Fuel costs are up, but what is the future like? 

Juliet Katusiime Zizinga (PhD). Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • This biomass energy industry if well thought can complement and surpass the gas reserves estimated span of 25 years is the case for the entire oil and gas sector in Uganda, since it is a renewable sector.

Fuel prices are creeping up, again, and it is likely the future trend. But what about household energy? The energy business is lately central to global climate discussions, and the state or cost of living as reported in other countries such as Kenya and South Africa recently.

Although the majority of households (70 to 90 percent) in sub-Saharan Africa depend on biomass (firewood and charcoal) for their heating and cooking needs, the need for changes is central in policy and plans. 

In the case of Uganda, government affirms the interest in promoting Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for households in addition to fully developing the oil and gas industry and thus, broadening the energy options of the country. 

Indeed, Minister of Energy Ruth Nankabirwa in a recent interview on BBC News confirmed that the government is currently aiding certain households with free gas cylinders as one of the policy measures to support household energy needs. 

The measure is projected widely and in the future as an undertaking of a ‘green’ path that counters environmental destruction from both the oil industry and current biomass use. 

This initiative somehow compliments the reports that by 2017, Uganda ranked 74th in the world, with an estimated 0.5 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves (worldometer, 2023), and the Uganda Energy Policy (2002), promises to facilitate and meet the energy needs of Uganda’s population and targets universal access to electricity by 2030, that is revised and replaced with the Energy Policy 2023.

The new energy policy, though conversant of some challenges persisting, takes on a task of ensuring the current and future household energy supply, is less detrimental to the environment, and people’s pockets. 

The 2023 policy finds a legacy where the Uganda Energy Policy (2002), despite being in existence for at least 20 years and making the right claims, left an estimated 96 percent (Ubos National Service Delivery Survey, 2021) of households still relying on the scanty and costly firewood and charcoal for cooking energy, despite geothermal, solar, biogas, and or hydropower resources.

The status quo, therefore, indicates and makes the possibility of overturning the high dependence on biomass fuel for cooking likely to be slow, retaining biomass as a significant source of household energy for the time being and the future. 

Especially, if the debates against fossil fuel emissions reduction and the need to ensure ‘green’ energy is something to go by globally. As such, some of the current biomass-use lenses and views need to shift, and instead, the industry be developed as the ‘cleaner’, ‘greener’, and possibly an affordable path in my perspective.

This means, improving on our research, policy, and practice with the intent of making biomass energy sources ‘clean’, eliminating persistent detrimental elements manifesting as environmental degradation, including forest cover loss, and attending to related health concerns among others. 

We need to develop a biomass energy industry that is countering some of the recent National Environment Management Authority (Nema) reports indicating that about 20 percent of charcoal burnt traces the materials as sourced from private or farmed trees and explaining the elaborate tree and forest cover loss.  

This biomass energy industry if well thought can complement and surpass the gas reserves estimated span of 25 years is the case for the entire oil and gas sector in Uganda, since it is a renewable sector.

Correspondingly, like me, other people who cook and advocate for environmental sustainability, are perplexed about which path is less destructive in the face of fossil fuel energy-driven emissions reduction campaigns for climate stability. The developed biomass energy industry is likely what we need.

To achieve it, we need to facilitate the new energy vision that is progressive, green, and affordable in policy and practice.

Our tree planting and afforestation programmes need a boost in terms of scale and tree survival rate, and frame the objectives to include in meeting energy needs. 

Government needs to implement the Energy Policy 2023 and other policies related in a manner that ensures the energy needs of today are met while considering those of the future.

Juliet K Zizinga (PhD) is an environmental sustainability researcher and advocate