Japan Helps Malawi Boost Power Supply

Lilongwe – The government of Malawi, with support from Japan, has embarked on a solar energy generation project to mitigate the country’s chronic power supply shortage.
Power shortage has slowed down manufacturing and industrial operations and has affected Malawi’s international airport in the capital Lilongwe.
Japan is providing technical and financial assistance to construct and install 830-kilowatt solar panels at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) to increase and improve power supply at the airport and surrounding areas.
Leading integrated manufacturers of solar photovoltaic (PV) products, Japan-based contractors Nishizawa and Takawoka, who have in turn sub-contracted a local company Mawelera, are managing the project.
Mzamu Khonje, a civil engineer for Mawelera, says the project will see the installation 472 solar panels, which will produce 830 kilowatts of clean energy.
This will be added to the national grid.
Currently, the national grid has a generating capacity of 280 megawatts compared to the national demand of 350Mw.
“This project will help in meeting the demand for electricity by the airport because there will be no blackouts compared to the current situation,” he says adding that, residents living close to the airport will benefit from the project.
Khonje says, when complete, the project will translate into savings for the department of civil aviation, which has been using a lot of diesel to power generators.
The work on the project started last October and completion is due in June 2013.
Malawi is the first beneficiary of the project in Africa, while a similar project is being carried out in Costa Rica.
Khonje says the project has been strategically positioned at the airport to demonstrate to both national and international visitors.
Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Moffat Chitimbe, says the energy shortage at the airport has greatly affected the operations of the landing field.
“This power shortage has negatively affected aviation operations, especially the lights which are crucial in the aviation industry,” he points out.
Chitimbe says sometimes the airport uses stand-by generators, which require a lot of diesel to generate the additional power required.
“In most cases, foreign and domestic aircrafts have difficulties to land due to inadequate electricity especially lights,” he observes adding, “The additional solar-generated power is a great milestone to the aviation sector because it will attract more international aircrafts.”
Business travellers have been complaining about the postponement or cancellation of their flights because of blackouts at the airport.
According to Chitimbe, the project is one of many projects the government has lined up to increase and improve power supply in the country.
Some of the projects include the rehabilitation of Kapichira II hydro-power plant ‑ which will generate an additional 10 to 12 megawatts and the Mozambique/Malawi Interconnection Project being sponsored by the US under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
The country has also given a prospecting licence to British firm, Surestream, to search for oil on Lake Malawi.
Firewood is the main energy source in Malawi, accounting for 88.5 percent of the total energy demand. The rest of the energy supply is from hydrocarbon fuels (6.4 percent), electricity (2.8 percent) and coal (2.4 percent).
According to the Malawi state of the environment report, this is a slight change from 2002.
Then biomass accounted for 93 percent of the country’s aggregate energy demand, electricity (2.3 percent), petroleum products (3.5 percent), coal (1 percent) and other renewable energy sources (0.2 percent).
Malawi’s energy sector comprises five main sub-sectors, namely ‑ electricity, biomass (firewood), petroleum products, coal, and other renewable energy sources.
The country is also planning to construct three new hydroelectric plants at Mpatamanga and Kholombidzo along Shire River in southern part and Fufu on South Rukuru River in northern part of Malawi to generate additional power for the country.
Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (ESCOM) operates hydropower plants that supply power to Malawi. Nkula, Tedzani and Kapichira (Phase 1) hydropower plants on the Shire River generate 98 percent of the hydroelectric power and Wowve power plant in the Northern Region produces the remaining 2 percent.
Electricity generation from solar panels and wind turbines has been initiated in a few locations but needs to be scaled up.
Over-reliance on Shire River for electricity generation is proving risky because chances of outflow from Lake Malawi receding below the minimum elevation of 474m above sea level, as was the case between 1915 to 1935, are high.
If this happens, the country will not generate enough electricity for both industrial and domestic use.
To manage the risk, electricity generation is being diversified beyond Shire River through development of several mini hydropower schemes (GoM 2010).    
The country has also been exploring the possibility of importing electricity from the SADC Region.
The most important renewable and alternative energy sources for Malawi are solar, wind, solar wind hybrid systems, natural gas, biogas and briquettes.
However, their contribution towards total energy demand is still very low ‑ being less than 1 percent in 2009.
According to the Energy Demand Assessment Report (DoEA, 2010), energy demand will grow significantly in the next 20 years as a result of projected human population growth coupled with increased industrialisation.

February 2013
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