If the ambitious programme Malawi government has laid out to undertake between now and the next few years is anything to go by, then the country will be bidding farewell to blackouts in not so long a time. All things being equal.

Msaka We want to make power outages history - Pic by Kondwani Magombo

Msaka We want to make power outages history – Pic by Kondwani Magombo

Available information reveals that currently, ESCOM is struggling to serve its 354,000 connected customers across the country with 6,000 new customers getting connected every month against the current installed power generation capacity of 361MW.

A backlog of 26,897 applicants awaiting connection continues to haunt the power supplier while demand for power is projected to reach 430MW in 2016/17 and 860MW in 2020.

Presently, load-shedding of power has reached irritating levels with businesses being interrupted every now and then as ESCOM forecasts more blackouts. But both government and the power supplying parastatal are not sitting idle.

“The current situation is as a result of the environmental degradation of catchment areas and river banks,” explains Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bright Msaka, SC.

“Preliminary estimates, based on the 2015/16 Lake Malawi level profile, indicate that with the available flows, the available power plants will only be able to generate up to 50% from their capacity.”

Msaka, whose Ministry is championing Power Sector Reforms, says government has put up short, medium and long term plans to make the issue of power outages history.

On the menu is a very ambitious plan the country is geared to take by venturing into alternative options besides hydro-generated power, in the wake of falling levels of Lake Malawi and Shire River, key water bodies that turn ESCOM’s electricity turbines.

On short term measures to deal with the persistent power shortages rocking the country, Msaka says Malawi is finalizing discussions to immediately get power from Zambia and Mozambique through the border towns of Mchinji in the west and Villa Ulongwe in the south east.

“With the current situation in Malawi, a request was made to tap supplies at distribution level through Mchinji, where Zambia’s ZESCO have extended their network and reinforced it through a new substation at Chipata West,” explains Msaka.

He adds: “It is envisaged that ZESCO can supply Malawi with power of about 10MW to 12MW, and similarly, negotiations are well advanced with Mozambique to get supply of close to 8MW of power.”

Both countries are vetting power supply agreements, which are expected to be concluded by the end of this month.

In the short term, ESCOM is also acquiring a total of 78MW of Emergency Power Plant on lease basis, for an initial estimated period of 18 months, subject to the severity and duration of the capacity problem.

Commissioning of the 78MW is expected end of December 2016. This will make power supply available and reliable to consumers with reduced load shedding. Right now government has installed diesel powered generators at Kanengo in Lilongwe, with a generation capacity of 10MW.

Very shortly, another 6MW diesel powered facility will be operational at Luwinga in Mzuzu, while a similar plant for 20MW will be up and running in Mapanga in Blantyre by mid next year. From this, the country’s three major cities will soon be generating a combined load of 46MW before the end of next year.

To reduce the pressure on the available power, the Government is also procuring 1.2million Energy Saver Bulbs and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) lamps this month, to be distributed freely households in high density areas. Another consignment of 800,000 LED lamps will be procured by February 2017. These will replace the incandescent bulbs that consume more energy, which most households are using in the country.

The minister says to promote use of energy saver bulbs, the Government will soon ban importation of all incandescent bulbs.

As part of the Power Sector Restructuring-which government is implementing with ESCOM, Miillennium Challenge Account, the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority-the energy minister says government has liberalised the power market, which in turn has seen a wave of applications pouring in from Independent Power Producers (IPPs) interested to join the country’s power sector.

And this has created a buzz of excitement in the industry, and for consumes that have been yearning for reliable power all along.

Out of the projects submitted to government by various IPPs, one area that stands out is solar power production. A number of the IPPs have indicated their interest to into this type of technology, and from this about 70 MW comes handy, ready for injection into the grid. This is what the electricity grid can absorb given its current base load of 361 MW.

Of the dozens of IPPs that have signed memorandum of understandings with the government, about four are quite advanced, and are expected to sign Power Purchase Agreements with ESCOM by end of this month.

Also on the cards is the Chinese funded Kammwamba Coal Fired Plant, which is expected to be fully on line by the year 2020, adding on the grid another 300 MW of power.

“Everything being equal the first fruits of this project will be realized by mid-2019, when the country will be able to tap 100MW of power from this unit and the rest by the end 2020,” explains Msaka.

The Minister continues: “Three other private sector investors are also in discussion with Government to develop coal fired power plants. These are Mchenga Coal Mine (80MW), Millenium Energy (250 MW) and Intra Energy in Chipoka in Salima.”

“When this coal fired power plant projects are fully realized, they will add 750MW to the system,” he says.

Under hydro technology, a number of projects are also on the cards. Through the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), two hydro power projects will spring up on the Shire River, namely Mpatamanga and Kholombidzo. Together, when commissioned in 2021 and 2022, these will bring an additional 350MW and 200MW respectively.

Other projects, according to Msaka, are the Lower Fufu on Southern Rukuru in Rumphi with 170MW to be commissioned by 2021; Mbongozi Hydro-Electric Power project on Buwa River (41MW) by HE Power, an IPP and to be commissioned by 2020.

In collaboration with the Tanzania, Government is also sourcing funds for the Songwe Hydropower Project by 2022. With a generated potential of 180MW, the fruits of this project will be split up with the northern neighbours.

Also in the pipeline is the rehabilitation and modernization of Mkula A hydroelectric power plant by September 2018, which will release on the grid 12MW. Similar works will also be carried out on Tedzani III and IV power stations by 2017 and 2019 respectively. These two power stations will bring a combined load of 28 MW.

Malawi government, according to Msaka, is also exploring other options of increasing power generation through Heavy Fuel Oils (HFOs). A private investor InfraCo Africa Energy, has already shown interest to develop 80MW in Salima and this power plant will be commissioned by end of 2017.

Following in the footsteps of InfraCo Africa Energy is another investor, Green Heart Energy, which plans to go into a joint venture with ESCOM for the development of a 100 MW of power from heavy oil fuels. Forty five megawatts of this will be generated in Blantyre, while Lilongwe and Mzuzu will produce 40MW and 15MW respectively.

But according to the minister, the country’s current carrying capacity of power cannot handle all the anticipated power generation hence, the need for reinforcement of the transmission lines, a project currently under way with funding from Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), The World Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and ESCOM itself.

The carrying capacity of the transmission Lines will increase to about 1,150MW by 2018, which will match the anticipated increase in power generation by that time.

Under the transmission expansion and reinforcement project, a 400KV Transmission Line is currently being constructed from Phombeya (Balaka) to Nkhoma. Work on this project is expected to be completed by September 2018.

In addition, feasibility and detailed design studies are currently underway to upgrade the Transmission System from 132kV to 400kV and to construct the 400kV Western Backbone Transmission Line from Nkhoma (Lilongwe) to Karonga via Kasungu and Mzimba as well as Nkhoma to Chipata (Zambia) via Mchinji.

When this is in place, Malawi will be interconnected with her three neighbours with Phombeya Sub-Station as the landing point for the Mozambique interconnector, Nkhoma Sub-Station as landing point for Zambia interconnector and Songwe as landing point for Tanzania interconnector.

According to Msaka, all these projects have already attracted interest from the World Bank, African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank among others.

“These projects have also been listed as priority regional projects under Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) following an agreement government entered into with Zambia and Mozambique to have their respective networks connected to Malawi.”

He says studies for the two projects will be completed by May 2017 and the projects will be completed by 2019.

Furthermore, an effort to reinforce the transmission network, a double circuit 132KV Transmission Line will be constructed from Nkhoma to Nanjoka (Salima) to replace the wooden line from Nanjoka through Nkhotakota to Chintheche (Nkhata Bay) and join the new from Chintheche to Bwengu in Mzimba.

Sub-stations and lines across the country are also being upgraded to match the anticipated 1,150MW of power carrying capacity.

“The Government is not sitting idle waiting for Mother Nature to decide our destiny, we are taking the bull by the horns,” says Msaka, “We intend to turn our challenges into stepping stones to an efficient and effective energy sector, that will be a stimulant of national development.”

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