New Vision (Kampala)

21 August 2011

Uganda: Invest in Renewable Energy

opinion

This week we had to dig deep into our pockets to buy a bag of charcoal. Our current rate of a bag every two-and-a-half weeks was a rude reminder that we need to urgently buy liquid petroleum gas and make good use of the gas cooker, if we are to keep our energy budget in check.

Charcoal now costs sh45,000 and we were charged another sh3,000 to have it delivered to our house. The last time I wrote about charcoal in these pages was in March last year.

At that time, a bag went for sh35,000, up from sh28,000 in a space of six months. Back then, I had made a prediction that the price of charcoal would shoot to sh100,000 in a space of six years. However, going by the current trend, if Ugandans do not invest in renewable energy, many will have a difficulty cooking food in the next three years. How can one invest in renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from natural resources, which can be replenished. These natural resources include, but are not limited to, sunlight, wind, geothermal heat, rain and tides, biogas, small hydro electric generators and biofuels.

Renewable energy is coming to the forefront now because of the urgent need to conserve the environment. It is estimated that one third of the global population or more than two billion people use biomass fuels, mainly firewood, to cook and heat their homes, while a billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods.

As the world's population continues to grow (Uganda's population growth rate is over 3% per annum), so does the pressure on natural resources, including forests. Currently, 12% of the annual global emissions of carbon dioxide (one of the gases responsible for global warming and climate change) is due to deforestation. Investing in renewable energy would, therefore, not only save you money, but also directly contribute to a cleaner environment and help slowdown global warming.

Whereas investing in renewable energy can be a complex affair involving buying stocks, investing in mutual funds or companies considered 'green', such opportunities do not exist in most of the developing countries, which also have over 56% of the world's forests. The opportunities for investing in renewable energy in these countries lie in being able to replace conventional fuels in the areas of cooking, lighting, heating or pumping water and power generation.

biogas

Biogas technology is cheap and easy to access locally, compared to other energy options.

Solar energy

Africa has some of the regions with the highest solar intensity in the world. In many parts of Africa, it is easy to get enough sunlight even for equipment with low conversion capacities. There are basically two types of equipment that one can invest in. One type converts sunlight into direct current electricity using photovoltaics, while the other tracks and concentrates sunlight using reflectors into a single heating beam.

This kind of technology can be simple, cheap and easy to use. Last month, Light Gives Heat, a not-for-profit company based in Colorado US, in partnership with Solar Cookers International, an NGO which has been promoting solar cooking since 1987, launched a programme which will enable Ugandans buy solar cookers at only $5.

Windmills

Windmills have been used by man to harness wind energy for over 2,000 years. A windmill is comprised of vanes and a turbine. The turbine converts kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy. The mechanical energy can be used to produce electricity, pump water or drive other machinery. Batteries may be fitted to the turbine to keep power which can be used when the wind is not blowing. A domestic wind turbine, which can be mounted on the roof, costs between sh4m and sh7m and lasts 20 years.

Wind turbines can be a good investment for those who live in open windy areas or on high ground. A local organisation, Uganda Veterans Wind Power Initiative, based in Nalukolongo, has the capacity to build wind power panels that can produce 1,000-15,000 watts of power every day.

A 1,000-watt wind power, which costs less than sh1m, can power a fridge, light five bulbs, a radio and TV. A 15,000-watt system can light up a small village. Going by the number of villages which are not connected to the national power grid, it is easy to see why you can save or make millions by investing in renewable energy.

The writer is a development consultant

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