Energy crisis: quest for a cleaner future


By Alick Ponje:


Several climate change and energy conferences that this country has held in the past two years or so have largely settled on the need to move away from biomass as a source of energy.

But champions of such initiatives are worried that government does not seem willing to immediately put in place proper transition measures from the dominant energy sources to more sustainable ones.


As more and more people continue to rely on unsustainable energy sources like charcoal, local environment, natural resources and climate change management specialist, Julius Ng’oma, wonders why Malawi is not capitalising on renewable energy initiatives to fund sustainable transitions.

He believes it is possible to arrest the energy crisis that this country is experiencing by exploring alternatives that do not pose hazards to the environment.

Ng’oma looks at the African Renewable Energy Initiative (Arei) as a rare enterprise for energy-constrained countries like Malawi to tap from.


“Malawi should also take advantage of the Green Climate Fund to support the transition to low carbon development pathways. The fund is keen on providing resources to developing countries to develop and implement large-scale or medium-scale renewable energy programmes,” he says.

The Arei is set to achieve an extra 10 gigawatts in renewable energy capacity by 2020, an equivalent of the capacity of 10 large coal-fired power stations.

In Malawi, authorities are not coming out clear on how the country intends to benefit from the initiative.

Still, Ng’oma is optimistic that Malawi can capitalise on the existing National Renewable Energy Strategy by making sure that strides are made to achieve various set targets.

“There will be need, therefore, to set aside enough domestic resources and to tap into the global climate change funds to support the strategy,” he proposes.

But, despite that during the last pre-budget meeting consultations, various stakeholders posited reducing or removing, altogether, duty on renewable energy materials like solar panels, little has been done on the same.

This leaves most Malawians sticking to the past—relying on hazardous energy sources like charcoal, which are degrading the environment and accelerating climate change.

“Government needs to explore alternative energy sources and investments in their development. Solar, wind and geothermal are some of the alternatives that can be harnessed and drive our economy and contribute to environmental sustainability,” Ng’oma says.

The Arei states that in, Africa, more than 600 million people live without electricity despite that the continent has largely untapped potential for using renewable energies like solar, wind, hydro power, biofuels and geothermal which could meet up to half of its energy demand by 2030.

“However, this requires a transformation of the energy sector. Unless Africa manages to switch to low-emissions technologies, it will enter a high emissions development trajectory,” the initiative warns.

Yet, this is exactly what is happening in Malawi as a multi-million dollar coal-fired power plant project is setting forth despite persistent concerns against the venture from environmental conservation activists and experts.

This is also happening at a time authorities are watching the country’s forests disappear, rivers dry up and Africa’s third largest lake drop by virtue of human acts in search of energy sources.

An associate professor in land and water management at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Kenneth Wiyo, warns that unsustainable energy sources would continue exacting a heavy toll on Malawi’s natural resources.

Wiyo states that, with over 95 percent of people in the country relying on biomass as a source of energy, the environment faces one of the most terrible risks as the population is also growing.

“Rural areas rely more on firewood (98.52 percent) and less on charcoal (0.35 percent) while urban areas rely on both firewood (39.8 percent) and charcoal (45.8 percent).

“Thus in Malawi’s case, high population means more trees being cut to meet the high domestic energy demands of a growing population in both rural and urban areas,” Wiyo states.

Yet, climate change is also affecting rainfall amounts and patterns. This year, Lake Malawi, which feeds the Shire River— on which the country’s biggest amount of hydroelectric power is produced—is at its lowest level in 10 years, threatening already troubled power generation.

Earlier in the year, at an efficient energy sources dissemination meeting, Director of Forestry, Clement Chilima, admitted that availability and affordability of clean energy sources can significantly protect the environment.

His department has on several occasions come under fire for failing to control the production of charcoal despite having in place a framework designed for the same.

Along main roads of Malawi, sacks of the energy source abound. At roadblocks, they easily pass through in the presence of forestry officials stationed to act in time.

And the National Charcoal Strategy, a 10-year action agenda to make cooking and heating cleaner and more sustainable in Malawi despite the growing demand for biomass fuels, seems to be failing in dealing with illegal charcoal.

However, Chilima hopes that the strategy, which was launched last year, would be propped up by campaigns for efficient, clean and sustainable energy sources.

In fact, the tragedy of most people trapped in the cycle of unsustainable energy services is a global one.

According to the United Nations (UN), three billion people lack access to affordable, modern energy services for cooking, heating and productive uses while more than 1.5 billion do not have access to electricity and a billion more depend on unreliable power grids.

“Smoke from polluting and inefficient cooking, lighting and heating devices kills nearly two million people every year, primarily women and children,” UN states.

And the Arei is clear about African countries like Malawi seeking change and promoting sustainable development through climate-friendly energy.

Perhaps now is the time for Malawi to remember the initiative and many others that are keen on funding transitions to more sustainable and cleaner energy.

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