Malawi, like every other nation, needs abundant energy. Currently, it relies on hydro-electricity and, to some extent, diesel generators. Unfortunately, the hydro system is not providing the required energy and this is giving the people a lot of problems.
Solar projects are springing up in every corner of the globe, and it’s no surprise that this renewable energy has proven to be of importance at all levels. This technology continues to prove its cost effectiveness for businesses; particularly because it is cheaper and cleaner, thereby providing an option to diesel that pollutes the environment.
As highlighted above, many people and businesses agree that power captured from the sun is the world’s fastest growing source of energy. According to the recent Renewable Global Status Report (REN21), at least 75 GW of solar PV capacity was added worldwide in 2016 which is equivalent to 31 000 solar panels every hour.
In Malawi, specifically in rural areas, solar energy is visibly used to charge phones, lighting the houses, powering radios, among other uses. As solar proliferates, more people are now waking up to the power of the sun in order to generate electricity. Especially for off-grid systems, solar is literally giving power to the people.
Malawi needs power, and to be specific, it needs more consistent and reliable sources of power. Relying on diesel generators is financially unsustainable, even in those circumstances where they are only used for backup. Bright sun and falling solar prices have made solar competitive with the grid, meaning that solar is a key technological ally for governments wanting to lower cost of electricity for their citizens and businesses.
Throughout Malawi, national power infrastructure needs massive investment to turn it into a modern reliable network, capable of supplying enough power to meet demand. Inevitably, this also means that new sources of supply need to be found. The engineering challenge is on a large-scale and it is clear Malawi needs new power solutions and fast.
With solar, those solutions are here already. If solar energy is massively adopted, companies will no longer have to wait for upgrades to the electricity system to provide more reliable power. Businesses can purchase solar panels and combining them with energy storage to provide more reliable and lower cost power than an intermittent grid or a diesel generator can provide.
Businesses should wake up to the possibilities of affordable decentralised energy network, with solar feeding clean energy into the grid. Businesses should recognise that this approach allows for far more flexibility in the grid than relying on a utility company.
Aside from the need for consistent power, Malawi needs to move away from fossil fuels because of the negative impacts of carbon on the environment.
Factories and cars belching out fumes also pose a huge air quality risk, as well as major contributors to our changing climate. Malawi can set an example to the world in how development can be accelerated using cheap renewable energy to support business, a win-win for both the climate and our economy.
In fact, innovations in solar technology are advancing rapidly, with solar integrated systems helping in conserving the environment. The solar farm at Kamuzu International Airport is an example of what is possible in our urban centres. As well as providing electricity to the grid, the system enables the airport to be powered by solar electricity during day time. Solar uptake is increasing across Malawi, but in truth, the huge potential of the technology in our country remains largely untapped.
There is no question that solar is already delivering, from small domestic systems on roofs powering homes, to much larger multi-megawatt systems on the ground or on factory roofs supplying solar energy to businesses or national parks. These early examples of what is possible should point the way forward for Malawi to ensure a more diversified, reliable, cost-effective and robust energy mix for the 21st century. n