Solar home systems in Malawi: Commercialisation, use and informal waste management

Christopher Kinally, Fernando Antonanzas-Torres, Frank Podd, Alejandro Gallego-Schmid

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To address electricity deprivation, the Malawi Government aims to provide off-grid solar products to 45 % of the country's population by 2030, currently in the absence of a waste management strategy. This paper addresses research gaps in the life cycle of solar home systems (SHSs) in Malawi, describing the flow of materials from import to waste disposal, to investigate potential environmental and energy justice issues relating to the national electrification policy. Fifty semi-structured interviews were conducted to describe the practices and perspectives of the actors in the SHS life cycle and informal waste management chain surrounding Malawi's capital city of Lilongwe: users, electronics repairers, scrap dealers, and informal lead-acid battery recyclers. The life cycle of SHSs is highlighted to be significantly impacted by the unregulated market landscape that suffers from a lack of supplier accountability, users' affordability constraints and a low understanding in SHS design and operation, resulting in frequent SHS failures. An established network of informal repairers and scrap dealers is described, effectively compensating for SHS faults and aggregating valuable waste fractions to sell to international buyers. The SHS waste flow is found to be dominated by lead-acid batteries, and the first description of an active informal lead-acid battery recycling industry in Malawi is made – posing severe health risks from the release of significant quantities of lead pollution into densely populated communities. Accordingly, Malawi's national electronification strategy is criticised for unjustly placing the responsibility for the management of the toxic off-grid solar waste flow onto energy-poor communities that are not aware of the associated hazards and do not have means for safe waste disposal. Finally, key principles for the development of effective safe waste management interventions are outlined from an energy perspective: fairly distributing responsibilities by recognising the perspectives and valuable roles of the existing actors within the waste management chain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-379
Number of pages13
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Early online date10 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


  • Off-grid solar
  • Energy justice
  • Sustainable development goal (SDG) 7
  • Lead-acid batteries
  • e-Waste
  • Informal recycling


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  • Electromagnetic Sensing Group

    Peyton, A., Fletcher, A., Daniels, D., Conniffe, D., Podd, F., Davidson, J., Anderson, J., Wilson, J., Marsh, L., O'Toole, M., Watson, S., Yin, W., Regan, A., Williams, K., Rana, S., Khalil, K., Hills, D., Whyte, C., Wang, C., Hodgskin-Brown, R., Dadkhahtehrani, F., Forster, S., Zhu, F., Yu, K., Xiong, L., Lu, T., Zhang, L., Lyu, R., Zhu, R., She, S., Meng, T., Pang, X., Zheng, X., Bai, X., Zou, X., Ding, Y., Shao, Y., Xia, Z. & Zhang, Z.

    1/10/04 → …

    Project: Research

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