Building Malawi’s First Utility-Scale Solar-Plus-Storage Power Project
The 20 megawatt (MW) Golomoti Solar Project in Malawi is the first of its scale in Southern Africa to include a battery energy storage system, which will enable the plant to provide reliable, renewable electricity and strengthen the national power grid.
PROJECT UPDATE: May 9, 2022. The Golomoti Solar PV and Battery Energy Storage Project in Malawi has successfully entered commercial operations. The project will feed 20 megawatt (MW) of clean electricity into Malawi’s national grid, powering businesses and livelihoods in a country with one of the lowest electricity access rates in Southern Africa. Golomoti is the first utility-scale plant in the region to include a battery energy storage system (BESS). Such systems enable renewables to displace fossil fuels, such as coal and diesel, which contribute significantly to climate change. JCM Power completed the project 12 months after beginning construction in April 2021, despite COVID-19 and global supply chain challenges.
In Dedza, Malawi, approximately 100 kilometers southeast of the capital, Lilongwe, construction is nearly complete on what will be a revolutionary power project. Co-developed by Power Africa partners, JCM Power and the Private Infrastructure Development Group’s InfraCo Africa, and with financial support from Innovate UK, the Golomoti Solar Photovoltaic (PV) and Battery Energy Storage Project will generate 20 MW of clean electricity, and will be the first utility-scale plant in the region to include a battery energy storage system (BESS).
Investment in solar-plus-storage power projects will be a big boost for a country that currently relies on hydroelectric power, which at the moment comprises approximately 70 percent of Malawi’s installed generation capacity. The region’s prolonged drought leaves Malawi vulnerable to frequent power cuts, as the majority of hydropower plants are located along the Shire River, which also experiences high levels of siltation that reduce flow levels and curtail generation capacity, forcing the national electricity utility, ESCOM, to resort to expensive diesel generators when demand peaks.
In addition to the high environmental cost through the associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, emergency power from diesel generators places a burden on the utility as the cost of supplying electricity cannot be fully recovered from consumers.
For a country with one of the lowest electricity access rates in the region and one that aspires to be an industrialized economy, the current generation capacity shortfall is a major constraint. Malawi’s ability to procure renewable energy can reliably and cost-effectively meet electricity demand, stimulate economic growth, and drastically reduce carbon emissions to mitigate climate change.
Lighting up Malawi Through Partnership and Investment
In September 2018, the Government of Malawi launched the country’s first-ever competitive tender in the power sector by using the independent power producer procurement framework developed with support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC, an innovative and independent U.S. Government foreign assistance agency and Power Africa partner, made significant investments in Malawi’s energy sector between 2013 and 2018 through its Malawi Compact. MCC’s emphasis on intensive policy and institutional reforms, as well as infrastructure investment, transformed Malawi’s power sector and laid the groundwork for private-sector investment.
The tender resulted in the national electricity utility selecting JCM Power, among other companies, to develop the 20 MW Golomoti project as well as the 60 MW Salima solar project, commissioned in November 2021. Following the award, Power Africa interagency partner, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, awarded a grant to JCM Power to conduct a feasibility study to determine the suitable size of the Golomoti project and assess the possibility of including battery storage capacity.
Power Africa provided transaction advisory services to integrate BESS functionality into the project’s financial model. Power Africa developed a bankable financial model and assisted with optimizing Golomoti’s storage capacities and the revenue structure of storage versus direct sales. The integration included new BESS sizing, usage, and cost features to determine the best financial and technical solution.
“The integration provided by Power Africa included new BESS sizing, usage, and costing features to evaluate the optimal solution from a financial and technical perspective. Without the additional features, it would not be possible to identify a suitable solution for integrating a BESS into the project,” Patrick Godfrey, JCM Power Project Developer.
Battery Storage: Smart Systems to Stabilize Supply
Due to rapidly decreasing costs, battery storage systems are enabling solar and wind power generation to play a more prominent role in the global energy mix, displacing fossil-fuel-based generating capacity such as coal, diesel, and heavy fuel oil, which contribute significantly to climate change.
Although renewable energy is beneficial in averting carbon emissions, its variable generation traits caused by weather conditions can still result in power supply challenges. An energy storage system is one of the tools available to deal with these challenges. Golomoti’s BESS will employ lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of 5 MW/10 MWh, and will sit within the project’s interconnection substation compound.
Golomoti’s Battery Storage System will:
- primarily be charged with excess solar energy (when the photovoltaic facility would otherwise be forced to curtail supply);
- discharge during cloud cover and charge as the clouds dissipate to reduce the variability of solar production during the day;
- in the evening, dispatch available energy to service evening peak demand; and
- provide ancillary services to the national grid.
The project, which will sell power to ESCOM under a 20-year power purchase agreement, reached financial close on December 31, 2020, and construction of the plant began in March 2021. When the plant is switched on in the first quarter of 2022, clean power will feed into Malawi’s national electricity grid via the Golomoti substation and a 132-kilovolt transmission line.
This solar power plant, and others like it, have put Malawi on a path to diversify its generation mix, reduce costs, and open the door to future rounds of private investment. And, as the impact of climate change grows, solar-plus-storage systems will be critical to the transition to a renewable-fueled world.