Uganda’s energy sector has a very high potential for reducing poverty. Around two in six people in the country lack access to electricity and almost half the population still cook with polluting fuels like kerosene, wood, charcoal and dung. In areas without electricity like northern Uganda and far flung areas of Karamoja, women and girls spend hours fetching water.In parts of the country where access of electricity is non existent, clinics can’t store vaccines, school going children cannot do homework at night and people cannot run competitive businesses and countries cannot power their economies. Even when power is available it can be prohibitively expensive. Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa like Uganda face electricity costs as high as 15 to 45 US cents per kilowatt-hour against a global average close to 10 US cents. According to experts in sustainable development, inclusive economic growth is the single most effective means of reducing poverty and boosting prosperity. However, most economic activity is impossible without adequate, reliable and competitively priced modern energy. Without electricity, Ugandans can’t run a business at night and it’s close to impossible to attract companies to towns like Jinja, Mbarara, Gulu that could provide jobs and opportunities to young people. Uganda can’t create jobs and opportunities without energy.
I do agree with President Yoweri Museveni sentiments he made last year that his government heavy investment in energy sector was because energy poverty means poor Ugandans are the least likely to have access to power meaning they are more likely to remain poor if they stay unconnected. That is why Ugandan government is injections hundreds of millions of dollars in the sector due to its importance in the fight against poverty. Current Energy Minister Irene Muloni was one time quoted as saying the way Ugandans use electricity needs to be efficient, sustainable and whenever possible, renewable. There is good news for Uganda.According to latest data, more poor Ugandans are gaining access to electricity at a faster rate than ever before. But the share of renewable energy is not growing at the same speed especially after the government halted the issuance of solar power licenses. And Uganda is lagging behind its regional neighbor in improving energy efficiency. A recent study by International Energy Association concluded that that in high-income countries like United States and western Europe, energy efficiency is now the largest source of energy because energy saved is energy that can be used elsewhere. That means countries can cut the link between economic growth and energy demand just by improving energy efficiency.
Over the past 10 years, Uganda has made enormous strides in reducing their energy intensity.If we fully applied all the energy efficiency technologies that are already available today, Uganda could cut energy consumption dramatically by about a third but at the moment according to Energy Regulatory Authority only a fraction of this potential is being realized. Through a combination of energy efficient technologies, smart building design and new renewable roof-top energy technologies in Kampala, it is already possible to produce buildings that are zero net energy users. In many cases, they are buildings that are generating solar energy which can go to national grid for others to use. Of course beyond energy efficiency, policy reform and removing energy subsidies,also need to see Uganda shifting from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy. The good news is that it’s happening. Rapid technological progress is bringing down the cost of renewable energy for everyone including Ugandans.
Uganda is now seeing massive new investment in well-known types of renewables like hydropower in Karuma dam as well as cutting edge technologies like geothermal, solar and wind. The drop in the unit cost of solar photovoltaics alone to around one third of what they cost in the year 2008 has helped put renewable energy on a cost-competitive basis with traditional forms of energy in Uganda.The key economic challenge for Uganda is that renewables are capital intensive and this capital can be difficult to raise in risky environments.’Pearl of Africa’ is also finding that small-scale solar power can dramatically accelerate energy access. Low-cost solar home systems have helped upcountry areas like Northern Uganda and Eastern Uganda to bring energy to low-income households who would otherwise be living in the dark. For large-scale, grid connected renewable energy, the key challenge in Uganda is intermittency. Solar energy is only generated during the day and wind energy varies in intensity with different weather patterns. This makes it hard to integrate into the grid. But such issues can be overcome in Uganda through sophisticated systems of transmission lines, micro-weather forecasting and advanced grid management systems.