Surplus electricity: Is it a big opportunity or a drawback?

Tuesday December 19 2017

Diana Naisuna Nambi

Diana Naisuna Nambi  

By Diana Naisuna Nambi

In October 2017, Uganda welcomed its second Grid-Connected Solar Photo Voltaic Power Plant, the Tororo Solar North Plant, which boosts the country’s electricity generation capacity by 10 MWp. In December 2016, the 10 MWp Access Uganda Solar Limited Power Plant was commissioned in Soroti District.

Currently, Uganda utilises a combination of renewable and non-renewable energy resources/technologies for power generation, with the former making the greater supply to the national grid. The contribution by renewable energy to the grid includes hydro – 708.34MW (81 per cent), bagasse co-generation – 46MW (5.3 per cent), and solar – 20MW (2.3 per cent), which adds up to 774.34 MW.

The balance of electricity supplied to the grid is from thermal (non-renewable energy) at 100MW (11.4 per cent), which brings the total grid installed capacity to 929.6MW, as at December 2017.

In addition to the 929.6MW capacity, the national grid will benefit from 896.76MW that is expected from 12 projects that have been licensed by the Electricity Regulatory Authority, have achieved financial close and are currently under construction.

This capacity includes 69.06MW from eight projects partly funded under the Global Energy Transfer for Feed-In Tariff (GET FiT) programme, 44.7MW from projects that are supported by private investors, and 783MW from the Karuma (600MW) and Isimba (183MW) hydropower plants.

The harnessing of renewable energy resources in Uganda and the resultant diversification of the energy mix and growth in generation capacity have been enabled by a number of factors. These include favourable government policy on renewable energy development, coupled with establishment of a robust regulatory regime; support from development partners through the Global Energy Transfer for Feed-In Tariff Programme worth 90m Euros that has funded the development of 17 small hydropower projects across the country; and establishment of the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (RE FiT) that has attracted several independent power producers to invest in Uganda’s electricity supply industry.

Over the next two to three years, Uganda’s total generation capacity is projected at 1,800MW from both the large and small hydropower plants. Peak demand, on the other hand, is projected at 735MW during the same period. It is, therefore, critical that stakeholders in the electricity supply industry address the likely energy consumption deficit so that the benefits of the country generating more than sufficient electricity may not be diminished.

The government and other stakeholders have developed plans with the aim of aligning electricity generation to demand for the attainment of a supply-demand balance. The measures to grow the country’s demand for electricity are intended to increase utilisation of power and utilisation of power generation plants at their maximum installed capacity, which would lead to a reduction of the electricity tariffs. The demand-growth measures include the establishment of 25 planned industrial parks whose industries will consume a significant amount of energy; establishment of the Osukuru Industrial Complex in Tororo District that is expected to consume 200 MW; and power trade within the East African region.

Uganda’s electricity export potential currently stands at 690 MW, which includes exports to Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, DR Congo, and South Sudan. Further, the Ministry of Energy through the Rural Electrification Agency, will implement free universal electrification, at a projected rate of 300,000 connections per year. This will translate into 10MW to 15MW of additional demand from households per year. Growth in demand for electricity is associated with significant investments in the transmission and distribution infrastructure for purposes of reinforcing and expanding the grid for efficient evacuation, transmission and distribution of all the electricity generated.

A study by the Electricity Regulatory Authority reveal that funding worth $4,510m would be required to cater for evacuation of power, expansion of the network, establishment of substations at industrial parks, and re-investment into the network. As the country prepares to commission the large hydropower plants by the end of 2019, the big question is, how best can we utilise the available electricity resource to achieve socio-economic transformation?

Ms Nambi is the principal communications officer, Electricity Regulatory Authority.