Malawi is said to be endowed with untapped renewable energy sources such as biomass wastes from sugar cane, but little has been done to exploit the product for power generation.
The current generation capacity of Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) stands at 351.75 megawatts (MW) against a demand of 350MW, essentially failing to supply households and businesses with the required power.
Paradoxically, this is happening at a time Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited is producing 19.6MW of electricity which could supplement what is provided by Escom on the national grid.
The Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE)-listed sugar manufacturer blames capital requirement as its biggest constraint to increase its power production, besides the prevailing commercial bank interest rates.
Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited public relations officer Ireen Phalula, in a response to an e-mailed questionnaire this week, said previous investigations done by Illovo Sugar Group based in South Africa revealed that both Nchalo and Dwangwa factories could generate more electricity if the correct equipment is installed as well as steam optimisation is done in the factories.
She said currently, both mills cannot generate electricity on a large-scale because of the equipment installed, adding that he amount of fibre available on the sugar estate can generate up to 45MW if the correct equipment is installed.
Said Phalula: “The company needs high pressure boilers, back pressure turbo alternator sets, electrification of the drying mills and other equipment to become more steam efficient plus process steam optimisation.”
A look into other sugarcane-growing countries such as Mauritius, an Indian Ocean Island, for instance, shows that the industry has occupied a prominent position in their economy.
There, power plants are privately owned and the programme has been a landmark in that it shows how government, corporates and small planters can cooperate.
Their economy has, through the industry, increased its competitiveness in electricity generation, an approach experts have recommended to other sugar cane-producing countries worldwide to harness.
According to deputy director of energy in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Joseph Kalowekamo, efforts by government to explore and promote off-grid renewable energy generation and use targeting sites that are far from the national grid are on course.
He said with a view to widen the energy resource base and supplement the current hydro-power electricity generation, government is actively pursuing exploration and development of grid-connected renewable energy systems from resources such as solar, wind, geothermal and co-generation using biomass waste.
“We are discussing with various potential investors who intend to venture into grid-connected renewable electricity generation. We are considering electricity generation from bagasse and intend to expound on this generation capacity because there is potential to generate more electricity from these two sugar mills that could be fed into the national grid,” said Kalowekamo.
He said government, with technical and financial support from the World Bank under the Energy Sector Support Project (Essp), is currently conducting a feasibility study on expanding electricity generation at Nchalo in Chikwawa and Dwangwa in Nkhotakota.
“Preliminary results have shown that over 40MW could be generated from these two sugar mills for own consumption and feeding into the grid.”
While boasting numerous advantages of bagasse over traditional electricity generation, Kalowekamo said other technical, financial and regulatory challenges are hindering the development.
He said: “Co-generation of electricity from bagasse is attractive as it combines low cost, efficiency and social benefits with the provision of clean and renewable energy. “But currently, Malawi does not have adequate information and data on the potential of bagasse co-generation to be able to decide on whether and how to tap the power from the sugar industries and connect to the [national] grid.”
Kalowekamo said there is need to look for other feedstock materials that could be used for electricity generation during off-season to supplement the bagasse.
Meanwhile, under the guidance of Millennium Challenge Account-Malawi (MCA-M) to increase power production, government is unbundling Escom to attract private sector participation in the power sector.
Feasibility studies on potential hydro-power sites such as Kholombidzo and Mpatamanga on Shire River, Lower Fufu in South Rukulu, Chimgonda on Dwangwa River and Manolo on Songwe River to interconnect with Mozambique and Zambia are underway.
Government is also rehabilitating the 24MW Nkula A Hydro-power Plant to extend its lifespan and add between six and 12MW to its current capacity. It is also set to construct the 300MW coal-fired power plant at Kammwamba in Neno. n