With German support, Uganda has managed to increase energy supply and efficiency, by using mainly renewable sources.
By Dr Albrecht Conze, German Ambassador
Irene Muloni, the minister for energy, is currently attending the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue 2018, hosted by the German Federal Government. Participants from 90+ countries are coming together to discuss the fundamental transition of the global energy sector against the background of climate change and its multiple challenges.
Minister Muloni, a keynote speaker at the forum, will have a good story to tell. The Bloomberg Renewable Report of 2016 rated Uganda second-best in renewable energy investments in Africa. As international research in the field of renewables is progressing rapidly, Uganda is today in an excellent position to define its future energy mix through a sound and far reaching strategy. Oil and gas reserves should soon improve the balance of payments.
The focus on renewable sources, abundantly available, should enable the country to proceed without recourse to nuclear energy. This technology, very much related to the 20th century, has long been considered to be cheap and clean. Today, however, its downside – the production of nuclear waste and the risk of a major accident threatening densely populated areas – is evident for everyone. On balance, renewables are cheaper and more sustainable, and do not entail incalculable risks.
With German support, Uganda has managed to increase energy supply and efficiency, by using mainly renewable sources. The objective is to quickly reduce the current overdependence on wood fuel that accelerates deforestation, land degradation and indoor air pollution. Uganda has lost, on average, 122,000 hectares of forest annually since 1990, and the trend so far has not been stopped. Red lights are flashing and no more time should be lost.
Uganda’s energy sector has undergone significant reform. The legal and regulatory framework has been streamlined and the former Uganda Electricity Board was unbundled in 2001 into separate companies for generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. An independent regulator was created. Thanks to these reforms and a focus on cost-reflective tariffs, Uganda is one of only two African countries that have been able to establish a financially viable electricity sector.
Liberalisation of the power sub-sector now attracts some of the largest private investments in the country, both in generation and distribution of power.
As a result of Uganda’s innovative and multi-faceted approach to power generation, the electricity access rate has grown from less than 1% (2001) to 10% in 2018. Private companies are serving rural areas with off-grid solutions, in addition to the grid expansion efforts of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). The total installed power generation capacity has improved over time and currently stands at 947MW
Germany’s support to the energy sector
Over the past 15 years, Germany has supported capacity installation of more than 450MW installed capacity (hydro, solar and biomass technology) and contributed to financing Bujagali, Muzizi and Nyagak I hydropower plants.
Island electricity grids were extended in West Nile and prepaid metering systems installed. Expensive and unsustainable diesel generators were replaced by climate friendly hydro power. Solar home power was facilitated in rural areas.
Licence and permit application forms were simplified. This has benefited the private sector. 14,000 people in West Nile and Lango now enjoy regular and subsidised electricity connections.
Over 500,000 people have accessed energy efficient cook stoves. Stove manufacturers have been supported to improve their production, marketing and distribution methods.
As a result of all these programmes, several thousands of new jobs were created in the energy service sector.
The upcoming tasks
What is next on the To Do List of the Uganda Government? I can see three priorities:
•On grid: Almost 80% of the population, mostly in rural areas, still has no access to electricity.
•Off grid: More needs to be done to promote decentralised, off-grid electricity supply from renewable sources leveraging private investments to this end is essential.
•No more charcoal: New solutions for cooking are a prerequisite for stopping further deforestation and thus ensuring food security in the future.
On the whole, planning and implementation of projects in the energy sector could be improved. A strategic integrated power sector investment plan should be established against which activities can be carried out in a systematic and streamlined manner. The implementation of such a plan could help avoid duplication of interventions and misalignment of generation and transmission projects.
In order to realise all the already existing ambitious projects, Government institutions need to be properly equipped with personnel, efficient procedures and funding to carry out their mandates effectively. A solution to the current impasse around compensation payments for large infrastructure projects, especially transmission lines, must be found. Projects which take too long to be implemented always cost too much money. Are Government officials always aware of this simple truth? As I am one myself, I know what I am talking about.
Uganda will not be able to solve all her problems with a strong and healthy energy sector. But without one, she will solve none at all. The road will be long and often painful. Germany will continue walking it together with Uganda, as long as there is a need for it.