June 2023

Solar Panels Project

Solar Panels Project

In 2021 the Rotary Club Milano, with the help of various other clubs and in particular of our Rotary Club Milano Nord Ovest with regard to contacts in Malawi, supported a project that aims to save mothers and children and protect the environment.

Malawi is a small African landlocked country with no mineral or energy resources.  According to the World Bank, only 15% of the population has access to electricity and only 1% has access to clean cooking technology. According to UNICEF, the infant mortality rate before the age of 5 is 4.2%, only 50% of women are visited at least 4 times during pregnancy and only 84% receive postnatal care in the first two days after delivery.

The aim of the project was to equip the maternity and pediatric hospital of Balaka with solar panels: the hospital is managed a non-profit organization from Bergamo, Orizzonte Malawi / Andiamo Youth Cooperative Trust. The entire photovoltaic system was donated by the Italian ONG SEVA for Africa, which supplies alternative energy systems to Africa; the Rotary clubs bore the heavy costs of transport, customs clearance and installation. The project was a task force led by the Rotary Club Milano with the collaboration of the Rotary Clubs Blantyre (Malawi), and Milano Nord Ovest, Milano Est, Milano Europa, Milano Linate, Milano Ovest, Milano Sud Est, Milanofiori, of the Rotaract Club Milano PHF, Milano Duomo, Milano Europa Fenice, Milano Nord Brera, Milano Sant’Ambroeus, Milano Sforza and the Rotary Milan Foundation. The Rotary Clubs of London (UK), Brussels (Belgium), Den Hague (Netherlands), Berlin Brandeburger Tor (Germany) also participated.

The roof of the Comfort Community Hospital was covered by 88 polycrystalline photovoltaic modules for a total area of 145 m2. Before the project, the hospital was connected to the national electricity grid and had a generator which was switched on whenever there was a blackout. The frequent and prolonged blackouts were obviously sudden and they crated situations of serious danger for the patients, compromising the assistance that the staff wanted to guarantee to everyone. Hence the idea of creating an off-grid photovoltaic system that would supply electricity to the hospital, preferring the operating theatre, maternity and neonatology. The plant is also equipped with an accumulation system based on supercapacitors which allows the energy produced and not used to be stored during the day to be provided at night or at times when the photovoltaic production is not sufficient to cover the hospital’s needs. Compared to chemical accumulators, such as traditional lead-acid or lithium batteries, supercapacitors can be charged almost instantaneously, thus guaranteeing a very high specific power. Furthermore, they have a very high number of charge/discharge cycles compared to traditional batteries, allowing them to have a very long expected life. In addition, inverters have been installed that manage multiple inputs, identifying the main energy supply (in this case, photovoltaic generation) and the secondary ones (national electricity grid and generator) and allow to “switch” from one to the other immediately, guaranteeing energy to the hospital in any condition. This system allows the hospital to save around 25 – 30,000 Euros a year which can be used to purchase medicines and hospital equipment: on average, the hospital spends 81,500 Euros on medicines per year. The hospital has 18 beds in the maternity ward, two delivery rooms and several incubators. In 2022, the hospital handled 2,104 births, of which 185 by caesarean section, carried out 3,036 antenatal visits and performed nearly 18,500 vaccinations on children.

in addition to the hospital, Andiamo Youth Cooperative Trust /Orizzonte Malawi manage four kindergartens in Balaka, a secondary school, a technical institute and a boarding school to house 500 students, a technological pole, a shelter for almost 50 street children, and has created also the musical group Alleluya Band, on top of the Malawi hit parade and ambassador of the  projects of the NGO. They are also setting up a library to allow young people and the local community to savour the pleasure and the enrichment of reading: in Malawi books are extremely rare and considered a priceless treasure.

Three of our members went to Malawi to see this project and found very satisfied staff with this new situation which allows them to better follow all the emergencies in the maternity hospital. They also met some members of the Rotary Club Blantyre, local partner of the project, and exchanged experiences and ideas.

This project was coordinated for our club by Barbara Martellini, who traveled with Anna Maria Catano and Margherita Ghirardi.