Uganda’s geothermal energy requires investment boost
Posted Wednesday, October 9 2013 at 01:00
A few efforts have been geared towards solar energy and even fewer to wind energy. Both efforts are remarkable but, like geothermal energy, they have failed to capture the government’s interest.
Uganda has an estimated 400MW of untapped geothermal energy. Kabale, Hoima and Kasese districts in western Uganda, where the Great Rift Valley and escarpment are located, have the greatest potential for generating geothermal energy.
Earlier this year, the government, through Uganda Electricity Transmission Company, signed a power purchase agreement with AEE systems, an American-based firm, in joint venture with a local company, Katwe Geothermal, to start the exploitation of geothermal energy in Kasese District. This was a remarkable step in terms of diversifying Uganda’s electricity sector.
Currently, Uganda mostly relies on hydropower with current generation capacity at 800mw. However, climate change impacts such as droughts and erratic rainfall have made hydro-power unreliable, reducing the country’s adaptive capacity. Hydropower dams in Uganda have continuously produced less power than initially projected capacity. For instance, Owen Falls currently produces 74MW instead of planned 180mw and Kiira Dam produces 50mw instead of the planned 200mw.
In turn, this has seen Uganda’s electricity demand rise above its supply electricity tariffs have more than doubled over the past five years, load shedding is the order of the day and electrification rates are still low. Also, transmission from major generation points like Bujagali in Buikwe District, to other parts of the country mean higher costs and greater risk of energy loss. All these problems necessitate dedicating efforts to geothermal energy development to diversify Uganda’s electricity sector.
Geothermal energy has numerous advantages over other energy sources. It is at the forefront of low-carbon options as it is green energy with no adverse effects on the environment and it is not affected by drought and climatic variability. This makes geothermal the most suitable source for electricity generation in the country.
In the meantime, our neighbours in Kenya boast of having the biggest geothermal plant in East Africa. Olkaria geothermal plant cost Kenya a lot to put up but the country has benefited in terms of lower operation costs and increased generation of electricity. The plant supplies 167MW of electricity, enough to serve 500,000 households. By 2030, the plant is expected to supply 7000MW.
Yet, it was not all smooth for Kenya. Olkaria was built in the 1980s, at a time when Kenya’s hydro electricity supply was being threatened by severe drought and the country’s power rationing stood at 70 per cent. The project stalled in 1992 and was only revived in 2003 when the government took the initiative to exploit geothermal potential. Kenya’s geothermal project is a model other African countries can learn from and transform the lives of the common man and woman.
Today, in terms of geothermal energy, Uganda is where Kenya was nearly three decades ago. It does not help that the history of investment in the energy sector in Uganda is mired with corruption and lack of transparency. The Karuma Dam project was clouded by inflated costs, unfair resettlement policies and unexplained delays. The complicated political-economic investment climate in Uganda, coupled with high initial set up costs, discourages any would-be investors in the geothermal energy sector.
A few efforts have been geared towards solar energy and even fewer to wind energy. Both efforts are remarkable but, like geothermal energy, they have failed to capture the government’s interest. Intensive efforts in investing in geothermal energy, alongside other sources are needed to increase electricity generation, boost supply and meet the ever growing electricity demand. This will secure and sustain Uganda’s electricity sector.
Ms Taremwa works with Africa Institute For Energy Governance. firstname.lastname@example.org