Most Malawians living in urban areas are frustrated with Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) and the power supply issue has been covered widely by the local media.
The most recent article that triggered much debate is the K587 million operating cost for the Mzuzu gensets per month.
One might ask if this proposed solution of installing diesel-powered generators is sustainable or if it is environmentally friendly.
According to the article that appeared in The Nation of Monday, November 13 2017, 500 litres of fuel is needed to run one genset per hour. The amount translates to 1 500 litres per hour for the three gensets which are expected to be installed.
Considering that it has been planned that the gensets will be running for 16 hours per day, it means 24 000 litres of diesel will be required per day.
Studies have shown than one litre of diesel produces 2.6 kilogrammes (kg) of carbon dioxide with complete combustion, hence, 24 000 litres of diesel will produce 62 400kg of carbon dioxide per day.
This is not different from unsustainable charcoal production that a good number of Malawians are practising in the rural areas as a source of livelihood. It is the same 62 400kg of carbon dioxide which is produced from 13 866.7kg of charcoal or 395 bags of charcoal as standard bag of charcoal weighs 35kg produced from cutting down of trees on 0.97 hectares of land.
The analysis is only limited to three gen-sets that will be installed in Mzuzu city but we know that most government agencies, pathetically including Escom, organisations and companies are using gensets on a daily basis which means more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
Though Malawi is a net emitter of greenhouse gases, both charcoal production and use of diesel powered generators result in environmental degradation, mainly air pollution, through the release of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases which cause global warming and climate change.
Environmental problems are trans-boundary and climate change has emerged as a major impediment to effective planning and development in Malawi. It is severely impacting on people’s livelihoods through adverse climatic hazards, including dry spells, seasonal droughts, intense rainfall, river line floods and flush floods.
However, Government of Malawi has been implementing various projects and programmes such as National Climate Change Programme (NCCP) that aim at enhancing the adaptive capacities of the vulnerable communities and resilience to climate related shocks, as such, the installation and use of diesel powered generators is in conflict with government initiatives on climate change management.
Let the Government of Malawi organise itself on the issue of providing gen sets to the country. There is a need for more consultations and strong collaboration among government agencies and key stakeholders involved in energy sector. In this article, Government of Malawi refers to civil and public servants not a ruling party.
The following are suggested ways on how the government can deal with electricity challenges: Government through Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) should partner and support local engineers that have managed to develop mini-hydro power plants such as Turbines Energy Company run by Hastings Mkandawire who have installed 100kw power plant from Nkhokoma River in Nkhatabay, Kasangazi Hydroelectric Power Plantrun by Cored Nkosi who has installed 600 volts power plant from Kasangazi River in Mzimba among others.
Also, government should conduct capacity needs assessment and feasibility studies to upgrade the mini-hydro power stations to guide further steps that should be undertaken. Additionally, further areas in Malawi should be explored in which mini-hydro-power plants can be installed to support the main grid.
The government should also remove tax and if possible subsidise all solar-powered equipment in order to reduce demand on the use of electricity. These proposed solutions will save K7.04 billion which will be needed to purchase 8.6 million litres of diesel per year. Let us implement solutions that have long term benefits than short term benefits. n