Malawi’s $3bn question

Did you know that four in every 100 Malawians still burn firewood, straw and crop residues for lighting?

This shines a light on the desperation of over 3.5 million households denied access to electricity, with only 12 percent of the country’s population of 17.6 million connected to the national power grid and six percent using solar energy.

But the Malawi Sustainable Energy Investment Study by the US-based Rocky Mountain Institute and the  government shows the country requires $3.1 billion (about K2.2 trillion) to offer everyone affordable sustainable energy by 2030.

Malawi neeeds $2.5m for electrification

UN-OHRLLS, the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, supported the assessment of national efforts towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) seven on ensuring access to affordable, reliable sustainable and modern energy for all.

No one left behind

Eric Wanless, from Rocky Mountain, says the “least-cost scenario” could be a turning point in meeting the excluded majority’s energy needs. It could also save $500 million in 10 years compared to extending the grid with scanty investment in off-grid solutions and renewable energy and clean cooking.

He states: “The volume and speed of investments required will demand concerted efforts from government agencies, development partners and investors to mobilise approximately $2.5 billion for the power sector and $600 million for cooking and forestry by 2030.

“This investment will triple the generation capacity to 1 200 megawatts while adding 1.2 million new connections to the grid.”

UN-OHRLLS director Heidi Schroderus-Fox envisions increased access to energy boosting development outcomes in many other sectors and SDGs, including education, healthcare, water supply, trade and industry.

“This is the main target in the next decade so that no one is left behind,” she says. “A key part to that is how the government can work together with all different partners, including the private sector players who have a very important role in the implementation and financing. “If we sideline the private sector, where do we get all that money—the $3 billion dollar price tagged to this? We need to ensure that there is private investment as well as government and international partners providing funding and accountability for the study’s recommendations.”

Chimwemwe Banda, chief director of the Department of Energy Affairs, says “the best way is to work together” to take advantage of the rapidly declining prices of renewable energy facilities to deliver reliable and flexible energy solutions.

“Malawi is now working with independent power producers (IPPs) because we cannot increase electricity supply by relying on government only. We have engaged some companies to generate solar power and others to bring us power from wind, geothermal, waste and coal,” she says.

For years, the country’s national power grid has been dominated by hydropower generated on the Shire River. However, blackouts persist as the country’s largest river is hit hard by siltation and falling water levels due to frequent drought and massive deforestation.

Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bintony Kutsaira says hydropower is no longer sustainable for the ailing economy grappling with power outages.

“For many years, we put our eggs in one basket as we have been relying on the power generated on the Shire. Clearly, we need to diversify our energy sources,” he says.

In November, Kutsaira unveiled the revised national policy to diversity energy sources to include solar, wind and waste-generated power mini-grids for off-grid communities, especially rural populations.

The policy promotes IPPs and mini-grids  to close power generation gaps, with the State-owned Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) churning out just about half of the country’s present electricity demand.

Beyond papers

For UN country representative Jose-Maria Torres, strong partnerships will be key to achieving universal access to sustainable energy—the “lifeblood of the economy” according to the third Malawi Growth Development Strategy.

She says building the right projects in the right order can unlock further finance and opportunities to increase the uptake of renewable energy and clean cooking solutions.

About 97 percent of the population cook using firewood and charcoal which harms forests, human life and the planet. Torres states: “The good news is that this is feasible, but we need $3 billion to be invested to achieve universal access, including clean cooking and renewable. “Walking the talk means that we don’t have to leave everything at the level of papers, strategies and studies. Get it to where it makes a difference.”

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