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Simple, cheap alternative to electricity now available

By Vision Reporter

Added 5th December 2005 03:00 AM

MARGARET Musisi of Namulonge village in Wakiso was left in a black-out when she could no longer afford the high electricity bills. She resorted to smoky kerosene candles ( tadooba) for lighting.

MARGARET Musisi of Namulonge village in Wakiso was left in a black-out when she could no longer afford the high electricity bills. She resorted to smoky kerosene candles ( tadooba) for lighting.

By Fred Ouma

MARGARET Musisi of Namulonge village in Wakiso was left in a black-out when she could no longer afford the high electricity bills. She resorted to smoky kerosene candles ( tadooba) for lighting.

“I had a huge electricity bill, which I couldn’t pay,” says Musisi. “I resorted to tadooba, but the cost remained high because I would buy paraffin for sh500, which would last only two days and I would spend about sh7,500 per month.”

Musisi’s salvation came in April when Makerere University researchers under the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC) in collaboration with the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Utra Tec introduced new technology, Light Emitting Diode (LED) system in her village.

“I’m happy because of such a big relief from high bills,” she said. “LED system is cheap since you purchase it once and continue to enjoy cool light. You can even charge your mobile phone.”

But Musisi, who is now a team leader in charge of mobilising residents, is not alone. About 15 homesteads have already been connected in the pilot project spearheaded by the Energy Advisory Project (EAP) in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development. More than 56 people have also showed great interest in acquiring the technology they describe as simple and cheap.

Sarah Namirimu, another beneficiary, says she had cut her expenditure on paraffin from about sh9,500 a month to sh2,000.

“We paid sh95,000 in installments for the system,” she says. “When fully charged, it goes for about 14 hours without interruption.”

LED system is made of small solar panels of five to 14 watts, four to seven amps hour non-refillable battery and one watt lights (bulbs). Unlike ordinary solar or electricity, which can shock, the LED system is user-friendly because of low voltage. Its bluish-white light is conducive for sight compared with the eye-straining bright colours from incandescent bulbs of 60 or 100 watts.

The system also consumes small amounts of power compared to the ordinary solar. For better results from the torch-like light strategically positioned, a room should have a ceiling and walls painted in bright colours like white.

Richard Okou, a CREEC researcher working on the project says the promotion of LED systems was in line with the Government’s plan for renewable energy. It cost between sh250,000 and sh350,000. In comparison, the smallest conventional solar systems cost about sh1m.

“Our target is to promote LED lighting for poor rural households who can’t access electricity or afford the conventional solar systems,” says Okou. “Considering that Uganda always receives sunshine, it is a cheap system that can be customised to the client’s needs.”

If adopted, it would lead to sustainable use and protection of the environment.
According to the 2002 population census, over 75% of Ugandan households use tadooba for lighting. The use of electricity is still low, only 7% of households use it.

Similarly, a recent World Health Organisation report on indoor pollution shows that smoke in the home emitted by kerosene for lighting, fuelwood, dung, crop waste and coal causes 1.6 million deaths every year, which is higher than that of malaria.

“Every 20 seconds, someone, especially a child or mother, dies from an illness caused by smoke,” says the report.
Citing his experience after a tour of a village in Uganda, German ambassador Alexander Muhlen said indoor smoke posed greater health risks to people in developing countries, where 97% of households use poor technologies for lighting, cooking and heating.

“Indoor air pollution is the deadliest silent killer,” he told a regional meeting on indoor air pollution and household energy monitoring in Kampala recently.

Currently, Namulonge residents are paying only 30% of the cost to have the LED system installed while 70% is subsidised by the GTZ. But this is as short-lived as a pilot project can last.
Henceforth, the rural poor can only hope that more stakeholders such as the Government, non-governmental organisations and micro-finance institutions come to their rescue.

“It is a rural-based affordable technology that can only be replicated and sustained if more stakeholders took an active role,” says Okou.

Simple, cheap alternative to electricity now available

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