Energy Generation Company (Egenco), the company established to generate power, says consumers should expect improved power generation this year compared to last year.
This, they say, is because the country has this year received considerably higher rainfall and most tributaries of the Shire River—the source of 90 percent of the country’s hydro power—have some water flowing compared to last year when rainfall was low.
But power generation experts are skeptical and have put their heads on the block warning that the country will soon roll back to the end of the blissful ‘power all day everyday’ enjoyed since December 2018 because Malawi relies on Run of the River (RoR) schemes to generate power which cannot sustain power generation for the whole year.
Egenco spokesperson Moses Gwaza observed in a response to a questionnaire this week that Malawians should expect a continuation of improved generation because the company and its partners have put in place measures to ensure sustained generation beyond the rainy season.
“We have been using the water in the lake [Lake Malawi) sparingly in anticipation of the dry season. As you may be aware, the Kamuzu Barrage at Liwonde has just been upgraded and is more efficient now. This will help us use the water resource even more prudently as the barrage is able to keep more water in the lake,” he said.
According to Gwaza, with the lower rainfall last year, the Shire River flow at the barrage was regulated at 115 cubic millilitres per second while this year, the Shire is being regulated at 135 cubic millilitres per second.
“Between January and March 2018 the average production of hydro electricity was 194.7MW with a daily average maximum production of 232.6MW, while from January until now, the average production is 210.8MW, with a daily average maximum of 260.8MW.
According to Gwaza, Nkula A, which was under rehabilitation last year, is now fully operational and adding 36MW to the national grid.
Going forward, Gwaza explained that Egenco will commission diesel generator projects with 10MW at Kanengo in Lilongwe as well as buy 20MW from Nanjoka Salima Solar Project.
“We are also upgrading Tedzani III to add 10MW by the end of June this year. All these efforts will ensure we have enough power generation for the country.
“We are constructing Tedzani IV with support from the Japanese government, which will add 18MW by 2021. There is very good progress on this project with 40 percent of the works completed. We are also doing feasibility studies for expansion of Wovwe Power station,” he said.
Other projects in the pipeline, according to Gwaza, are the establishment of hydro power stations at Mpatamanga in Chikwawa, Kholombidzo in Blantyre Rural and the Lower Fufu in Karonga, where feasibility studies were already completed.
But two energy generation experts Dapper Chapalapata, a former employee of the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) and Grain Malunga, former minister of energy and mining told Weekend Nation they believe the seasonal power shortages will continue until the country constructs high dams to store and regulate water.
All hydro-power schemes on the Shire River are RoR schemes which only generate more power when seasonal river flows are high. There is need for our utilities to invest in technologies which can supply base-load power, such as thermal power plants, according to Chapalapata.
He, however, observed that there are other causes of power generation in the country, apart from diminishing river flows. According to him, poor revenue collection and management, insufficient system capacity, interference into Egenco and Escom operations by stakeholders, poor customer service and care and poor quality of power supply are equally to blame.
He criticised the use of diesel generators to solve power problems in the country, observing that diesel generators are normally run as standby plants, to run for short periods of time, because they are not cheap to run.
In January last year, Escom leased diesel powered generators from Aggreko in Dubai at a cost of K190 billion for the two years they will be running after the country’s hydro power stations’ generation capacity reduced to 145MW against a demand of 300MW. The gensets added 78MW to the national power grid.
The commissioning of the gensets resulted in a 24.67 percent increase in electricity tariffs.
On his part, Malunga blamed Escom for spending money on the generators deal for which Malawi will still pay the full amount of K190 billion despite that they are not being used now.
“Escom will still pay that money, whether the generators are working or not; then add that amount to the cost of the fuel Escom is buying to run the generators,” he said.
“The K190 billion is enough to build a new 100MW hydro plant that would generate power for over 40 years,” Malunga observed.
But Escom spokesperson Innocent Chitosi, who shared Gwaza’s views on the capacity of the country’s power generation plants this year, defended the hiring of the generators, saying, as of now, the country still needs them. n