

UN News: What would you say to people in developing countries arguing for the right to develop their fossil fuel reserves?

Moritz Brauchle: We do hear those kind of arguments, and I must say, who are we to tell them to keep those resources in the ground?

For those countries, it’s an income stream. Look at Norway, which is extremely green. It got its wealth from fossil fuel resources.

If we want the Global South to keep oil and gas in the ground, we have to come up with a solution, subsidizing renewable energies and providing compensation for the loss of the income stream.

The Africa GreenTec minigrids projects in Madagascar are supported by the Universal Energy Facility (UEF), which is managed by SEforALL.