By Diana Taremwa
Biogas energy typically refers to a mixture of gases produced by the breakdown of any organic matter. It is produced from readily available raw materials such as animal waste, human and recycled waste. It is a renewable energy source with no carbon footprint.
Statistics from the Ministry of Energy indicate that there are only about 1,000 biogas digesters in the country which shows that usage of biogas energy is virtually untapped in Uganda.
Most projects currently in development are either in the planning or demonstration stages around the country, the potential of biogas energy for decentralized small-scale electricity generation is yet to be realized by many especially in villages that remain without access to electricity.
Also, biogas energy technology is yet to be promoted at any significant scale by government programmes, national utilities or NGOs active in rural electrification.
As government implements the second phase of the rural electrification programme, there’s a need to integrate use of readily available alternative energy sources such as biogas to deliver power to rural households because it’s cheaper and sustainable in the long run.
The rural electrification programme aims at equitable regional distribution of electricity and increasing rural electricity access in Uganda. The target of the recent Rural Electrification Strategic Plan 2013-2022 is to achieve electrification access of 22% (i.e. consumers who will be utilizing electricity in their homes, businesses or institutions) by 2022 from the current level of 5% for rural areas.
Electricity access continues to be low and majority of the population in rural Uganda continue to rely on wood fuel which in turn leads to environmental degradation and health hazards.
The Government has continued to favour extension of power to the rural poor with Hydro-power from dams in Jinja which is expensive for the Government and for the rural poor to install and maintain.
Transportation and distribution of Hydro-power over long distances leads to losses that have to be recouped inform of high tariffs.
To achieve the ambitious target of the recent RESP2013-2022, government should concentrate on sustainable energy sources such as biogas to deliver power to rural households.
Biogas materials are often very much available in rural areas which are beyond the reach of typical grid systems. Animals such as cattle, goats, and produce large amounts of biogas because of billions of micro-organisms living in their digestive system.
Biogas plants can be built on domestic level, which enable most households to own one. These plants treat bio-waste which produces gas for cooking instead of using traditional firewood or charcoal. It also prevents the tendency to throw the waste materials on roads and in public places and reduces landfill waste.
Biogas energy is constant unlike intermittent renewables like wind and solar. It is also often economically viable for power generation and available at low cost and in sufficient quantities.
Biogas technology is already successful in China where almost 90% households and institutions use this energy source.
It has also been used in Rwanda prisons since 2001, about six prisons are saving 50% of cooking costs by using human excreta to produce cooking gas for the prison population of about 30,000.
Recent increased focus on mini-grid solutions coupled with the potential for making use of locally produced renewable biomass resources means that biogas could provide an important contribution towards rural electrification in Uganda.
Electricity connects rural communities to the world, provides opportunities such as jobs, education and business thus access is very necessary.
The Government should increase investments in other sustainable energy sources like biogas so as to increase access in rural areas and also double the share of other renewable energy sources in the energy mix.
The writer works with Africa Institute for Energy Governance