New year, Same old power problems

Last Tuesday many residents of Area 49 in Lilongwe and other townships rushed home to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the US of A. But it was all cut short when they faced an electricity blackout. The power was only restored at the point when Obama was escorting Bush to Executive One, the helicopter that would take Bush to Andrews Airforce Base. Naturally many people were angry that they could not watch this historic moment live. On Wednesday I visited the profile one such person who hit out at Escom and the numerous comments below it also took a swipe at the corporation.

I have learnt to take a different view of the electricity supply body. The ESCOM-customer relationship is kind of like a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship. The girlfriend (Escom) is tired of her over-demanding boyfriend (Escom customers) and keeps trying to show him that she is not interested in him any longer. But as dumb as the boyfriend is he can’t read the body language and she is not willing to tell him in his face for fear of the backlash.

I believe Escom has capacity problems and I believe it would love if we could all find alternate solutions to satisfy our power demands. There are alternatives like solar, gas and bio-gas we could use but we fail to embrace those technologies. If all of us currently building or who have just built houses decided that our houses will use a solar gyser and solar lighting, gas or bio-gas for our cooking and Escom to power the fridge, microwave and iron ONLY we could relieve Escom of the constant load shedding we are subjected to throughout the year. We have a young man in Kasungu who ‘invented’ a wind powered solution to supply lighting to his small house there. We even have (or had) an organisation called Malawi Industrial Research and Technology Development Centre (MIRTDC) that normally pioneers research into low cost technologies. Why can’t we tap knowledge and implement solutions from this body?

I doubt if Escom will ever come out in the open to tell us to look elsewhere. The supposedly ‘poor’ customer service is most probably Escom’s body language that even if we went elsewhere they would not be very concerned and for good reason too!

If we don’t start looking for alternative sources of power Malawians will continue to face the same old problem – power blackouts!