Uganda’s shift to clean energy by 2030 remains a pipe dream

Getrude Mbaseege                                                      
According to the Biomass Energy Strategy (BEST), energy poverty in Uganda is rampant and affecting mainly the cooking sector. 

Only 15 per cent of energy used for cooking in the 2018/2019 Financial Year qualified as clean energy. SDG 7 envisions universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. It begs the question of how feasible that is in developing countries like Uganda particularly in regard to clean cooking. 

Despite different government and development partners’ interventions, majority of the population still relies heavily on woody biomass, particularly charcoal and firewood as their primary energy source for cooking. 

The National Development Plan 3 (NDP 3) notes that 2.09 million tonnes of charcoal were consumed in 2019 alone, contributing to the 6.5-billion-dollar biodegradable loss due to using wood fuel. This has seen a drastic decline in forest cover (about 72,000 Ha annually) over the last decade, which is projected to increase as the population grows, further increasing demand for wood fuel.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) defines energy poverty as the absence of sufficient choice in accessing adequate, affordable, reliable, quality, safe, and environmentally-friendly energy services to support economic and human development. We need energy for lighting, heating and moving things from one place to another. 

Currently, Uganda’s energy mix is comprised of biomass (88 per cent), electricity (2 per cent), and fossil fuels (10 per cent). According to the BEST, households consume the largest percentage of biomass accounting for over 70 per cent, the bulk of which is through charcoal consumption. 

Uganda experiences repetitive cycles where charcoal prices sky-rocket during scarcity making it expensive until supply stabilises and they slowly fall. High demand for wood fuel coupled with low levels of reforestation over time, resulted into biomass demand exceeding available stock and hence energy insecurity.  

Late last year, an 85kg bag cost between Shs90,000 and Shs110,000 depending on one’s location and availability of charcoal stock in that season. As the dominant energy source for cooking in the country, this trajectory is alarming and needs to be reversed before it is too late. 

To reduce dependence on and consumption of biomass, the government has put efforts into increasing biomass energy efficiency through promoting clean cooking with less wood consumed and less smoke emitted. 

The ongoing densification and expansion of the national electricity grid has increased access to electricity for more people, increasing their options for cooking. 

Intensifying of rural electrification has also connected rural areas previously off the national grid to electricity, reducing dependence on biomass. 

Other off-grid energy solutions such as biogas and solar are being promoted as well for institutions like schools. The available modern energy options for cooking in Uganda today are Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), electricity, solar and biogas. 

Besides solar energy’s contribution to the national grid, its technologies in the market are mainly for lighting, charging and other low energy consumption uses. 

 Various development organisations and NGOs have played a pivotal role distributing Photo Voltaic appliances such as solar lamps at no cost or at subsidised prices, which has helped light-up many rural areas that are off-grid.

 However, use of solar for cooking and other heavy industrial processes, which consume a significant amount of power remains to be seen.  

As a modern energy source, few Ugandans can afford solely using LPG for cooking. They often complement it with charcoal or firewood. 

Ms Mbaseege is a research fellow at the Great Lakes Institute of Strategic Studies. [email protected]