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Solar generators can stem power shortage

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th September 2008 03:00 AM

IF the Government was to engage in coffee-growing business, it would still need out-growers to boost its gross coffee production. It should do the same for electricity generation. Every Ugandan with a house is capable of producing power that is more than what he or she needs for domestic and commerc

IF the Government was to engage in coffee-growing business, it would still need out-growers to boost its gross coffee production. It should do the same for electricity generation. Every Ugandan with a house is capable of producing power that is more than what he or she needs for domestic and commerc

By Dan Byamukama

IF the Government was to engage in coffee-growing business, it would still need out-growers to boost its gross coffee production. It should do the same for electricity generation. Every Ugandan with a house is capable of producing power that is more than what he or she needs for domestic and commercial purposes and can, therefore, sell the excess power to the national grid.

Uganda is endowed with redundant sunshine which can be converted into electricity by using solar panels. From only 50sq.kms, we can generate 660MW of electricity, which is equivalent to about three dams each the size of Bujagali.

Any Ugandan with a house can fix a solar panel on the rooftop and produce energy. If Ugandans with rooftops and capacity to purchase panels did this, we would generate more power than we need in our homes and sell to Umeme, say at sh300 per unit.

Umeme would then connect it to the national grid and sell to the rest at the current sh426. This can be achieved through a programme that can be called, for example, bonna bajeneretinge (mass generation of energy). A person with a plot of land can use 12.5 decimals of solar panels (one-eighth of an acre) to generate 66KW. This means 10,000 Ugandans each using the same piece of land covered with solar panels would produce 660MW and add it to the national grid.

I have done a pre-feasibility study of PV-solar generation in Uganda which shows that Kampala can get rid of diesel generators by using roof top solar units to supplement the insufficient hydro-power supply that forced us to use the diesel-guzzling thermal generators. The study shows that the vast expanses of residential, commercial and institutional bare rooftops across Kampala can be turned into “mini-power generating stations.”

This can be replicated in other towns, thereby boosting the availability of clean energy countrywide. This way, many homes, businesses and institutions would generate and use power they generate themselves and even sell the surplus through the national grid system. This would contribute to the reduction of load-shedding caused by insufficient hydro-power from the Jinja dams, and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from diesel generators.

The study found that the production of electricity with solar photovoltaic (PV) on Kampala’s residential and commercial rooftops is technologically and economically viable as long as favourable conditions are in place. One of such conditions is “net-metering” whereby the solar electricity is allowed to flow backwards through a customer’s utility meter and is accordingly subtracted by a utility company like Umeme, from that customer’s energy consumption.

The other condition is financial mini-power generation incentives similar to the ones in other countries like the US, Germany and Australia, where solar power generation is serious business today. Owners of homes and houses would need financial support to acquire the solar panels at about 35m.
The rural areas are even more favourable for solar energy generation because land can be purchased near the national grid cheaply.

Even stand-alone solar power plants (not on rooftops) can make sense in villages where their initial cost can be offset by commercial farming and other money generating activities that are otherwise impossible without electricity.
Juameme, the company behind the research, has identified Bigyera village in Ibanda district where a community-oriented solar power generation programme is on the drawing board.

This project will be executed in two phases;
The first phase of 90KW involves the generation of power at an existing building and the setting up of a community learning centre, workshops, a training school for computer and solar technicians, a solar shop and a microfinance facility.

The second phase of 200KW will see power generation on the side of the river, specifically for irrigation and agro-processing, such as oil and grain milling.

The plan includes a community learning centre where awareness campaigns in health, agriculture and other critical areas will be imparted to the residents at no fee. The community may hold drama and sports events at the centre at night because there will be light. The plan also includes an ICT component with training and provision of Internet and other telecommunication facilities.
The nearby Bigyera Secondary School with 800 students, 600 of them boarders, will also benefit from cheap energy.

The school could even install a solar-pumped water supply system. The school’s computers which have never been installed due to lack of power will also become operational. Many rural schools in other parts of the country can benefit from similar projects if the Government takes up the project. It is about converting the redundant sunshine into usable electricity.

The writer is an independent energy efficiency consultant

Solar generators can stem power shortage

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