Friday January 10 2014

Security is crucial to ensure sustainable energy supplies

By Kassim Wahab

The aspect of energy security dates back to the 1970s with the shock of the Arab oil embargo in 1973. Then measures were directed towards combating the cascading effects of the oil shocks. Presently, energy security is more comprehensive than mere supply. Apart from physical safety of supplies, it implies securing all forms and sources of energy and ensuring its uninterrupted supply at affordable prices to the needy in a clean and safe manner.

Uganda’s expanding economy, growing population and rising standards of living pose a serious challenge to its long-term energy security. Efforts currently underway for enhanced recovery are expected to step up indigenous production of oil in a significant way. It is notable that per capita electricity or energy consumption is an important measure of development, the current level of per capita energy consumption in Uganda is extremely low compared to global average.

We need to formulate a sustainable and cost-effective energy mix for future Uganda given our focus towards industrialisation and transport led development. Of course, time will come when Uganda has to think of investing in nuclear but this raises questions over whether there are sufficient uranium resources in the world and how much of it will Uganda get? We have to address these issues in a strategic framework.

Energy security is a strategic issue in China, Russia, US, and other giants because these countries are striving to build an energy-efficient society. The creation of strong national oil companies that have sustained the cutthroat competition from international oil companies is a vivid example. Competition in the domestic market could enhance availability of energy at reasonable prices, thereby ensuring energy security.

Restructuring of the sector is one of the issues for creating real competition in the domestic as well as global markets.
The monopoly in the supply of Hydro Electric Power is a cause of massive inefficiency in Uganda. With more than 12 hydropower stations as well as Karuma hydropower station under construction, Uganda should be receiving cheap and efficient electricity but achieving this has remained a dream.
Diplomatic cooperation with other countries in developing and exploiting energy resources, especially in energy conservation, improvement of energy efficiency, development of alternative energy resources and environmental protection concerning energy use, will contribute towards maintaining the stability and security of international energy supply. With the fast moving EAC, all this is possible - more so with partners like DRC stinking rich in natural resources.

Political will and the best efforts of industry leaders and experts is good but also a conducive environment to tackle this problem in a serious way is crucial. More so, initiatives in science, research and engineering technology are the other pre-requisites for stability, security and sustainability of the economy.

The more energy you produce, the more goods you manufacture and the services you can provide, so per capita gross national product is an important measure of development. Per capita electricity consumption has to increase before Uganda becomes a developed nation.
Our global need for energy reliability binds us together as surely as the global network that delivers it; a failure in one part of our network will inevitably affect everyone. Our goal should be to ensure reliable, affordable and environmentally sound energy supplies on a long-term basis. A difficult but achievable goal.
Mr Wahab is an Energy lawyer.