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Off-grid systems the solution to lack of power in rural areas

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th September 2012 03:14 PM

OSCAR Beddi lives with his family of 12 in a mud-andwattle house on the shores of Lake Albert. The entire family’s livelihood depends on fishing.

Off-grid systems the solution to lack of power in rural areas

OSCAR Beddi lives with his family of 12 in a mud-andwattle house on the shores of Lake Albert. The entire family’s livelihood depends on fishing.

By Ibrahim Kasita
OSCAR Beddi lives with his family of 12 in a mud-andwattle house on the shores of Lake Albert. The entire family’s livelihood depends on fishing.

Every evening when the sun sets, Beddi and his six sons go out on their boat to fish the much priced Angara (Alestes
fish).

They entice the fish into their nets with a tadooba (locally made kerosene lamp), which they attach to a float.

The lamps, which also provide lighting for his hut, pollute the atmosphere with climate-damaging carbondioxide and are expensive to maintain.

Over 50% of Beddi’s small income is spent on buying kerosene.

For beaten-down fishermen near Lake Albert, who are already facing a sharp decline in fish stocks due to over-fishing, the cost is exorbitant.

The majority of Uganda’s population is in the same situation. Only 12% of 6.5 million households’ access electricity from the national grid, according to the Uganda National Household Survey report 2010.

The low coverage and slow advancement of electricity is reported to be caused by the high cost of the national grid extension, sparse population, low ability to pay and remoteness of most rural villages.

This combined with the high population growth (creating higher demand in urban areas) and the limited electricity supply implies that many parts of Uganda, will continue to have low access to it.

“Most of our people use tadooba for lighting. This has raised their expenditures as
they frequent fuel service stations to buy paraffin,” Robert Ddamulira, WWF Uganda Country Climate manager, noted.

“The smell of tadooba and its smoke are dangerous to people’s lives. It contributes to global warming by emitting carbon dioxide,” Ddamulira explains.

However, commercial offgrid systems have improved the lives of rural Ugandans by providing them with clean, affordable lighting and energy needed for health, production and education.

Clean light
In Alebtong district of northern Uganda, Patrick Abali (32) purchased a firefly lamp to light his home at night and also start a business of charging mobile phones.

The Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamp has three parts – the light, the battery and the solar panel to charge the battery.

Other components are the switch and a micro-controller to avoid overcharge and over-discharge of the battery.

“I am not worried about the prices of paraffin going up because I use solar,” says Abali

According to a research conducted in 2011, phone charging is a highly viable economic activity where electricity is used by few people.

The report, conducted by Simon Collings of Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEMP) International, states that the availability of a local charging service resulted in greater phone use and increased expenditure on airtime.

“The lack of accessible sources of electricity for recharging a phone denies many people the benefits derived from a phone which include increased economic activity, banking services, information, and reduced travel time,” the report reads.

Phone charging is a highly profitable activity. On average businesses in Tanzania charging 19-20 phones a day while in Uganda it is 7-8 phones a day.

According to the report, a business charging 20 phones a day (600 phones a month) at $17 cents each, earns $100 a month.

“The size of the system required to service this level of business costs around $480 (excluding installation) meaning the business can pay for itself in five months,” the report adds.

“Once the system is paid for the business has virtually no costs. In addition to charging phones the entrepreneurs operating from their homes also used the solar PV systemfor lighting and TV.

Off-grid systems
Off-grid lighting systems are standalone rechargeable lighting appliances or kits that can be installed, assembled and used easily without having to seek assistance from a technician, according to Light Africa a joint IFC/World Bank project.

The modern off-grid lighting products comprise a small (1W – 5W) all weather solar panel and a lamp with a rechargeable battery that powers the lamp for at least four hours each night.

The batteries, most of which now use the mobile phone battery technology, may be built into the lamp or may come as separate battery units to be connected to the lamps after charging.

Batteries are charged when the solar panels are left in direct sunlight, usually on the rooftop, for at least six hours. This enables users to get a minimum of four hours of lighting at night.

Additional features of modern off-grid products that are grid products that are popular with consumers include mobile phone charging kits, which enable consumers to connect and charge their cell phones directly from the solar panel or from the solarcharged battery.

Off-grid benefits
The off-grid system extends the working day for small and medium enterprises and this leads to growth in production, improving working conditions and increasing customers.

Further the technology enhances safety and security via outdoor lighting for personal, business and community activities.

In education it creates conditions that attract teachers to retain students, increase time for student reading and studying both in the classroom and at home.

The long productivity time in homes raises household incomes and increases time for adult literacy and higher education programmes. The systems improve health services delivery and reduces greenhouse gas emission.

Despite Uganda’s ambitious plan to connect rural areas to the national grid, there still remains a big market for off-grid business as defined by the total number of unconnected households and their current spending on kerosene for lighting and other lighting products.

Off-grid technology remains the short and medium term solution to light and transform the lives of rural people in Uganda.

 

Off-grid systems the solution to lack of power in rural areas

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