By Samuel Okulony
The media recently reported that “energy shortfalls in the country are set to reduce following the inauguration of the sh1.8b solar assembling plant” in Kyebando, Kampala.
The director of Sunpost, the aforementioned solar assembling plant, is reported to have said that his company will “assemble and distribute the solar panels at affordable prices to leverage the need for alternative power in urban and rural areas”.
Seeing as the demand for clean, affordable and reliable energy is the fantasy of many a people in rural Uganda, the news of Sunpost’s inauguration is good news. Having access to clean energy improves the health conditions and living standards, especially of women and children, who are the main energy users at homes.
Clean energy sources, which include wind, solar and geothermal power, are typically the most abundant and practical ways for improving and meeting the household energy needs, especially in rural areas in the country. According to the Alternative Energy Sources Assessment Report (2004) and the National Biomass Assessment Study, Uganda has enormous potential for clean energy, amounting to over 5,300MW.
That Sunpost is tapping into this enormous potential is welcome news.
Other considerations to tap into Uganda’s enormous potential for clean energy to create rural electrification utilities, most especially for those areas which are at a geographical advantage, should be made. An abundant capacity of wind energy in the south western districts of Kabale, Ntungamo and Kisoro, around Mt Elgon and in Karamoja with the average wind speed at 4m /s (meters per second) means that generating clean energy from wind for these areas is viable.
Uganda also has the potential to generate over 450MW of geothermal and over 200 MW of solar power.
Despite this abundance of all these forms of clean sources of energy, Uganda is still ranked among the top 100 energy poor countries in the world according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Currently, only 15% of the population are connected to the national grid power supply unit and having the highest tariffs in East Africa and second in the world after Sweden. This leaves more than the 75% of the population to depend on other largely dirty fuel sources.
Efforts to provide affordable clean energy such as those of Sunpost have to be applauded because they are providing a better alternative.
However, to enable more equitable access to clean energy, ensuring to take care of the needs of women and children, rural energy utilities should provide power at least cost; renewable energy generation projects targeting rural communities, projects such as Sunpost’s, have to provide energy at affordable costs.
Uganda should also generally ensure that energy generation and pricing should not drive Ugandans to resort to using polluting, inefficient biomass fuels. When these are used, all suffer but more so the poor, women and the girl-child.
The writer is a programmes and research coordinator of the Africa institute For Energy Governance
Why we should promote clean energy in rural areas