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A nation which failed to harness the wind

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In 2002, at the age of 14, William Kamkwamba, a boy from Wimbe in Kasungu built a wind turbine to power a few electrical appliances in his family’s house.

Kamkwamba built the turbine using blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials collected in a local scrap yard.

Thereafter, Kamkwamba built a solar-powered water pump that supplies the first drinking water in his village and two other wind turbines.

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Kamkwamba later gained international fame across the world as ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’.

But 14 years down the line Malawi have failed to take the inventions of one of her own children, Kamkwamba, to the next level.

Today, only seven percent of the estimated 18 million population has access to power despite the country having plenty of strong winds.

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In addition to strong wings, Malawi also boasts of scorching sunshine all the year round.

Walking across the townships of the commercial capital, Blantyre especially at night one could be shocked to hear the deafening screams of city dwellers every time the lights go off.

Similarly, the power is greeted with plenty of joy every time it gets back.

Worst energy crisis

Despite having creative minds such as Kamkwamba, Malawi is this year facing one of the worst power crisis in history.

Poor rains received during the last growing season have resulted in water bodies such as lakes and rivers experiencing significant reductions in water flow.

The Shire River, which is Malawi’s lifeline in as far as power production is concerned, with almost all the power stations built along has been hit hard.

According to the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) hydro-electric power generation has dropped by 43 percent to slightly over 200 megawatts, due to the low water levels in the Shire River.

The development has created a deficit of close to 150 megawatts as the current energy generation capacity is pegged at 351 megawatts.

Putting all eggs in one basket

Over the years Malawi has over relied on grid energy generated through hydro electric power at the expense of other energy mixes.

For example, about 95 percent of power available in Malawi is hydro generated.

But according to Power4All, overreliance on grid energy by African countries have left the nations to be more vulnerable to any shocks in the supply chain.

According to the nongovernmental organization, putting all the resources in one form of energy is like putting all the eggs in one basket.

As Malawians continue to grapple with countless blackouts, Independent Power Producers (IPPs) who signed a memorandum of understanding with the government to produce solar power are expected to add 70 megawatts to the national grid by early next year.

Minister of Energy Bright Msaka said at the weekend that government is working tirelessly to address energy challenges in the country while at the same time considering the welfare of the consumers.

“We have various plans that will see the country producing over 1,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020. However, there is a need for short term solutions to the problem.

“One of the solutions is the installation of diesel generators and the other is the solar energy. Solar plants are most quick and faster way of generating power as they can be built within a period of three to four months,” said Msaka.

He, however, said the government is weighing economic options on power generation, so that consumers are not hit hard in terms of tariffs.

“We have to weigh both sides in terms of the economic scales. As the government, we can provide the power as soon as possible but at a higher rate which may hurt the consumer. So, we have to balance up what the IPP is charging and what the consumer will pay.

“Already, electricity in the country is cheap as compared to other countries and if the power is bought at a higher price, then it means as the government we will continue to lose out,” he said.

Msaka, however, could not be drawn to reveal the names of the IPPs that have been given the go ahead to produce solar power in the country.

Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) Chief Executive Officer John Kandulu said when addressing the media last week that the improvement of the power situation in the country lies with the IPPs.

He said as of now 22 IPPs have signed an MoU with the government.

“There are 22 IPPs who have signed a memorandum of understanding with the government and the anticipated total generation capacity form the IPPs is 565 MW. three of these are currently at a Power Purchase

Agreement stage and out of the 22, one is in hydro power while the other two are in solar,” he said.

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