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Regional power utility bloc plans to reach more consumers

Power Institute for East and Southern Africa (PIESA), an association for power utilities in the region, is holding a three day regional meeting in Malawi's commercial capital, Blantyre, to explore new technologies that would help them reach out to a bulk of needy electricity consumers in Africa.

PIESA was formed in 1995 and has two technology working groups, one for standards and the other for electrification.

Standardisation Working Group Convener Paul Johnson said the body is examining better ways to standardise the technology used in the region.

Johnson said in this way they will entice manufacturers of the equipment that these bodies use to be based in the region and supply them with particular gadgets that they need.

“Our challenge as Africa is electricity penetration which is around 25% despite huge demand,” said Johnson.

Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) announced during the regional meeting plans to roll out a Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) transmission system.

Deputy Central Region Manager for ESCOM David Mbewe, who said this is the most affordable system, also indicated that the parastatal body is currently seeking approval from the Energy and Mining Ministry before the project can take-off.

“If approved, the single wire transmission line which is used for supplying single phase electrical power from an electrical grid would enhance access of electricity in rural areas,” said Mbewe at the PIESA meeting.

He said one of the outstanding benefits ESCOM has acquired from the regional body is technical expertise on how to implement the single line transmission.

“As of now we have made a proposal to Ministry of Energy so that we use the system to penetrate remote areas at low cost under our rural electrification program,” he said.

The proposed system does not use transformers which currently are heavily vandalised in most African countries.

In Malawi alone, the power utility body experiences an average of 10 cases vandalised transformers.

“Each transformer cost around K1.5 million which means we are spending over K15 million to acquire new ones,” Mbewe said.

Once most African countries adopt this system, the money spent to acquire new transformers could be used to buy more wires to increase electricity access.

Malawi, which has a population of 12 million people, has only 170,000 households that are accessing electricity.

PIESA members include Kenya Power and Lighting Company, Lesotho Electricity Company, Democratic Republic of Congo Power Utility, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) and Zambia Electricity Supply Commission (ZESCO).

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