Malawi harvests solar to address power shortfalls
London, Dec. 31, 2019 (AltAfrica)-In region battling its worst epileptic power supplies in recent years, Malawi has taken a lead in tapping to the vast sunshine in 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.