Malawi continues to suffer deficits in almost all areas of energy as demand continues to outpace supply, the second Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS II) review report has shown.
This is despite government, through the MGDS II, moving towards solving energy problems in the country.
According to the MGDS II report, lack of equipment and technical know-how, low investments in off-grid electricity technologies and low levels of adoption of alternative sources of energy have constrained the sector.
During MGDS II implementation from 2011 to 2016, government focused on the liberalisation of the exchange rate, reintroduction of the automatic pricing mechanism and allowing for full pass-through from international prices to local pump prices, a development which resulted in rising prices of fuel on the local market.
With regards to the power sub-sector, government has also literally failed to meaningfully increase electricity access to the people. Electricity penetration is at a paltry 10 percent, which is the lowest in the region and the world.
Although there was an addition 64 megawatts (MW) from phase II of Kapichira Hydropower plant, the report indicates that capacity still remains lower than peak demand; hence, persistent power outages.
The report suggests that Malawi needs to diversify from hydro-electricity and Shire River, transform the Rural Electrification Fund into a fully-fledged Energy Fund to fund power development.
Further to that, the review report suggests the adoption of measures for efficient implementation of energy policy and scaling up investments in off-grid electricity to reach all rural social services, remote rural areas and poor households.
A local development partner in the energy sector, Community Energy Malawi (CEM), believes the country has done little to promote renewable energy technologies to tap into other available sources such as solar, geothermal and municipal wastes.
The firm’s country director Edgar Bayani noted that the country has not strengthened efforts to understand why it has failed.
He said: “Since 1964, the country’s electricity generation capacity has stood at around 351.1MW before it was upgraded to 361MW after combining the newly-installed 10MW and six megawatts diesel plants in Lilongwe and Mzuzu respectively.
“This signifies that Escom has done little to diversify its energy generation sources to increase available power for Malawians and their industries.”
Weighing in on the same, Chikumbusko Kaonga, senior lecturer in environmental sciences at the Polytechnic, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said time has come for Malawi to diversify its energy sector.
He said Malawi stands on a dangerous path due to climatic factors that continue to threaten the availability of enough water for electricity generation.
“Malawi needs to diversify its power sources further. Hydro-electricity in our country relies on Shire River and we have been having problems each year.
Although it looks as if it is impossible [for the Shire River or Lake Malawi to dry up], both of them can dry up.
“In actual fact, there is a record that in the early 1900s, Shire River stopped flowing for close to 18 years before it resumed. At the rate which the environment is being destroyed, there is a realistic chance for that happening again,” he said.
Kaonga said there is need for alternative sources of energy, stressing that apart from solar energy, there is need to start generating electricity from coal.
“We can also supplement hydro-electricity by allowing people or organisations to generate electricity from the water falls on a number of rivers that we have.
“Government can easily work out how exactly this can be done such as giving licences to people and organisations to operate at a fee,” he said.
Grain Malunga, who once served as Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining said on Tuesday the energy sector can improve if the country ventures into regional integration.
He said: “Malawi isolated itself from regional partners. Our neighbouring Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique were connected to Cahora Bassa long time, but because we thought rains would suffice our needs for a long time here we are.
“What we need to do now is to go into regional integration. Once we integrate with our regional neighbours, we will not lose out from what is happening in the region in terms of energy as we will be able to share the energy sources.”
Currently, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) has been split into two entities. n