On 19th February, the Daily Monitor reported that the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) has opened the solar energy production window for private energy producers to supply the national power grid as a stop gap measure to energy deficiency in the country.
This is good news for Ugandans as it is becoming increasingly clear that hydro power is not a viable option and government needs to look into other sources of energy. One such source is solar. Despite the immense opportunities associated with solar energy, its adaptation in Uganda continues to be slow.
According to the renewable energy policy 2007, the estimated electrical potential of solar is 200MW. Rural Electrification Agency (REA) estimates that so far there are more than 600 solar connections in the country. Uganda has huge unexploited solar energy resources. Like most African countries, Uganda receives 325 days per year of bright sunlight. This gives solar power the potential to bring energy to virtually any location in Uganda without need for expensive large scale grid infrastructure.
Countries like Kenya and South Africa have adopted a comprehensive solar system and their approach is a success story from which Uganda can learn. Kenya’s major solar projects supply the national grid with 4mw. Kenya also has a number of off-grid solar systems that have helped supply power to rural and peri-urban areas- for example, the 50mw power solar plant in Garissain Northern Kenya and the Lake Turkana 250MW solar project in Turkana District.
Solar energy would be particularly important for people on islands like Kalangala and in mountainous areas like kabaale, where it is difficult and too costly to extend the national grid because of the hard terrain. With the reality of climate change, solar energy is a way to provide clean energy without negatively impacting the environment and getting affected by the climate change.
Uganda’s power tariffs continue to increase at a disconcerting rate, especially considering that more than half of the population lives below the poverty line. Uganda has the highest power tariffs in East Africa. Ugandans continue to bear the burden of the ever increasing power costs.
More to this, is the problem of load shedding due to the demand for electricity being more than the supply because of the ever increasing number of people that are connected to the national grid every day.
Uganda also experiences high production costs due to the concentration of dams on River Nile in Jinja. The major dams of Bujagali, kiira and Nalubaale are all built on River Nile and this makes it expensive to transmit electricity to the rest of Uganda. Also, a lot of energy is lost as power is transmitted over long distances.
According to Mr Rene Meyer, the GET FiT project manager, ERA, solar energy projects are very expensive but can deliver power within eight months unlike hydropower projects which take a minimum of five years. However, setting up a solar system is a one time investment. With solar energy, one need not worry about paying monthly bills to electricity generation and distribution companies. Also, there is no need to employ a lot of personnel to maintain solar energy or carry out meter readings like is the case with hydro energy. In the long term, solar energy is evidently the more affordable option.
There is a need to empower and support more Ugandans in to solar energy investment other than having the government being the main key player. This would, in turn decentralise power distribution. Thus far, government should concentrate on subsidising the people who install solar to make it easier for them to access solar energy. Also, fruitful partnerships with potential investors should be taken into account by government for the development of solar projects implementation.
Ms Atwijukire works with Africa Institute for Energy Governance.