By Abel Mkulama, Bunda Environmental Club (BEC)’ President
As a result of high demand for energy in urban areas, electricity supply in Malawi has reached an all-time low. Rural-urban migration and high population growth exacerbates demand for electricity for domestic and industrial use in urban areas which affects the supply side.
Inadequate production of power makes it necessary for the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) to extremely ration power supply affecting businesses and education among other sectors of the economy.
Malawi generates a total of 351MW using power-of river Hydroelectric Plants (HEP) along Shire River-an outlet of Lake Malawi. Another 4.5MW is generated from a mini-plant at Wovwe River in Karonga which is fed into the main grid.
However, the HEP is being affected by deforestation of riparian catchments which increases river siltation. Apart from deforestation, climate change has affected rainfall patterns and amounts in Malawi; these developments reduce water levels at the plants affecting power generation process as a whole. It is imperative therefore for Malawi to diversify its sources of energy in order to meet the estimated total national energy demand of 400MW.
The government of Malawi has invested in short term and long term strategies in the energy sector such as the purchase of generators for generating power and the construction of the Kamwamba coal-fired power plant.
These solutions were expected to increase the energy supply significantly; however their choice leaves a lot to be desired; these investments put Malawi in direct contradiction with several international climate change protocols to which it is Party such as the Paris Agreement.
Not only there, but also several local governing documents such as; the Malawi Energy Policy (2003), Malawi Biomass Energy Act (2009), National Forest Landscape Restoration Strategy (2017) and the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy III(2018) all of which point towards a shift to sustainable use and management of cleaner energy sources.
Generators run continuously on diesel oil releasing enormous levels of air pollution, the effects of coal on the environment cannot be overemphasized. Coal plants release high levels of carbon monoxide that has high global warming potential.
It is doubtful or at least unknown if a climate change assessment was done prior to the commission of the construction of the new plant. But the fact remains; if these projects are implemented, they are likely to increase Malawi’s carbon footprint and deter Government of Malawi’s Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
NDCs are by strategies prepared by individual governments for reducing fossil fuel emissions in order to achieve the global temperature of 1.50C.
There has to be deliberate government effort for promoting investment in renewable sources of energy. For example, according to the department of energy affairs, lack of solar investment in the public is due to low standards of solar panels found on the local market.
This is so because durable solar panels and cells are too expensive. It is important for government to reduce or remove tax on such products in order to encourage private investors.
Some private sector renewable energy projects have not been successful to affect people on a larger scale due to lack of political will to improving energy supply. BERL which intends to generate biodiesel from Jatropha and ILLOVO which produces ethanol for ethanol driven cars are examples.
The persistence on the government side to go on with the coal plant construction project could be due to lack of awareness on the harmfulness of fossil fuels such as coal. Local environmental advocates such as Bunda Environmental Club (BEC), National Youth Network on Climate Change (NYNCC), Civil Societies Network on Climate Change (CISONECC) and Association for Environmental Journalists (AEJ) have engaged government and relevant stakeholders in an effort to raise awareness on the need for investing in green and clean energy.
In April 2018, these organizations held the first ever National Youth Conference on Climate Change which was aimed at, among other things; promoting green entrepreneurship and pushing for government investment in clean and affordable energy.
In another campaign called “The BIG shift” CSOs urged energy investments to shift from fossil fuels, while at the same time demanding for delivery of clean, sustainable, affordable and reliable energy to millions of energy poor populations who liver far of the grid.
Malawi is endowed with several renewable energy sources even though utilization of the resources is still a major challenge especially among peri-urban and rural areas. Solar, wind, tide and biogas potential is high in most of the rural areas. Malawi needs to explore such potentials if we are going to maintain minimal use of fossil fuels.
When you think about it, with government political will and investment, a future with clean and affordable energy for all is possible.