Malawi: Egenco, Escom As They Migrate From Manual to Digital System in Energy Generation Control

Minister of Energy, Ibrahim Matola has described as a significant milestone on the automatic generation control (AGC), which Electricity Generation Company (EGENCO) and Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) has collaborated to roll out on the national power grid.

The system, that migrates generation control from manual to automation, was official launched on Wednesday in Blantyre that was spiced with a street parade led by Malawi Police brass band along Victoria Avenue from the Old Town Hall to Sunbird Mount Soche Hotel.

Matola further applauded the two power utility service providers for their partnership towards introducing the system that is expected to improve the quality of supply and system reliability.

This is part of ESCOM’s integrated strategic plan (ISP-27) for the period covering 2023-2027 which was launched on October 27, prompting Matola to say: “I wonder the kind of magic that ESCOM Limited is performing for it to diligently deliver its first tick in line with this strategic direction.”

The first of its kind AGC system in Malawi has been connected to two 32.4 megawatt (MW) units at Kapichira Hydro Power Station and another two 31 MW units at Tedzani III to the SCADA system at national control centre (NCC).

Funded by USAID, the project was supported by the Southern Africa Energy Program (SAEP) through various studies and fine-tuning the AGC to ensure optimum performance as in the past, generation control was being managed between the NCC, generation control centre (GCC) and local plant operators at generation sites through telephones.

This was a slow process and prone to some human error inaccuracies and with rapid changes in Malawi’s power sector, especially with integration of renewable energy, this was no longer tenable.

The AGC will achieve stable frequency regulation by sending automatic signals to four generators via SCADA system and this is a modern way of operating and controlling generators to improve frequency regulation and system stability.

In his presentation, ESCOM’s Chief Operations Officer (COO), Maxwell Mulimakwenda explained that the frequency control comes about by power demand from customers such that when power is needed at peak hours, the engineers and technicians on the ground called each other by phones and manually adjust the generators to increase power.

And it was vice-versa when power demand was low and through the AGC, the system is detecting on its own and send messages to generators to increase and reduce.

“The AGC is used to maintain acceptable frequencies during normal operation due to fluctuations in load and variable energy resources, and as an early response to system contingencies such as the unexpected loss of a generator or a transmission line.

“AGC units are used to provide frequency response reserves to maintain system stability,” said the COO.

The collaboration of ESCOM, EGENCO and the SAEP was applauded as reinforcing ESCOM strategic theme in ISP27: ‘Driving value by building positive stakeholder relationships and partnerships’ — which is a testimony that some of the pillars in the strategic plans cannot be achieved by ESCOM alone but must leveraged through partnerships.

Representing ESCOM’s Board, George Mazalale said with the commissioning of AGC on the selected four units, it is expected that system stability will be enhanced as frequency control will not rely on manual intervention but automation.

“This will improve quality of supply and system reliability,” he said. “In the medium term, it will also assist in reducing deemed energy charges as curtailment on variable renewable sources may be slightly eased which will benefit the energy industry overall.

“In the long term, the AGC will help Malawi manage power flows on the Interconnector when we connect to the Southern Africa Power Pool. AGC is, therefore, a transformative system that will improve the way we manage and control power generation.

“With AGC, we are taking a giant step towards a more efficient and reliable energy grid,” he said while further reporting that the USAID-SAEP program is supporting Malawi energy industry with technical expertise in the implementation of GEAPP sponsored battery storage programme.

“Indeed, USAID-SAEP is a true friend and partner of Malawi in general and the energy sector in particular.”

Minister Matola also emphasized as the energy landscape in Malawi is evolving at an unprecedented pace, the responsibilities of the Ministry of Energy, and the system & market operator within ESCOM Limited need to grow more complex.

“The AGC system represents a critical step forward in Government’s efforts to ensure the reliability and stability of the country’s power grid.

“The provision of uninterrupted and reliable power supply is among the key focus areas that His Excellency Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera’s Government is pursuing to make Malawi a better place to be.”

He added that the AGC system “is not just a technological advancement — it is a testament to Malawi Government’s commitment to a sustainable, efficient, and resilient energy future”.

“With this technology, we are poised to optimize the generation and distribution of electricity, thereby minimizing power supply disruptions and enhancing the overall performance of our energy infrastructure.”

He took note that the system will also allow many units in the power system to participate in regulation, which in turn “will reduce wear on a single unit’s controls and improve overall system efficiency, stability, and economy”.

“I am sure that the power system will now be operating optimally without being stressed. By operating optimally, the AGC system will enable us to strike a delicate balance between energy supply and demand, ensuring that every citizen has access to reliable electricity.