Malawi harvests solar to address power shortfalls

news-image

From Mavhuto Banda in Lilongwe

In a region battling its worst epileptic power
supplies in recent years, Malawi has taken a lead in tapping into the vast
sunshine on the continent to address these problems and subsequently
address climate change and accelerate economic development.

The optimism follows the beginning of initial site works at one of the
country’s first solar projects at the central area of Nkhotakota.

Investments totaling $67 million have been secured for the project whose
first phase of construction is scheduled for March 2020.

Once complete, the solar project will add 46 megawatts of clean energy
to the local national power supply grid.

The Nkhotakota project is part of a drive by the Malawian government of
President Peter Mutharika to use solar power to strengthen the country's
electricity infrastructure. The scheme will also shift Malawi away from
its over-reliance on hydro-power, which currently comprises over 95
percent of the country's energy mix.

With the country vulnerable to droughts, hydro-power generation is
greatly impacted particularly in recent years that have culminated in
the Lake Malawi’s water levels dropping and threatening the region's
supply of energy.

The new plant will address this challenge and play a critical role in
securing Malawi's daytime electricity supply.

Currently, only 15 percent of Malawi’s population of over 18 million
people has access to power. The national capacity is estimated at 362
MW.

The new capacity from Nkhotakota will thus make a significant
contribution to the government's target of doubling power access to 30
percent of the population by 2030.

“This project will empower under served communities in some of Africa's
poorest regions through access to affordable, reliable and diversified
energy," said Tracey Webb, vice president for Structured Finance and
Insurance at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

OPIC is among the developers of the Nkhotakota scheme alongside Phanes
Group and responsAbility Renewable Energy Holding.

The partnership is the result of the first Power Purchase Agreement
(PPA) signed with the national utility, Electricity Supply Corporation
of Malawi (Escom) in February 2019.

It was Malawi's first competitive tender in the power sector. The
international tendering process attracted bids from 21 companies
globally.

The PPA is projected to last 20 years.

Joseph Nganga, managing director at responsAbility Renewable Energy
Holding, said access to reliable and affordable electricity was a key
prerequisite for economic development.

He noted that when power was out, organisations either shoulder high
opportunity costs from lost output or resort to costlier backup power,
usually from diesel.

“Our aim in supporting this project is to simultaneously contribute to
climate change mitigation and accelerate the development of Malawi,”
Nganga assured.

Martin Haupts, Phanes Group's chief executive officer, said lack of
power had been an obstacle to Malawi's social and economic development.

He said the Nkhotakota project demonstrated that solar energy offered a
viable path to bringing power to communities which need energy the most.

“We hope the Nkhotakota project will serve as a model for future private
investment into the local solar sector,” Haupts said.

– CAJ News





 

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