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Small-scale community renewable energy projects will save trees

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Added 6th May 2019 10:13 AM

More than ever, the world and in this case Uganda, needs to tap into clean and sustainable energy

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More than ever, the world and in this case Uganda, needs to tap into clean and sustainable energy

By Katherine Nabuzale

No doubt climate change is upon us and the effects are already visible. What better explains the rapidly changing and increasingly erratic weather patterns being experienced like excessive flooding and droughts? Man's activities which are purposely for economic and social benefit have greatly accelerated the advance of climate change. Deforestation is one such activity that is and has largely contributed to Climate change. 

Importance of trees

Trees, shrubs and turf filter air by removing dust and absorbing other pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. After trees intercept unhealthy particles, rain washes them to the ground.

Trees control climate by moderating the effects of the sun, rain and wind. Leaves absorb and filter the sun’s radiant energy, keeping things cool during the hot season. Trees also preserve warmth by providing a screen from harsh wind. In addition to influencing wind speed and direction, they shield us from the downfall of rain, sleet and hail. Trees also lower the air temperature and reduce the heat intensity of the greenhouse effect by maintaining low levels of carbon dioxide.

Both above and below ground, trees are essential to the ecosystems in which they reside. Far reaching roots hold soil in place and fight erosion. Trees absorb and store rainwater which reduces run-off and sediment deposit after storms. This helps the ground water supply recharge, prevents the transport of chemicals into streams and prevents flooding. Fallen leaves make excellent compost that enriches the soil.

Why so much deforestation in Uganda?

Uganda as a developing country is struggling with various challenges among which are, shortage of energy for both industrial and domestic use and population explosion. These two are the main reasons for deforestation. Lack of or poor and costly rural electrification make the majority of Ugandans to use firewood and charcoal as the main sources of fuel to cook. Large amounts of forests are also spent as trees are cut for timber and wood because the construction industry greatly uses timber rather than other alternatives like steel. Over the last three decades, growth in human population and the corresponding increase in demand for forest products for domestic and industrial use, expansion of agricultural land, settlements and weak implementation of forest management policies have adversely affected the status of natural forests in Uganda.

In the late 1980s, Approx. 75,000 km2 (31.7%) out of 236,040 km2 of the total land in Uganda consisted of forest and woodland. Today, forests and woodlands cover is about 15.2% of Uganda’s land surface meaning that Uganda has lost 16.5% of forests and woodland cover.

The solution, small-scale community renewable energy projects to save trees.

More than ever, the world and in this case Uganda, needs to tap into clean and sustainable energy. That’s why Sustainable Development Goal 7 sets a number of important targets, including increasing the share of renewable energy in human energy consumption and doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency. Exploring the various renewable energy options is the solution to deforestation as these alternatives will provide clean energy for industrial and household use especially cooking.

For renewable energy to be termed sustainable and efficient means that it's readily available and can be locally harnessed with the simplest as well as affordable technologies.

Bio-gas; can be a very good source of energy, especially in rural and remote areas. Bio-gas is produced by anaerobic degradation of animal and human waste and plant wastes in the presence of water. Anaerobic degradation is to break down the organic matter by bacteria in the absence of oxygen. It is a non-polluting, clean and low-cost fuel which can be used for cooking.

Bio-gas can easily be harvested using simple mechanisms and can be maintained by the users themselves. The system is able to store some energy for later use in needed rates. Promotion of biogas projects particularly in the cattle corridor communities like Nakasongola and Karamoja should be considered.

Solar energy; the sun offers an ideal energy source, unlimited in supply and does not add to the earth’s total heat burden and neither does it produce air and water pollutants. The use of solar energy can significantly reduce dependence on natural resources and the emission of greenhouse gases. The uses of solar energy are diverse for example solar cookers use the radiation of the sun to heat and boil food.

Hydropower; this is the most widely used form of renewable energy. The gravitation force of falling water is the key point in hydroelectricity generation. Hydro energy is what is widely used in Uganda. However, investing more in small scale hydro or micro-hydro power can be a viable alternative energy source especially in remote areas facing massive deforestation.

Hydraulic micro-turbines are another suitable alternative since they require only small rivers with a low head (2-3 m) for producing some energy. Other renewable energy sources include Wind energy, Geothermal energy, hydrogen and fuel cells.

Nevertheless, the success of these small-scale community renewable energy projects will depend on the meaningful involvement of the local communities meant to benefit from the schemes. Therefore, sensitization of the communities on deforestation and it effects is key. Where possible, the government should consider providing subsidies as an encouragement to the communities so that they can easily embrace renewable energy alternatives.

Development of the renewable energy sector creates jobs and has the potential to promote socio-economic development thus, improving people's lives by reducing poverty.

The writer is a Ugandan living in Germany

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