Power outages impact on Malawi business


MALAWI’S power utility provider, the Electricity Corporation of Malawi (Escom), says business and industries should brace for more power blackouts as there seems to be no immediate solutions to intermittent power supply currently affecting the southern African nation of 17 million.

Malawi is experiencing a power generation reduction of 67 percent. Escom’s production capacity is 361 Megawatts (MW) from all its hydroelectric power stations and diesel plants. Escom warns that power outages will continue with prospects of getting worse by December if water levels do not improve in the Shire River and Lake Malawi.

Water levels have hit their lowest levels in history, making it difficult for Escom to generate power as 90 percent of its power is generated on the Shire River, the only outlet of Lake Malawi.

Escom chief executive officer John Kandulu explains that water flow in the Shire is set to worsen until the country receives enough rains, adding that Lake Malawi is at its lowest level in the past 15 years.

‘There will be enormous operating difficulties in the months of September and December. Lake levels will drop by early December and we will only be able to generate 153 Megawatts. Load shedding is likely to increase in the months to come,’ warns Kandulu.

Escom director of generation Evance Msiska concurs with Kandulu saying the low water levels are making difficult for the power utility provider to generate the required megawatts.

‘This is turn corresponds to 165 Megawatts of power generation, which is a reduction of 67 percent from the total capacity. This would be a critical situation which would make it impossible even to provide any service to industry and even some essential services.

‘Operating at the current flow of 140 cumecs is unsustainable. Currently, a discharge of 115 cumecs is recommended for sustainability,’ Msiska explains.

Business leaders say the power outages are costing them huge sums of money. The Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) says since Escom reduced power generation production local industries are producing between 40 percent and 80 percent of their optimal capacity.

MCCCI president Karl Chokhotho said reduced production means reduced
products for sale resulting into reduced turnover.

‘Reduced production with the same fixed costs, and reduced revenues, have driven some firms to restructure and scale down on staff, and some to relocate. This is worrying and serious issue that needs to be addressed urgently.

‘For the manufacturing industry it is critical to have power. Alternative power sources are far more expensive and unsustainable over long periods. This includes small businesses with smaller margins who are suffering more,’ Chokhotho said.

Escom is undertaking interventions to improve the situation. They include use of energy saver bulbs, load shifting for industries, cross border power connections and installation and commissioning of diesel generators.

Malawi is seriously considering power interconnector with Mozambique – a project that was halted by Malawi’s former president late Bingu wa Mutharika. He viewed the interconnector as an expensive venture that would not benefit Malawi in the long run.

The interconnection is expected to allow Malawi to have access to the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP) market through the Mozambique interconnected grid with Zimbabwe and South Africa.

However, Msiska is upbeat about the project. He says Escom will use existing infrastructure previously used to supply Mozambique border towns.

‘When Mozambique had power problems we supplied them with power. We just have to sign an agreement with Mozambique that they can now supply our towns,’ he says.

And the Malawi-Mozambique interconnector process has once again kick-started, Escom officials disclosed.

Msiska says Escom is also banking its hopes on the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) who have signed a memorandum of understanding with government.

‘There are 22 IPPs and the anticipated total generation capacity from them is 566 Megawatts. Three of these are at the Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) stage. One is in hydro and two are in solar,’ he said.

Meanwhile ESCOM is urging electricity users use energy sparingly.

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