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Expanding Malawi’s energy matrix

Interview - June 18, 2013
United World speaks with Ibrahim Matola, Malawian Minister of Energy, about the government’s ongoing and future projects to raise total energy production in order to meet domestic demand and, eventually, become a regional energy exporter
Energy is key to the economic growth of any country, as well as to improve the business climate. Malawi currently faces challenges regarding energy security, and as the population grows, demand is also growing. This not taking into account all the mining companies that are going to commence operations very soon. How is your Ministry dealing with this challenge to provide energy security to the country?
We have a deficit. The energy we are getting at the moment from the hydropower stations in the country is about 287 MW, and the demand is about 350 MW. So we have a deficit. That is why when Her Excellency took power, she emphasised that we should have other alternative sources of energy, in order for us to accommodate other investors, such as those in the mining industry. As of now, there are some mining companies that are using 1 million litres of gasoline per month. If there was enough power, these investors, or these mining activities would be taking place.
However, our master plan states that every five years there should be a new hydropower plant. But unfortunately, it has been more than 13 years without a new power plant. Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda will commission phase II of the Kapichira hydropower plant in August. This will generate about 32 MW. In December, it will generate a further 32 MW. In total, the Kapichira hydropower plant phase II will give us about 64 MW, which will give us a big boost in the energy sector in Malawi. 
I would also like to thank Her Excellency for coming in with her good leadership skills in terms of international cooperation. We had an interconnector project between Malawi and Mozambique, which stalled because of a misunderstanding between the two countries. So we have just signed a MoU (memorandum of understanding) with our counterpart, Mozambique. The president of Mozambique visited our country in April. We concluded that deal, and we will have the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP), which will be interconnected with Mozambique. The Mozambique side will tap the power up to Matambo from Cahora-Bassa, which is about 200 km into the Malawian side, and then there will be the phase II to Port Nacala, which is about 800 km. 
This means that Malawi will be exporting power, importing from Mozambique and exporting it back to Mozambique. Very soon Malawi will be the power exporter to the neighbouring countries. These are the vision and the leadership skills of Dr Joyce Banda with the neighbouring countries. When she assumed power, she tried to mend the fences between the two countries, and things are moving in a good direction. We hope that very soon blackouts will be a thing of the past, where people had to stay for three or four days without power. We are really looking forward to it.
We have also signed a MoU for a project with the Australian company Intra Energy, they are going build a coal-fired plant in Salima that will be producing about 300 MW. These 300 MW will be split into five phases. There will also be a coal fire plant close to Blantyre, in the area of Balaka. We will start with 300 MW. We are trying as a government to unbundle ESCOM, being the transmitter, distributor and the generator. We are trying to get the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to feed into our national grid.  An American investor would want to use biomass as well.
Very soon we will have more power, which we can export to other countries, whether it is solar or others. The Japanese are constructing solar panels at the Kamuzu International Airport. The airport on its own will have power from solar, and then that power will be channelled to other energy users. 
The Chinese are also building street lights, so for the first time in history, we will have street lights powered by solar energy. We will be serving power here and there. There was also another project, which was supported by DFID, using energy saving bulbs. Malawi has saved almost 15 to 20 MW by distributing 3 million energy saving bulbs to the Malawians. ESCOM and the Ministry are also making sure that the energy saving bulbs are subsidised and available locally, to ensure that we achieve our intended goal of saving a certain amount of voltage or MW from our national grid.
Climate change has affected Malawi strongly, and there is a push for green energies. What other plans do you have regarding these energies?
We are still experiencing some issues, because we are still completing some feasibility studies for the geothermal side. The funding has been received from the World Bank and it is taking place. We hope that investors can come in with their financial instruments after the feasibility studies have been completed. Some rivers have also been identified, which are also funded by the World Bank, so that we can add different amounts of hydropower to different rivers, such as the Shire River. 
We are also looking at the existing dams. We have dams here in Lilongwe where water is just flowing. But we need to look into it. We may be getting 4 to 7 MW, which can be used locally. Then there is another dam in Zomba, where we can complete a feasibility study and see where we can put a mini hydro system in and generate up to 10 MW. We can get more power there because it is already up the mountain, and the water is just flowing into the dam. We can utilize that water to generate power. 
There are also other dams in Mulanje, where they are also mining bauxite. These are the areas we can look at and make opportunities available to investors, so that they can invest in these hydropower plants.
Going back to your question about clean energy, it is very important. Climate change has really affected us and it is really affecting us. The siltation and low levels of water in the Shire River (most of our hydro plants are located in the Shire River) are an issue. As a result, we need to look at other sources of clean energy. These feasibility studies are taking place. There is funding taking place from the World Bank and the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, where we have also submitted some requests to look into these issues so that we can move together with the world in terms of green energy. 
What impact could oil exploitation in Lake Malawi have on the socioeconomic development of the country?

Geo-mapping will commence very soon. We do not know the exact deposits available for oil, coal or any other mineral, but the information obtained from the geological survey from the Department of Mines and the geo-mapping will really assist investors and even ourselves as the Department and the Ministries to know exactly where these deposits are and how much we have in terms of oil, uranium and other minerals. The World Bank is funding these activities, and very soon, the Ministry of Mines will be obtaining information for investors, so that they do not keep digging here and there.
What message can you send to our high profile readers, regarding the investment potential of Malawi’s energy sector, in order to encourage them to invest in it?
There is potential in the energy sector and in the untapped resources, and we are looking forward to many investors coming. There will be regional projects in the Southern African Power Pool, and if we are connected, Malawi will switch off most of its power plants around 9 pm, because during the night, there are very few users. There are very few companies that work all night. So during the off peak time, we can export power to our neighbouring countries, like Zambia and Tanzania. Once we are connected, then Tanzania will also benefit, as well as Congo. The whole region will benefit. We are at the lowest in southern African in terms of regional blocks of power. We still have a power deficit, so we would like more investors to come and look into the energy sector, and see how they can get involved in investment opportunities in the energy sector. Malawi wants to be a power exporter into the region. 
What legacy would you like to leave behind once you leave office?
I would like to follow the advice of Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda, and her vision for this country. Malawi should be a conducive environment for investors to come in at the moment; no investor would want to come to Malawi, because of the blackouts. Also, we sometimes have blackouts that last two to three days. I would like to see myself as having followed her vision and her aspirations, and her instructions and advice as to how the Ministry of Energy should perform in terms of making the country a better Malawi, and conducive for investors, by supplying them with adequate and reliable power.