Serious industrial power consumers will soon be needed

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One problem that has beset this country for a long time is inadequate foreign exchange reserves. Our currency undergoes perpetual devaluation due to the absence of adequate reserves to support its valuation against foreign currencies. Frequently, our authorities find themselves compelled to uphold an artificially inflated value of the Kwacha, relative to other currencies, in order to prevent its precipitous plunge into a state of free fall.

There is only one viable solution to this problem. It has more to do with changing the way we do things than with changing political leaders. As things stand now, our imports far outstrip our exports. We are still heavily reliant on tobacco for our exports.  Tobacco’s total annual export earnings just match our fuel imports. The gloomy news is that our tobacco earnings are dwindling while our fuel imports are skyrocketing.

As a nation, we have always taken a poor view of production. But, as I have pointed out a number of times in my past articles, it is production that produces wealth. Production is the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg. If we are serious about having the golden egg, which in the context of this article represents enjoying a stable and growing economy, devoid of wild forex fluctuations, we have no choice but to produce and produce.

Some pockets of the production sector, both in primary as well as secondary production, have in the past been dogged by lack of adequate electric power. I heard of a number of mining companies failing to launch because they could not access the power they needed. Kayelekera mine in Karonga did go into production but they were not connected to the national grid. They were using their own facilities to produce the power they wanted. A few other mines that would have been running by this time have not seen the light of day as they could not be provided with the required power.

The power situation will not continue to be as bleak as it has been for too long. I am not a spokesperson for any entity but I know that, all things beings equal, by this time next year we shall have more power than we will know what to do with. Serious off-takers will be needed to do justice to the abundance of power at our disposal.

It probably sounds too unrealistic, like a pie in the sky. Given what we have gone through anybody taking a position akin to the one expressed in the previous sentence would be perfectly understood. Not too long ago the country had to grapple with very serious power shortages. The sound of gensets was perpetually in the air wherever one went. Unavailability of fuel exacerbated the situation as what would otherwise have been an alternative power source could not run for lack of fuel.

I have not touched our genset for many months now. As I walked past it some few days ago, I wondered if the battery used for starting it was still functional. Any blackouts now are a result of some fault on the transmission or distribution line or temporary shutdown of generation machines for purpose of maintenance.

If that is good news, what is coming is even better news. The worry will not be shortage of power but how consumers can fully utilize the available power. The majority of power consumers in Malawi fall within the domestic category, exhibiting a usage pattern that wildly fluctuates throughout the twenty-four-hour cycle. Notably, consumption surges in the morning, coinciding with activities such as cooking and bathing. By approximately 8 oclock, domestic usage experiences a decline, only to resume in the evening, albeit briefly. Nighttime witnesses a stark reduction in power consumption, as the populace retires to slumber. The nocturnal tranquility of our cities and towns prompts contemplation on the abrupt cessation of the daytime hustle and bustle, leaving one pondering the ephemeral nature of urban energy.

Even if the number of connected domestic consumers doubles, they will not be enough to off-take the extra power that we shall have next year and going forward. Serious industrial off takers have to come on board. Nearly two score years ago, workers at the Makata Industrial site used to work around the clock. Companies like David Whitehead, Encor Product, Packaging Industries, Portland Cement, Carlsberg, Brown and Clapperton, among others, used to run shifts covering 24 hours each day. We need to return to something similar that to do justice to the abundance of power we are poised to have. If we do not have that kind of arrangement, the power will go to waste during night hours.

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