20+ GW for Malawi

Electricity is an indisputable enabler for any modern society. Hardly any other technology has had as much an influence as electricity. And yet, two-thirds of Africans still don’t have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern electricity. This energy deficit continues to stifle economic growth, job creation, agricultural transformation as well as improvements in health and education. The deficit essentially stifles human potential, a sad reality for Africa But it is equally sad for the world as it means Africa is not able to contribute anywhere close to its potential.

The energy crisis has for a long, long time been a huge problem to Sub-Saharan Africa; this energy poverty presents a bottleneck for solving most of the other problems across the region. Despite long standing efforts to address the energy poverty, in 2014 633 million people lacked access to electricity and 792 million people relied on traditional biomass as their energy source for cooking (IEA, 2016). This lack of electricity has resulted in limited opportunities for entrepreneurs and corporations alike as well as premature deaths due to respiratory diseases caused by or exacerbated by cooking using outdated means.

Malawi being one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is heavily hit by the deficit of electricity. With an estimated population of 18 million people as of 2020, less than 15 percent of the population have access to electricity. Those 15 percent often get electricity for less than half a day.  The Malawi power generation capacity is under 500 MW–too little to be of much use beyond lighting. No serious investor, local or foreign, would have the desire to invest in large scale projects with such a lack of energy.

But how much energy does Malawi need? Others have estimated that Malawi will need 2.5 billion dollars by 2030 in order to achieve an electrification rate of 30 percent. The goal is to have 1,200 MW by 2030.

Source: https://rmi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/RMI_SEED_Demand_Stimulation_2018.pdf

We believe differently. Malawi needs more than 20,000 MW of power. The country has the capacity for more than 20,000 MW with the available resources. Producing 20,000 MW would require different means including wind, solar, hydro as well as biomass—but it can all be clean.

We believe so because we believe in the potential of the country and its people. Most other predictions for how much Malawi needs have an underlying assumption: that, for example in 2030, Malawi will still be one of the poorest nations on the planet. That is why well-meaning organizations create models that predict that Malawi needs such low levels of electricity as 1200, 2000 MW or something like it. But consider that Malawians are humans like those in Singapore or the USA. They too want air conditioning, 24/7 electricity, electric trains, advanced and futuristic airports, hospitals in which people don’t die due to power cuts, and data centers, to name a few. We know that this set of technologies can only be possible if there is over 20, 000 MW.

But why not do small projects, at least to help these poor people? For those outside Malawi a change from traditional fires for lighting to an electric bulb seems like a good thing. But for the average Malawian in a rural area, who initially did not have an electricity bill, the arrival of a little bit of electricity is in fact a new liability. They didn’t have to pay for lighting before, now they have to. But more electricity can allow that individual to open a welding business–or well, why not, an electric car plant. With this business that individual is able to pay for the electricity. Similarly at a national level small projects are a liability that will be hard to settle—it is too little to activate the economy and thus less an enabler and more a burden.

We reiterate that a little bit of electricity is a liability for the country. A lot of electricity is what will truly change things. We know, looking at other nations, that 18 million people need far, far more than a 1000 MW or, really anything below 20 thousand. Yes, Malawi is different–it is poor, we heard that. But what would need to change? Do we wait until there is a lot of demand from factories and then build the power plants for the factories? But who in the first place would build a factory if there is no reliable electricity! Indeed the idea has been one of building small projects and hoping the factories will follow; this has been experimented with for a long time already. There have been small projects all the way back to the establishment of the Republic in the 1960s. Small projects funded by benefactors over the last 50 plus years has resulted in less than 400 MW of capacity; that is HALF a century to reach a capacity that other nations build in weeks. So, no, small projects haven’t worked; they will not work in the next 50 years.

Yet, we do not instead wish for a haphazard building of power plants. The point is we need to build, a lot and bigger. A coordinated effort is required so that there isn’t an oversupply; but even if there were an oversupply of electricity in Malawi, it would simply be a new export to the neighbours. So what is needed now is large, financially sound projects. At KCHKNA we would like to be involved in this next chapter of the country!

Electricity is truly magical. It is one of mankind’s greatest inventions, by far. Even computers, themselves one other great invention, can only do what they do thanks to electricity. A society without electricity can have the highest levels of education on the planet but will remain poor. It may have all the natural resources nature has to offer, and people will still die from malnutrition as the country fails to exploit those resources. Let’s electrify Malawi, for in doing so we truly are unlocking the potential of the people!