The sight of about 35 drums of diesel in congested passenger ships destined for Likoma and Chizumulu exposes the huge price Escom is paying to supply power to the island district in Lake Malawi.
Insiders say the cost shoots from K80 000 to K450 000 when Ilala and other reliable, affordable marine vessels become unobtainable, leaving the State-owned Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) with no option, but to hire boats.
However, a renewable engineer has come up with findings which show Escom could actually cut the cost by half by harnessing solar and wind power instead of relying on three 250kv diesel-powered generators as is the case presently.
Dr Collen Zalengera, who works in the Department of Renewable Energy at Mzuzu University (Mzuni), unveiled his hybrid system in Mzuzu when Malawi Institution of Engineers (MIE) organised the first-ever public talk expected to ensure innovations do not die in laboratories and lecture rooms.
He said his experiment included models that completely eliminate diesel use. However, he said the hybrid system, which cuts the use of fossil fuel to just 10 percent, was found to drastically slash the cost of providing power to the islands which get electricity 14 hours a day.
In an interview, Zalengera said: “For years, an opinion has been gaining sway among engineers that the diesel power generation is very expensive.
“When I was doing my PhD studies at Loughoborough University in the UK, I conducted this study into the cost implications of the existing system and proposed a diesel-photovoltaic -wind model which can cut the cost tremendously.”
According to the study, Escom currently spends about $1.1 million a year on providing power to the island.
Escom switches off its grid 10 hours a day, but Zalengera’s suggested system would need $800 000 to provide power all day every day.
“By using the diesel generators, the real cost of supplying energy at Likoma Island is about K382 per kilowatt hour; while using solar photovoltaic and wind power would cost K190 per kWh. Thus, by using solar and wind power, it would reduce the subsidy on electricity cost on Likoma Island by 44 percent,” he said.
The engineer said he shared the innovation with Escom who expressed reservations with it because it would require an initial cost of nearly $4 million to establish the wind and solar generators.
But Zalengera was resolute in his findings, saying: “The country has to choose whether to invest now or in future. But change has to come.”
The audience touted the presentation as groundbreaking, with MIE regional president (North) Francis Gondwe calling it a great start of a series of talks envisaged at increasing engineer’ involvement in developing the nation and ensuring innovations are disseminated to relevant role players.