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Land demand stands in way of power deals

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The 22 Independent Power Producers (IPP) which government is courting for power supply may not roll out any time soon due to the amount of land the investors need for their project.

President Peter Mutharika told a rally at Chibavi School ground on Wednesday this week that once the IPPs start operation, blackouts that have riddled the country for a long time will be history and that extensive irrigation that the country has long cried for to boost food security will be made possible.

But Malawi News has established that three quarters of the IPPs willing to invest their money into solar energy power production will require close to 60 000 hectares of land to erect solar panels for production.

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A well placed source at Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) confided in Malawi news that the land matter has become one of the thorny issues in determining which IPP gets a Power Purchase Agreement.

“It will take longer than people think to have an IPP start operations in the country looking at the matter of land. Some of them have even complained that government is taking too long and that their financiers are becoming impatient,” said the source.

Solarmango.com website also says the area required by solar power plants, be it rooftop or ground mounted, is pretty significant.

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“While solar power has some critical sustainability advantages over fossil-based thermal power (coal or natural gas based), one of the key drawbacks of solar is that it recovers energy from a relatively diffuse energy source, sunlight.

“A 100 MW thermal power plant for instance would require less than 10 percent of the total area that a 100 MW solar PV power plant would,” reads the website.

A local expert Grain Malunga collaborates the information on the website.

Malunga estimates that considering the country’s terrain one mega watt of solar power can be produced using panels spread on 100 metres of land. This is equivalent to a full football playing ground.

Malunga says much as the country needs power, there is also need to do its homework first on the matter looking at the fact that most of the land in the country is in the hands of the people.

“Most of the land in the country is customary and it is very difficult for investors to go and negotiate with chiefs to acquire land. It would have been an easy go if government took steps to turn some of the land into public land in consultations with the chiefs.

“To give a licence or enter a mutual understanding is something else but going on the ground to negotiate is something different,” said Malunga.

Deputy Director for Energy, Joseph Kalowekamo could not respond to our questionnaire when contacted but he is on record confirming government negotiations with potential investors in power generation using solar technology.

The investors in negotiations for a Power Purchase Agreement are China Gezhouba, Bua Hydro Power Limited, Intra Energy Company, Multicoms Industrial Engineering Technologies Limited, Wems Limited, Dongfang Electric International Corporation, Maple Limited, Atlas Energy–Malawi, Rousant International Limited and China Sfeco Group.

Others are Water Wheel International INC (WWI), LM Intertec Solutions, CTI Africa LLC, Green Energy Turbines, CDC Group of United Kingdom, Grow Mine

Africa (Pty) Ltd, JCM Clean Power Development, HE Power – Malawi, Sinohydro, Africa Energy & Power Corporation, Ulalo Capital Investments Limited and AX-ON Africa Holdings.

Malawi has been reliant on hydro power supplied by Escom and there have been calls for the country to invest in more energy resources to improve availability of electricity in the country.

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