Let us get to the basics.
There is a public institution called National Statistics Organisation (NSO). Its task is to produce statistics on wide-ranging issues, including projection of population.
One of the reasons population projections are made is to help authorities in planning and in order to take appropriate actions to deal with the realities of the future.
That demand on social services would grow like it has happened was projected almost 4 decades ago. Apparently, authorities of the time (40 years ago) did not respond accordingly.
Successive administrations have had to grapple with the pressures of this lack of vision. Population has outgrowing the means by which the country can meet demands on socio-economic services.While the NSO kept making population projections, authorities, of then, did not accordingly match the investment in hydro-power generation capacities, for instance.
The population kept rising at almost 60 percent on average, for example, and we invested in power supply by almost 5 percent on average.Because Malawi is blessed with water, we got obsessed with that source of energy. We never cared to diversify into other sources of energy – coal, wind, geothermal.
Today, that lack of vision by our patriarchs is haunting the country.
Are you listening those of you from MCP?
The demand for power surpasses the capacity to supply it. The effects of climate change have worsened matters. Low rainfall has led to a drop of water levels or its availability in our water sources.
The reduced volumes of water have caused reduced generation capacities in our hydro power stations.
The heat continues to cause evaporation, further lowering the water levels every day, and so too every day the power generation capacities are further reducing.
Back to the statistics. The population growth projections would also have alerted the authorities (of then) that as population grows so demand on means for economic survival would increase.
There was therefore need for visionary investment in schools, hospitals, roads and job creating activities. But as population boomed, investment remained lax.
Today, our water sources cannot manage to meet the demand for water. Our dams were built like our population would stagnate.Our hospitals cannot cope. Our roads are either always congested or they are wearing out easily because they were not planned for the kind of traffic they take every day, today.
Our schools cannot take more than their sizes. The investment in job creation activities was low. Consequently, we created a cadre of a population that had to find its own means to survive.
The environment took a hit. Every available tree got cut to produce charcoal for sale or used for creation of settlements or indeed to erect burners for tobacco processing. Hunting for animals for subsistence or sale led to the torching of bushes and destruction of forests.
The growth in families created need to create more space to accommodate gardens. In the process of doing this, vegetative cover that would hold water flows when it rained got depleted. The river banks also lost its cover. Rivers remained bare to the heat of the sun. Evaporation took its toll.
As the rains became more erratic; the rivers, without cover, lost its volumes of water; the lake started dwindling; and its outlet – the Shire River – lost is swagger too. Downstream, the waters into the turbines that spin to produce electricity lowered.
So here we are.
A Government that came into office two years ago, cannot reverse the effects of the omissions of four decades in a fortnight.
Government’s don’t operate on miracles. They operate on strategies.
The omission in our development strategy to expand the circle of power sources cannot be blamed on this government.
The blindness of our President of 40 years ago cannot be blamed on Arthur Peter Mutharika.
Let Mutharika be blamed for sins he has committed, not the sins of others.
Suffice it to say, with regard to the failure to invest appropriately in the power sector for which the country has to reel under the current challenges, Mutharika has committed no sin.
A story is told that power supply improved under one Joyce Banda. What is never told by those story tellers is that she came into power after the Bingu administration had just finished maintaining our hydro supply capacities at Kapichira.
These story tellers will also appropriately omit the fact that Joyce Banda never faced two consecutive droughts which have drastically affected the water levels in the lake.
Or, if the story tellers could be asked, which investment did Joyce Banda make to add width to our power supply?
The DPP does not want to play politics with a matter that is central to the life of the nation.
Doing so would be petty. And DPP is not petty. That is why this administration has embarked on a number of initiatives to address the chronic irresponsibility of the past.
46MW Diesel Peaking Plant
A total of 46MW will be out-rightly procured by ESCOM, and these were already approved in the 2013-17 base tariff application.
The purpose of the investment in Diesel Powered Generation projects is mainly three-fold: first, to provide standby plants as a quick fix solution to the current capacity deficit, especially at peak periods.
Secondly, to improve voltages in the Central and Northern regions, and optimize transmission losses on the network.
Thirdly, to provide standby capacity for smooth planned and emergency plant maintenance.
Phase I of Procurement of 10MW (Kanengo) and 6MW (Mzuzu) Diesel Peaking Plant
Currently, 10MW diesel peaking plants were procured, installed and commissioned in March, 2016 at Kanengo in Lilongwe. These machines were being run for 4hours each day for five days in a week during peak periods as per the tariff agreement with the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA).
We have engaged the regulator to extend the operational hours of the diesel units to make up for the demand. During, the same Phase I, 6MW of diesel plant is being procured and to be installed at Luwinga in Mzuzu. The offer letter has been provided to the Supplier. It is planned that these units will be commissioned in February, 2017.
Once these units are operating at optimal level, we expect our valued customers to experience reduced load shedding and improved voltages in Lilongwe and the Central Region.
This has not been the case in the past because of the severity of the low generation capacity due to low river flows in the Shire. Therefore, the plan is to fast track procurement of Phase II (30MW) of Diesel Peaking Plants and hiring Emergency Power Plants.
Phase II of Procurement of 30MW
In Phase II of Diesel peaking plants, 30MW will be installed and commissioned as follows: additional 10MW at Kanengo in Lilongwe and 20MW at Mapanga in Blantyre. These units are scheduled to be commissioned by June 2017.
This will have an impact on additional capacity, improved voltages and reduced load shedding.
78MW Emergency Power Plant
A total of 78MW of Emergency Power Plant is to be acquired by ESCOM on lease basis for an initial estimated period of 18 months, subject to the severity and duration of the capacity problem. This is being expedited and all things being equal, commissioning is expected end of December 2016.
This, again, will result in availability of reliable power supply and reduced load shedding. It is envisaged that realisation of the project will among others; help to minimize economic losses or costs to households and industrial production, which is estimated to have gone down.
These anticipated gains will consequently, help to reduce cost of doing business, which in turn, will improve the country’s competitiveness in the regional market.
This initiative will assist in closing the generation gaps, restoring supply to industries and stimulate economic activities across the manufacturing sector.
Procurement of 70MW of solar power from Independent Power Producers (IPPs)
Malawi has opened up the power market through the ongoing power sector reforms. This has seen a wave of applications from Independent Power Producers (IPPs) interested to join the country’s power sector.
Currently a number of IPPs have expressed interest to invest in power production using solar technology. Considering the nature of solar power and system stability, a study was done to determine the initial capacity uptake of this technology.
The study concluded that with the base load of 351MW, the electricity grid can take up another 70MW of power from solar plants.
Currently, the process of getting participation of first PV Solar (70MW) into power generation from IPPs is quite advanced, and all things being equal, the first four Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) will be in place as soon as negotiations for the PPA’s are concluded and the procurement processes in line with the Public Procurement Act are finalised.
As the system gets reinforced through Government interventions supported by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), World Bank financing and ESCOM’s own financing, the capacity to take up more new transmission capacity will increase to about 1,150MW by 2018.
The new determination of various power generation technologies, including more PV Solar, sizes and timing is being considered and this is being addressed through the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). This plan is being developed and will be in place by April 2017.
Cross-Border Power Imports from Neighbouring Countries
The purpose of this initiative is to get quick assistance of power through distribution networks at the border town of Mchinji from Chipata in Zambia.
Negotiations are at a very advanced stage and power supply agreements are nearing conclusion. 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. It is envisaged that ZESCO can supply Malawi with power of about 10MW to 12MW.
Similarly, negotiations are well advanced with Mozambique to get supply through border towns of Mangochi (Chiponde/Mandimba) and Mlangeni (Villa Ulongue) from Mozambique. Close to 8MW of power has been negotiated.
Currently, both countries are vetting power supply agreements, which are expected to be concluded by the end of October 2016. When this power starts flowing, this initiative will ease the demand on border towns.
These arrangements are part of other existing quick interventions, which in the past have enabled Malawi to supply power to border towns of Zambia in Lundadzi and Chama through Mzimba District, and also to Zobue in Mozambique in through Mwanza, Milanje through Mulanje, Villa Ulongue, Lizulu, through Mlangeni in Ntcheu, Mandimba through Mangochi.
In the same spirit, Mozambique’s power utility, EDM, has now extended its networks to most of the towns except Zobue (Mwanza) and are willing to assist Malawi with supply to some of our border towns.
Power Interconnectors with Neighbouring Countries
Malawi and Mozambique entered into an agreement to interconnect their networks and also allow the country to be connected to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP). Currently, Feasibility and Environmental and Social Impact Assessments studies are in progress.
These studies will be completed by May 2017. The activities time lines indicate that the project will be completed by 2019. Through this line the country will be able to trade a minimum of 5OMW. The design of the line is to the maximum line capacity in the range of 250 -300MW.
Similarly, Malawi and Zambia entered into an agreement to interconnect their networks and also allow the country to be connected to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).
Currently, Feasibility and Environmental and Social Impact Assessments studies are in progress on Malawi side. A request has been sent to the World Bank to extend the studies to the short extension in Zambia between Chipata and Mchinji.
The studies will be completed around May 2017. The activities time lines indicate that the project will be completed by 2019. The design of the line is also to the maximum capacity in the range of 250 -300MW.
Kam’mwamba Coal Fired Power Plant.
As part of power energy source diversification, the Government is pursuing a coal fired power station project at Kam’mwamba, which is expected to add an extra 300MW to the grid.
Everything being equal, it is envisaged that the first fruits of this project will be realised by mid-2019, when the country will be able to tap 100MW of power from this unit and the rest by the end 2020.
Energy Saver Bulbs (LEDs)
This is intended to reduce demand by installing energy efficient lighting. The procurement of energy saver bulbs is in progress. These bulbs are more energy efficient by using a new technology in form of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) lamps.
Installation of these lamps will reduce energy consumption and free an extra 40-50MW of power, thereby creating a virtual power station. A total of 1,200,000 lamps will be procured by October 2016. This will be followed by another lot of 800,000 lamps in February 2017.
These will be complimented with other demand side management interventions such as power factor improvements, and off peak use of power in industries to reduce pressure on the system. This will be achieved by offering incentives in form of low tariffs to the industry.
Government is not sitting down on its laurels waiting for Mother Nature to decide our destiny; we are taking the bull by the horns. Thus, the public is hereby assured that we intend to turn our challenges into stepping stones to an efficient and effective energy sector that will be a stimulant of national development. (By Price Walter)