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The year of blackouts

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While Malawians have been complaining of poor power supply for many years, 2016 has been described by many as one of the worst in Malawi’s power supply history.

With power outages extending for as long as 12 hours, the situation crippled households and industries country wide.

Electricity has for years been a major obstacle in doing business according to the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) Doing Business Survey released every year.

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This technically shows that the production sector, especially manufacturing industries, is feeling the pinch, due to persistent power blackouts experienced in the country.

But for a country to attract investors, there is a need for consistent power supply.

Despite the many updates power supplier Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) gave to the public, all fingers kept pointing to them and the government for failing in their duty to provide electricity to the people of Malawi.

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But should Malawians indeed blame Escom and the government on the persistent power blackouts?

Escom’s stand

Early October, Escom held a press conference where they gave out an update on the power situation in the country.

The utility body warned that the blackouts will get worse by December if water levels in both Shire River and Lake Malawi will not improve.

Escom reported a reduction in power generation from 200 megawatts (MW) which they were pumping by then to 165MW, representing a power drop of 67 percent.

On the day, Escom Director of Generation, Evance Msiska, said water levels in Lake Malawi had hit their lowest levels in history, making it difficult to generate power.

“This, in turn, corresponds to 165MW of power generation, which is a reduction of 67 percent from the total capacity. This would be a critical situation which would make it impossible even to provide any service to industry and even some essential services. Operating at the current flow of 140 cumecs is unsustainable. Currently a discharge of 115 cumecs is recommended for sustainability.

“With the current operating flow of 139 cumecs, there will be enormous operating difficulties in the months of September to December 2016. Hence, Escom determined that it will be prudent to reduce the operating flow from 139 cumecs to 115 cumecs,” he said.

Msiska, however, said there were medium to long term interventions that Escom was undertaking.

The interventions include use of energy saver bulbs, load shifting for industries, cross border power connections, installation and commissioning of diesel generators in Lilongwe and Mzuzu and procurement of emergency power facilities as medium term solutions.

To date Escom has managed to install the diesel generators in Lilongwe and also procured 5 million energy saver bulbs that will produce about 70 MW.

The bulbs are already in the country and distribution is expected to commence this month.

And what is the government doing in order to improve the situation?

During a recent development rally at Masintha Ground in Lilongwe, Minister of Energy, Bright Msaka outlined the government’s plans to address the situation.

Government’s short-term and long term plans

Msaka touted that the government is seriously looking at addressing the power situation and making the power blackouts a thing of the past.

He said the government has plans that will see the country generating over 1,000 mega watts by the year 2020.

However, this did not come out without a blast on Escom, as the minister said the power utility body had failed Malawians.

First on the plans to address the power situation is the go ahead which the government has given out to some Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to start producing solar power.

The introduction of the IPPs, enables the country to diversify its energy source from hydro to other sources like solar, coal and geothermal among others.

According to Msaka, the IPPs are expected to produce about 390 MW of power which is more than the country’s power production for the past 52 years.

The 390 MW are expected on the national grid by next year.

Apart from the solar projects, the government is also banking its hopes on the Kam’mwamba coal fired thermal power plant project which is funded by the Chinese government.

The power project is said to be in its advanced stages and the first phase which is expected to be operational by 2019, will produce 300 MW.

Msaka also said apart from the Kam’mwamba project, there are other projects that are expected to commence in the next two years that will see over 600 MW of power being produced in the country.

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