Malawi has committed to achieve “Sustainable Energy for All” goal, as enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number seven.
Energy provides a platform for social and economic development and is a pathway for achieving many of the other SDGs.
The third Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) recognises this central role of energy, citing it as “the lifeblood of the economy”.
Inadequate energy supply is one of the major problems confronting Malawi and limiting its social, economic and industrial development. Electricity demand has been growing consistently at six to eight percent per annum.
The demand is being exacerbated by urbanisation, economic development, population growth and rural electrification. Only 10 percent of Malawi’s 18 million people have access to electricity.
Currently, water flow in the Shire River, which is the main source of hydro power energy generation, only allows it to produce up to 200MW or less against a maximum generation capacity of 351.75MW.
Looking at Malawi’s annual population growth rate of 2.8 percent, it signals a reminder that Malawi needs more energy.
Many Malawians use biomass (firewood, charcoal and crop residues) as fuel.
However, these result in indoor air pollution which causes severe human health impacts directly to the users, especially rural women. Moreover, the task of gathering traditional supplies of fuelwood is time consuming and exhausting.
This burden is borne by women and children, who are then diverted from other activities such as education and farming that could eventually have improved their productivity and living conditions.
As the demand for energy keeps increasing, the need for consumer awareness and dialogue on alternative energy resources becomes more pronounced.
The National Energy Policy recognizes that the full potential of the country’s energy resources is far from being realized and that we need more creative measures to promote greater access to modern sources of energy, efficient conversion technologies and end use appliances.
There are a number of alternative energy sources that Malawi can adopt. One of them is liquified petroleum gas (LPG). Gas is as popular in other countries as is electricity in Malawi.
On adoption of gas, Malawi has a good starting point since the country already has LPG on the market and biogas is not news for some homes and institutions.
Gas exploration could be part of the solution to the current energy deficit. Indeed, while waiting for the country’s resources to be exploited, one needs to look across the neighbouring countries of Mozambique and Tanzania where natural gas is now commercially available.
The main uses of natural gas would include cooking, power generation, transportation and nitrogenous fertilizer production.
More than 90 percent of Malawians use biomass energy (firewood or charcoal) to meet their basic household energy needs. This can lead to a doomed future for the environment.
Three factors underpin the large and growing reliance on charcoal in urban Malawi.
The first factor is cost, whether real or perceived – there is a belief that charcoal is a less expensive household cooking fuel compared to electricity.
The second factor is availability and reliability since, with charcoal, there is no equivalent of power outages or load-shedding. And the third factor is preference whereby in some cases it (preference) has been indicated as a reason that urban households cook using charcoal.
In the absence of viable and alternative household cooking fuels, Malawi’s urban population will not have other options than charcoal or firewood.
Within this context, if LPG evolves as a cost-competitive and reliable alternative household cooking fuel, then there would be potential for LPG adoption to decrease consumption of charcoal which, overtime, would result in decreased charcoal demand.
Over the recent past, a number of African countries have made strides in promoting LPG, including Senegal with 27 percent adoption rate.
The literature shows that many countries share common barriers to adoption of LPG in Sub- Saharan Africa in the areas of low affordability, accessibility and availability, and awareness. Relatively high initial costs of the cooking appliance and gas cylinder, along with the cost of the gas, undermine affordability, especially among low-income households.
Limited availability, storage, distribution, and cylinder filling and retail capacity as well as import-related vulnerabilities often undermine accessibility.
Many countries also face poor awareness of LPG as a viable, clean, and affordable alternative fuel. The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) recently urged journalists to up their game in reporting on the benefits of using gas as an alternative energy source.
The energy regulator also said it eyes an increased uptake of gas by three percent by 2023 from the current one percent. Mera figures show that 70 percent of gas is used by commercial users with the remaining 30 percent by domestic customers.
LPG – known in some countries as propane, butane, bottled gas or cooking gas – is a clean burning and efficient cooking fuel used by almost three billion people globally. It has long been an inspirational fuel choice for many urban and rural poor.
There are misconceptions surrounding the use of gas which need to be cleared. This calls for concerted efforts between the media and stakeholders to clear the myths.
The awareness of LPG is needed as it will provide correct information on the use. There are many people who are using gas without facing any problem but some people are afraid of using it because they have not had time to understand it.
Gas is cost-effective, easy to use and cooks faster. The time is now to go for LPG.
Justin Mkweu is a fast growing reporter who currently works with Times Group on the business desk.
He is however flexible as he also writes about current affairs and national issues.