Access to quality solar energy remains low with progress in the sector curtailed by a number of challenges such as poor coordination by government for off-grid connections. Dorothy Nakaweesi had a chat with Joyce Nkuyahaga, the Uganda Solar Energy Association chief executive officer on a number of issues and the way forward.
What is the penetration of solar energy in Uganda?
The latest Uganda Bureau of Statistics data puts energy access at 50 per cent with off-grid accounting for 26 per cent and on grid 24 per cent. It is estimated that 95 per cent of off-grid connections are solar.
The access is still low. Is it an issue of cost?
Solar has come a long way. Recent innovations have made solar technology affordable and accessible. The quality on the market has also greatly improved due to competition and the increase in the available options.
Innovations in customer financing mechanisms have also made access and payment affordable.
Also, there are flexible credit payments, which offer ownership through periodical payments of up to three years.
However, there are still a number challenges in the industry among them taxation. For a long time we have campaigned for zero taxation on all solar products. We have achieved some positives with the government
removing taxes on some items such as solar panels.
The partial exemption is still far away from our targets and continues to prices, which makes solar unaffordable to a section of Uganda.
You are the chief executive officer of Uganda Solar Energy Association. What do you seek to achieve?
Principally, Uganda Solar Energy Association seeks to promote relevance of solar energy as an efficient and reliable source of energy.
We promote, distribute reliable solar equipment, create networking channels and promote self-regulation through which we enhance high quality standards, especially in the solar energy sector.
We have also created information hubs to provide a forum for knowledge exchange and encouraged capacity building through offering training opportunities for key stakeholders.
Do you have any plans to increase solar energy access the country?
We have made various interventions through our members. Currently, we have more than 170 member companies, which distribute and resell solar equipment in different parts of the country.
Beyond this, we have collaboration with various stakeholders to reach underserved areas through awareness campaigns. In 2019, we held awareness campaigns in Soroti, Mbale and Arua districts.
We have collaborated with Ministry of Energy on the Sustainable Energy Campaign in Hoima and the Annual Energy Week in Kampala.
Also other efforts have been collaborated by development partners such as GIZ, USAID and UKAID that conduct awareness through a number of programmes.
In November, we participated in the Gulu Energy Fair. All these seek to enhance awareness of renewable energies in order to increase usage and access.
There has been increased entry of substandard solar imports. Are concerned of the danger that they present?
Yes. This remains a serious concern but plans have been put in place to address it.
This year, we have worked with UNBS and the Rural Electrification Agency to develop solar standards that will protect consumer.
At least two standards are being developed with one now piloted. By 2021, we hope all standards will be in place.
Currently, the only enforcement we rely on is through the PVOC (Pre-Export Verification of Conformity) system but without a standard, it is not substandard-proof.
Have you looked at the Draft Energy Policy? What is your comment on it?
Yes, I have. We are key stakeholders and we had our input during the consultative process.
We welcome the policy and believe it will be able to fully address Uganda’s energy needs.
Our prayer is for government to fully implement of the contents of the policy because it is then that low energy access will be addressed.
Do you have any idea on how much energy is generated through solar?
In terms of solar, Uganda has sunshine all year round due to its position at the equator.
The average solar irradiation is 5.1kWh/m2 per day, which makes the country one of the best places for solar power generation in the world.
Unique challenges affecting the solar sector in Uganda
Lack of an off-grid component in the Rural Electrification Strategy.
This is causing confusion with regards to the role of off-grid solutions in the government’s energy access strategy.
Challenging tax regime
The introduction of taxes on solar accessories and spare parts creates confusion. Companies are reporting incidences where they are required to pay taxes on exempted equipment.
This in part result from insufficient awareness among stakeholders about the changes in the tax regime, which makes it difficult for companies to predict costs and appropriate pricing.
Limited access to finance
Companies struggle to access financing at all stages. Financial incentives are needed to enable companies serve underserved geographical areas.
A case in point, accessible concessional financing, to enable companies meet working capital needs, in areas where they might not necessarily expect a profit.
Poor coordination among government agencies on the implementing off-grid strategy
This has created an information vacuum for needs required and feedback.
There should be a property defined way of how government and the private sector can work together to improve off-grid connections.
Solar energy generation
Uganda has sunshine all-year round due to its position at the equator, which puts the country a lead position in solar energy generation.
Uganda’s average solar irradiation is 5.1kWh/m2 per day, which makes the country one of the best places for solar power generation in the world.