Malawi (2012)

Source: REEEP Policy Database (contributed by SERN for REEEP)

This policy & regulatory overview is not updated anymore since 2015. We decided to keep it online due to high demand but would like to make you aware of the fact that it might be outdated.

Energy sources

Total installed electricity capacity (2008): 315 MW

Hydropower generates 94% of Malawi’s electricity. There are 4 major hydro facilities located on the Shire River that provides the bulk of the electricity. Thermal accounts for the remaining 6%.

Currently, electricity supply cannot meet demand. To meet both the currently suppressed demand and the projected future demand, Malawi would need an estimated additional 140 MW of available capacity in place by 2015.  Load shedding is a regular day-to-day occurrence for almost all customers of the utility, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM).

Primary energy
Malawi’s energy balance is dominated by biomass (firewood, charcoal, agricultural and industrial wastes), which accounts for 97% of the Total primary energy supply.

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Malawi has no indigenous sources of oil and natural gas. It consumes and imports 8,000 barrels per day.

There is no oil refinery. As a result, 97% of all refined petroleum products, including gasoline and jet fuel, are imported.

Coal annual production meets only 25% of the country’s total energy requirements.

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Extend network

Only 8% of the Malawian population currently benefit from a grid-connected electricity supply.  Moreover, the national grid almost exclusively serves urban and peri-urban areas – around 25% of urban households have electricity, compared to 1% of rural households.  As such, the 85% of Malawians that live in rural areas are not served by grid-connected electricity and the great majority of the rural population is unlikely to be grid-connected in the near future, even with national grid extension programmes such as The Malawi Rural Electrification Project (MAREP).

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Capacity concerns

A Malawi Annual Economic Report of 2008 estimated that household firewood and charcoal consumption were 7.5 million tons per annum, exceeding sustainable supply by 3.7 million tons. The additional use of firewood and charcoal resulted in the destruction of between 50,000 and 75,000 hectares of natural forests annually.

The Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) has suffered from many years of under-investment in transmission and distribution infrastructure, with frequent failures, especially during the rainy season, and generally poor quality and unreliable supply. The network configuration is based on radial feeders, which are inflexible and susceptible to outages. Overloading and bottlenecks are evident in many parts of the transmission system. As a result, during peak periods, load has to be shed in order to avoid dangerous overloads on the lines and transformers, which would otherwise result in voltage collapse or even equipment failure. Most of the low-voltage (LV) distribution networks supplying the main load centres are heavily overloaded, are operating beyond their design limits and extend beyond regulatory voltage requirements, thereby affecting quality and reliability of supply. Transformers and LV lines are oversaturated and over-extended, resulting in localized loss of power and contributing to high technical losses and excessive voltage drops. In some cases, single phase lines extend large distances, causing high losses and phase imbalances on the networks.

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Renewable energy

With large lakeshore area with Mwera winds, Malawi has exceptional wind resources. Researchers have found that Malawi could meet all their electricity demands from wind power through 2030. Construction of the first wind farm in Malawi will start early 2010 at Chilunguzi Farm; Mwasinja Village, Dedza. The wind farm is scheduled to be completed by end of 2010.

Solar Cookers International has ranked Malawi as 20th in the world for solar cooking potential. The estimated number of people in Malawi with fuel scarcity in 2020 is 2,700,000. 

In 2009, a small-scale underground biogas plant has been established by the Test & Training Centre in Renewable Energy Technologies (TCRET) at Mzuzu University, one of the public universities in Malawi. By the end of the project in 2011 there were 12 biogas digesters installed.

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Electricity market
The Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) is effectively a government-owned institution and is by far the main generator, distributor and retailer of electricity. It currently owns all the main Malawian power plants and the national transmission grid.  However, it is broadly and openly accepted that ESCOM as an institution is inefficient and in need of significant development.  ESCOM has little involvement in off-grid generation, restricted at this stage to the piloting of 6 ‘solar villages’ in remote locations across the country.

There are a number of private sector companies and community based organisations that are developing electricity generation initiatives within the country.  In particular, the hydropower potential in Malawi (particularly Mulanje but also the north of the country) appears to be attracting a number of actors. It is also increasingly common for NGOs to incorporate very small-scale renewable energy technologies (RET) installations into individual projects they are delivering.  Given the variety of technologies available and the diversity of organisations that are ‘adding on’ RETs to their projects, the off-grid micro-generation sector is somewhat fragmented. Although the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) does have powers to oversee the sector, there is no comprehensive map or inventory that describes the extent or capacity of micro-generation in Malawi.

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Vertically integrated, although there are plans to de-integrate the structure of ESCOM, creating separate generation, transmission and distribution companies.

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Energy framework

The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy 2006-2011 (MGDS) set out the government’s economic growth and development priorities for five years. The MGDS identified energy, along with five other key priority areas, as a crucial input for industrial processing. The government recognizes that the power sector is a key constraint to Malawi’s economic growth. The objective of the MGDS was to reduce the number and duration of blackouts, increase access to reliable and affordable electricity in rural areas and other targeted areas, and improve coordination between the needs for energy for households and those of other high growth sectors such as tourism and mining. The second MGDS 2 (2011-2016) is not yet published.

In addition to the MGDS, a National Energy Policy (NEP) was approved in 2003 and is the responsibility of the Department of Energy Affairs (DoEA).  The policy resulted in the formation of the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) and was influential in a recent restructuring of the The Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), while continuing to guide energy development within the country.

As part of the NEP, a Renewable Energy Framework has been in development for some time. This will also be the responsibility of the DoEA and will bring more coherence to renewable energy developments particularly at the national, grid-level, scale but also with some focus on the local, off-grid, scale.

At the international level, Malawi is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which requires the government to report on greenhouse gas emissions and other vulnerabilities.  As part of their involvement with the UNFCCC, the Malawian Government developed a Technology Needs Assessment report in 2003 .  In the absence of other formally approved government policies, strategies or plans for renewable development, this document provides a reasonable overview of the government’s strategies and requirements with regards to renewables.

In an attempt to minimize the use of biomass fuels the government undertook a number of initiatives including the Program for Biomass Energy Conservation (ProBEC) which seeks to promote the use of clay stoves to save fuel; the Promotion of Alternative Energy Sources Project (PAESP) which seeks to promote non-traditional fuels for cooking and heating to reduce environmental degradation; and a National Sustainable and Renewable Energy Programme (NSREP)  which promotes renewable energy technologies in Malawi. The Malawi Rural Electrification Project (MAREP) has also been established.

The Rural Electrification Bill (2004) deals with all aspects of renewable energy systems.

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Energy debates

Although the second Malawi Growth and Development Strategy 2011-2016 (MGDS 2) is not published yet, it has been confirmed that energy generation and supply will continue to be a priority area.  Moreover, it has been indicated that MGDS 2 will have an increased emphasis on energy, given the current tendency towards high fuel prices, continuing problems with electricity supply across Malawi, and the increasing international emphasis on climate change.

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Energy studies

Renewable Energy Industries Association of Malawi (REIAMA): private association promoting mainly solar PV technologies.

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Role of government

  • Department of Energy Affairs (DoEA)

The oversight, development and delivery of energy policy in Malawi fall within the remit of the DoEA, which sits within the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment (MNREE). While electricity policy is largely the sole domain of the DoEA, it should be noted that 97% of Malawi’s overall energy usage is actually derived from biomass.  For example the burning of wood-fuel for heating water and homes.  As such, broader energy policy is also a major concern for other departments within MNREE, and indeed other Ministries.

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Government agencies

Other bodies of particular relevance to off-grid generation include national research centres such as Mzuzu University’s Test & Training Centre in Renewable Energy Technologies (TCRET), and the University of Malawi Polytechnic who undertake research into renewable energy technologies.  The Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) is the national certification body for industry and commerce, whose remit includes electrical standards and equipment.  Many relevant standards have been developed, including several specifically for renewable energy technologies, particularly solar photovoltaics.  Finally, the Renewable Energy Industries Association of Malawi (REIAMA) is a national membership association comprised of private companies, initially formed through the National Sustainable and Renewable Energy Programme (see below). REIAMA is effectively dormant now, although some believe that with restructuring, the Association could provide a useful industry platform in the future.

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Energy procedure

The Government of Malawi has developed a number of strategies in the energy sector, including power sector reform, rural electrification, biomass energy and renewable energy. However, new feasibility studies are needed for sources of new hydropower generation, whether the sites themselves are ultimately developed by public or private means.

A number of large scale programmes have been proposed to improve, expand and maintain the national electrical generating capacity, transmission grid and distribution network.  Potential initiatives include the upgrading of existing generation stations; the development of new generating stations; the improvement and extension of the transmission and distribution networks; support to increase private sector participation and the development of capacity within the three key institutions (DoEA, MERA and ESCOM). These large-scale, national initiatives were to be primarily supported through more than $300m of investment from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and the World Bank.  However, recent political instability within Malawi has resulted in the MCA’s funding being frozen and the programme being put on hold indefinitely.

National Sustainable and Renewable Energy Programme (NSREP), which over the years has acted as an ‘umbrella’ programme for other renewable and off-grid initiatives such as the UNDP-supported Barrier Removal to Renewable Energy in Malawi (BARREM) and the Programme for Biomass Energy Conservation (ProBEC).  Overall though, the current direction of NSREP is unclear and there appears to be markedly less strategic coherence and coordinated support for these ‘lower level’, off-grid renewable energy generation projects.

Finally, work relating to Malawi’s UNFCCC commitments has resulted in a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA).  Oversight of this plan and the broader UNFCCC commitments sit within the Department of Environmental Affairs.The Department of Environmental Affairs also has responsibility for managing Malawian efforts to access international climate change financing mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Energy Sector Support Project (2011-2016)
The WorldBank approved a loan agreement of about US$87 million for the development of the Energy Sector Support Project for Malawi to increase the reliability and quality of electricity supply in the major load centres. There are four components to the project;

  • Electricity network strengthening and expansion: Rehabilitation, upgrade and expansion of priority parts of the existing distribution and transmission system, including extension of the network in selected peri-urban areas.
  • Conducting generation and transmission feasibility studies: Financing for feasibility studies, and associated environmental & social assessments, for development of new hydropower generation and transmission capacity required to meet Malawi's growing energy demand.
  • Demand side management and energy efficiency measures: Financing for demand-side management (DSM) and energy efficiency activities in urban areas to help address Malawi's power capacity deficit.
  • Capacity building and technical assistance: Financing for institutional strengthening and technical assistance to both MNREE (Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy, and Environment) and ESCOM (Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi) to support their efforts to further develop Malawi's energy sector.

As indicated previously, the Government’s main energy priority is the development and extension of the national grid.  However, there is also a recognition and acceptance that this work will not bring electricity to the majority of Malawians in the near future.  The Department of Energy Affairs has taken initial steps to explore the potential for serving rurally isolated communities via off-grid electricity generation using renewable energy technologies.  Six pilot ‘solar villages’ have been developed, serving around 150 households each.  The villages were constructed and were intended to be maintained by ESCOM, but the indications are that ESCOM did not have the resources or capacity to deliver an ongoing maintenance function for the villages.  Regardless, the great majority of off-grid piloting and generation is being conducted independently of Government: universities, community based organisations and the private sector are currently allocating far more resources towards off-grid generation.

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Energy regulator

The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) was established in December 2007 replacing the National Electricity Council and Petroleum Control Commission. MERA regulates all the energy players (production and supply) in the country in collaboration with the Department of Energy Affairs and both entities reports to the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

The process to make MERA operational has taken a long time, with some of its operations still not in full swing.

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Degree of independence

The newly established regulator is regarded as independent; however, it regulates the sector in coordination with DoEA and reports directly to the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy, and Environment.

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Regulatory roles

MERA’s work is predominantly focussed on oversight of generation, transmission and retail of electricity within the national grid. However, its regulatory powers do extend to off-grid generation, including the licensing of micro-generation and the certification of renewable energy technology installation and maintenance engineers.

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Energy regulation role

The Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environmental Affairs (MOFFEA) has primary responsibility for wood and charcoal energy planning.

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Regulatory barriers

Challenges (regulatory and others) to sustainable energy in Malawi include:

  • The restructuring of ESCOM;
  • The revision of connection charges, especially capital contribution charges.
  • The development of safety standards for low-cost technologies for rural electrification distribution networks.
  • The encouragement of entrepreneurs to enter the electrical service contracting business
  • The provision of incentives to encourage entry of new electricity retailers.
  • Duplication of initiatives between government departments.
  • Interest rates and taxes for renewable energy related projects
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UN Conference on Trade and Development (2009) Multi Year Expert Meeting on Services, Development and Trade: The Regulatory and Institutional Dimension Page 3 Available online : [Accessed 4th September 2013]

Solar Cookers International (2004) 25 Countries with the Greatest Potential Benefits from Solar Cookers Available at [Accessed 4th September 2013]

Test and Training Centre for Renewable Energy Technologies, [Accessed 4th September 2013]

Malawi Government (2006) Malawi Growth and Development Strategy Available at [Accessed 4th September 2013]

Environmental Affairs Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Malawi (2003) Report on Malawi’s Climate Technology Transfer and Needs Assessment Available at [Accessed 4th September 2013]

Rural Electrification Act (2004) [Accessed 4th September 2013] (2011): Energy Profile: Malawi. Available at [Accessed 4th September 2013]

World Bank (2011): Malawi - Energy Sector Support Project Available at [Accessed 4th September 2013]

World Bank (2011): Malawi Energy Sector Support Project Overview Available at [Accessed 4th September 2013]

Davis, Georgy et al. (2011): Supporting Community Energy Development in Malawi. Available at [Accessed 4th September 2013] Close References