So much necessary ado about our electricity


Remote monitoring of Escom’s transmission system remains one of the challenges the utility company is facing in its quest to provide reliable power to consumers.

Imagine a power line falls in the bushy and mountainous areas of Dedza. It stays in that state for some days as Escom, the country’s sole electricity utility supplier, tries to locate the fault, place of occurrence and magnitude.

Meanwhile, consumers affected by the fault continue living in darkness.


For ages, this has been the challenge Escom and players in the energy sector have struggled to do away with completely.

Personnel at the power supply cannot be everywhere, every time.

They rely on goodwill of the general public to notice a fault and report, a practice which in itself is flawed.


Well, this should be history in the next two years; thanks to the $350.7million United States funded Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact which will see installation of a system that will check this problem as one of its projects.

The project has brought in the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (Scada) system.

Susan Banda, Millennium Challenge Account Malawi Chief Executive Officer, says the system is critical because it will assist engineers in real time monitoring, planning and optimisation of Escom’s transmission systems spread over the country.

Banda said during the official announcement of the engagement of French firm, Alstom Grid, as the contractor entrusted with the responsibility of installing the system.

“The Scada will ensure Escom has a reliable and cost-efficient operation of the power system,” Banda added.

The French firm boasts 125 years of experience and a presence in over 100 countries.

Alstom Grid will among others establish a Scada system at Escom National Control Centre in Blantyre, provide Scada and Energy Management System software for supervision and optimisation of the power system in the country.

The works, expected to consume about US$7.5million, will commence in October 2016 and complete in January, 2018.

The MCC Compact has three major projects – Infrastructure Development Project (IDP), Environment and Natural Resources Management and the Power Sector Reform Project.

The acquisition of the Scada system falls under the IDP.

Under IDP, the MCC Compact will rehabilitate, upgrade and modernise Escom’s generation, transmission and distribution assets in most urgent need of repair, in order to preserve existing generation, improve the capability of the transmission system, and increase the efficiency and sustainability of hydropower generation.

MCC funding will also support significant investments in the power system infrastructure to preserve generation, stabilise and modernise the transmission and distribution network.

The engagement of Alstom Grid came three weeks after four more firms were engaged to carry out a number of projects under IDP, one of which is the refurbishment of Nkula A Power station.

Andritz Hydro, an Austrian firm and Mota-Engil, a Portuguese company, will carry out the works expected to cost US$45million.

“The refurbishment will improve the reliability of the plant, extend its useful life, and thereby avoid a partial or total failure of the plant,” MCA-Malawi board chairperson, Simon Itaye, said.

MCA-Malawi has already signed a US$15.6mil lion contract with Chint Electric of China for construction of substations at Phombeya in Balaka, Nkhoma in Lilongwe, Chintheche in Nkhata Bay and Bwengu in Mzimba.

On the other hand, Larsen and Toubro of India have been engaged to construct two 400kV subs tat ions at $34.2m (K19.5 billion).

Kalpataru Power Transmission Ltd of India will embark on the construction of 132 KV and 400 KV transmission lines at US$30.9m (K17.6b) and US$23.0m (K13.1b) respectively.

“With the signing of these contracts, MCA-Malawi on behalf of Government is on time for works implementation and I can assure you that we will absorb the grant accordingly,” said Itaye.

On September 20, 2013, the MCC Compact entered into force signifying the commencement of the project. And the past 24 months’ efforts have been devoted towards preparations, working on detailed designs and procurement of works contractors for the Infrastructure Development Project (IDP).

The first and second halves of 2015 have seen MCA-Malawi with support from district council officials prepare the minds of persons affected by the project by among others training them in financial literacy in readiness for compensations and forming committees that are currently helping in addressing challenges arising from resettlement exercises.

The ground work is done and most of the contracts have been signed.

And with the contractors starting to mobilise for the works ahead, 2016 and beyond promises to be a busy year for the energy sector in Malawi.

Itaye forewarned contractors against subjecting host communities of these projects to environment and health hazards.

“The major challenge most communities encounter with infrastructure projects is the negative impact on the environment. The Compact has followed strict local and international standards to ensure we collectively manage the environment.

“So please take note of this because these communities will be well sensitised on the monitoring aspects and their role in communicating any issues that might have negative impact on their wellbeing,” said Itaye.

It is expected that with the successful completion of these works in 2018, together with the government’s commitment t o complete construction of Kapichira II, a huge increase in generation capacity (from 286 MW to approximately 356MW), network throughput capacity (from 260 MW to approximately 410 MW) will be achieved.

It is only when this is truly achieved that Malawi can safely talk of reliable power.

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