The news recently related that Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) acquired diesel-powered generators in order to reduce extended load shedding hours the country was facing since last year. This option should not be but temporary, given the strategically better possibility of an “energy alliance” with neighbor Mozambique.

By Claude Biao

Here is the situation.

Malawi’s power supply mainly depends on hydroelectricity, with Lake Malawi and the Shire River providing nearly 90% of the energy produced. The electrification rate is stagnating at around 10%, and Escom-led system capacity stands at 351 Megawatts (MW). Due to the lowering water level of Lake Malawi, the country is experiencing intermitted blackouts lasting up to a day, since 2016. This situation might obviously be eased by newly acquired generators that are expected to produce around 78 MW by the end of January 2018. But the energy demand is constantly increasing. Forecasts by Government of Malawi’s Department of Energy state that the gap between demand and supply will significantly grow (from its current rate of 28%) by 2030. Government authorities should nevertheless consider a more permanent solution like capitalizing on an “energy alliance” with neighboring country Mozambique.

Mozambique energy potential is huge. Located at the southern border of Malawi, the country already exports two third of the electricity it produces and is an unquestionable potential source of energy for Malawi. Mozambique possible energy sources include gas, coal, and hydroelectricity. First, the Tete province coal reserve (around 500 km from Lilongwe) is one of the world’s largest unexploited reserves. Second, offshore natural gas reserves were discovered in 2010 off the north-eastern coast. These reserves, if fully exploited, might rank Mozambique the third bigger natural gas producer in Africa. And third, the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric dam, with a strong production capacity of around 2,075 MW.

Here are some possible strategic moves

The next move for Malawi authorities should be to re-activate the existing agreement existing between Maputo and Lilongwe on the cooperative usage of Cahora Bassa dam (signed in 2008 but stalling, due to cost concerns). This is the best exploited Mozambican energy source, and it has logistics structure and experience in exporting power. This is a short-term move. A mid-term solution for Malawi is to engage in a cooperative exploitation of largely unexploited coal and offshore natural gas reserves of Mozambique. It is neither a climate-friendly nor a sustainable alternative, but it should be seriously taken into account as a mid-term response in order to design a global renewable energy production policy using both solar and wind and to install relevant structures to implement it. The solar photovoltaic plant of Kamuzu International Airport (run by the Airport authority) is a valuable starting point.

 

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