Uganda can be Africa’s hub for renewable energy – expert

Eng Dennis Ariho addresses a gathering at Makerere University on October 27, 2023. PHOTO/MICHEAL AGABA

Uganda can be a continental and regional hub for renewable energy if government commits more funds for research and investment in the sub-sector, an expert has said.

According to Eng Dennis Ariho from the Makerere University-based East African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (EACREEE), Uganda needs to move to productive use of renewable energy sources to power manufacturing, irrigation, food handling and ICT, which in the long run will lead to creation of jobs.
However, he said, this will require more investment in research and innovation.

“Uganda is blessed with abundant renewable energy sources. We have hydropower, sunshine for solar, biomass, wind, geothermal and hydrological resources. In some countries like DRC, we have lithium, you look at our geothermal resources, our water resources,” he observed.

“I think we can develop a renewable energy economy by also having manufacturing facilities in our country and the East African Community. I believe it is possible for government to allocate budgets for research, development, and innovation so that we start harnessing the resources available,” he added.

Eng Ariho was speaking on Friday at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology at Makerere University during the review of the Energy Efficient Lighting and Appliances (EELA) project that is funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) with support from the European Union.

According to statistics from the ministry of Energy, at least 57 percent of households in Uganda had access to one source of energy in 2022. Biomass (firewood, charcoal and crop residues) is still the most important source of energy for most of the population. Electricity is contributing only 1.4 percent to the national energy balance while oil products, which are mainly used for vehicles and thermal power plants, are also dominant. Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) currents contributes less than 1% to the total primary energy consumption.

Eng Ariho, who is the EELA project lead, said the project focuses on market development for energy efficient lighting appliances, products and services. It also focuses on awareness and capacity building, standard design testing and private sector support.

“The project supported the development of the regional minimum energy performance standards for lighting. The project also procured portable lighting test equipment. So, for Uganda, the equipment was handed over to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards and they are using it,” he explained.

Eng Ariho said the project supported the development of the regional minimum energy performance standards for lighting.

“These standards were developed and also went through a number of national consultations and regional harmonization meetings. The standards were adopted on July 1, 2022. So as we talk today, we have one standard for all the countries in the East African Community,” Eng Ariho said.

However, he appealed the government of Uganda to invest in testing facilities for energy efficiency products.
“We should not let our market be flooded with inefficient and low-quality products, we need to do something as a country and invest. It's very important that we have we harmonize the policies and standards,” Eng Ariho said.

The Energy Efficient Lighting and Appliances (EELA) project has also developed Green Public Procurement Guidelines to guide the government on procuring energy efficient products.

“What is happening in our government agencies when they are doing procurement? Are they only focusing on cost or they're also focusing on quality and energy efficiency. So, this guidance are helping to ensure that they are procuring energy efficient products, energy efficient systems, and equipment,” he explained.

Mr Okaasai Opolot, the State Minister for Energy, was not immediately available for a comment. But speaking at the launch of the Energy Policy for Uganda in September, Minister Opolot said the document lays down a strategy for increasing power generation and empowerment of industries, businesses, and households to thrive and prosper.

“The Energy Policy for Uganda 2023 represents our unwavering dedication to ensuring that Uganda’s energy needs are met while preserving our environment. It is a testament to our commitment to sustainable development,” he said.
Ms Irene Pauline Bateebe, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy, also acknowledged that despite Uganda’s abundant energy resources, mainly hydro, biomass, and other renewables, widespread energy poverty persists among households, which represent the largest group of energy consumers in the country, following industries.
Ms Bateebe said the Energy Policy marks a significant step in Uganda’s journey towards a more sustainable and accessible energy mix.