Monday, September 30th, 2013
Despite the immense opportunities associated with solar energy, its adaptation in Uganda continues to be slow. Even as the Ministry of Energy, financed by the World Bank, prepares to roll out phase II of the rural electrification programme, it is becoming increasingly clear that hydro power is not a viable option and government needs to look into other sources of energy. One such source is solar.
According to the renewable energy policy 2007, the estimated electrical potential of solar is 200MW. Rural Electrification Agency (REA) estimates that so far there are over 600 solar connections in the country. Uganda has huge unexploited solar energy resources. Like most African countries, Uganda receives 325 days per year of bright sunlight. This gives solar power the potential to bring energy to virtually any location in Uganda without need for expensive large scale grid infrastructure.
Countries like Kenya have adopted a comprehensive solar system and their approach is a success story from which Uganda can learn. Kenya’s major solar projects supply the national grid with 4mw. Kenya also has a number of off grid solar systems that have helped supply power to rural and peri urban areas- for example the 50mw power solar plant in Garissa-Northern Kenya and the L.Turkana 250MW solar project in Turkana district.
Solar energy would be particularly important for people on islands like Kalangala and in mountainous areas like kabaale, where it is difficult and too costly to extend the national grid because of the hard terrain. With the reality of climate change, solar energy is a way to provide clean energy without negatively impacting the environment and getting affected by the climate change.
Hydro energy problems
Government’s failure to listen to the United Nation Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (UNPCC)’s advice to factor the effects of climate change in all our development projects has continued to affect the capacity of our dams. Indeed, the prolonged droughts and degradation of the environment, especially around L. Victoria, are increasingly making our dams “ghosts”. This is the reason why Owen Falls dam is currently producing 74mw instead of planned 180mw, Kiira dam is producing just 50mw instead of the planned 200mw while information about the actual production of Bujagali has never been independently verified.
The failure to produce the expected amount of hydro energy explains why Ugandans are paying high tariffs andstill in darkness despite government promises that upon the commissioning of Bujagali, tariffs would reduce and darkness would be no more, at leastfor two years. Unfortunately, even before Bujagali clocks five months, load shedding is greatly increasing and power tariffs are higher than before. Government has to recoup the costs of building the dams even when they are not working to optimum capacity, and the consumers ultimately shoulder the burden.
High power tariffs
Uganda’s power tariffs continue to increase at a disconcerting rate, especially considering that over half of the population lives below the poverty line. Uganda has the highest power tariffs in East Africa. Ugandans continue to bear the burden of the ever increasing power costs. Last year the electricity tariffs for large-scale consumers rose by 69% to shs.312.8 from Shs.184.8 per unit. Tariffs for small scale consumers increased by 36% to shs.458.6 from shs.358.6.The ever increasing electricity tariffs remain the biggest challenge in Uganda’s electricity sector year after year.
More to this is the problem of load shedding due to the demand for electricity being more than the supply because of the ever increasing number of people that are connected to the national grid every day. Uganda also experiences high production costs due to the concentration of dams on River Nile in Jinja. The major dams of bujagali, kiira and Nalubaale are all built on R. Nile and this makes it expensive to transmit electricity to the rest of Uganda. Also, a lot of energy is lost as power is transmitted over long distances.
Solar too expensive
State minister for Energy Eng.Simon Du’jang, has blamed the delay in adoption of solar energy on the high set up costs required when investing in viable solar systems. But like Dickens Kamugisha, Executive Director of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance, points out, setting up a solar system is a onetime investment. With solar energy, one need not worry about paying monthly bills to electricity generation and distribution companies. Also, there is no need to employ a lot of personnel to maintain solar energy or carry out meter readings like is the case with hydro energy. In the long term, solar energy is evidently the more affordable option.
Therefore there’s a need to empower individuals and communities as producers and controllers of solar energy, other than having the government being the main key player. This would, in turn decentralize power distribution. Thus far, government should concentrate on subsidising the people who install solar to make it easier for them to access solar energy. Fruitful partnerships with potential investors should be taken into account by government for the development of solar projects implementation.
Solar energy is one of the most promising renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources. Government needs to diversify the energy sector through increased investment into other renewable energy sources, chief of which should be solar energy. Only then shall we have hope of realizing the renewable energy policy 2007goal of increasing use of modern renewable energy from 4% to 61% by the year 2017.