As Uganda moves ahead to ensure that everyone should have access to electricity, the country is facing the challenge of attracting investment at a time when few can actually afford the power, writes SIMON MUSASIZI.
When a young beautiful woman gets the courage to turn her saloon car into a charcoal vending shuttle, then you know they have smelt gold.
Jackie Ampaire has forgone the comfort of her Rav4, whose backseat she bends to create enough room extending to the boot to accommodate at least two or more bags of charcoal.
At just a call away, the ambitious 30-year-old delivers the charcoal to your doorstep. Whereas this has left her car dirty with black spots spread all over, it hasn't demoralized her from supplementing her income by selling char- coal to fellow young corporates.
Majority households in urban areas in Uganda mainly cook using charcoal. This has posed a huge burden on the country to provide biomass made out of wood, with demand currently standing at 44 million tonnes per year.
However, the forests at the moment can only meet 26 million tonnes of the demand, according to the 2015 Energy Report for Uganda, which was released at the closure of the year.
The report, commissioned by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), reveals that it is possible to meet 100 per cent of Uganda's energy needs from renewable energy sources by 2050 if there is commitment from government and all sector players.
The report says that Uganda is endowed with abundant renewable energy potential from sources such as water, wind, the sun and biomass (like brickets).
However, this potential has not been fully utilized, resulting in a situation where only 15 per cent of the population has access to electricity in urban areas, with only seven per cent in rural areas. This leaves about 85 per cent still reliant on kerosene for lighting and more than 90 per cent dependant on charcoal and firewood for their cooking energy needs.
The report calls for the need to modernize the biomass sector so that the use of firewood, charcoal and agricultural by-products are done efficiently, and biomass is managed and produced sustainably.
"Biomass will remain a cornerstone of the Ugandan energy supply for some time. Key modernization is the transition by both industry and households to use efficiently produced biomass fuels and efficient cooking and con- version devices," the report reads.
The report also indicates that Uganda's location astride the equator makes solar power an increasingly viable potential power supply over much of the country, especially the drier northern parts of the country.
To tap into this, however, requires substantial investment, which is lacking in a developing country such as Uganda.
"It is a good dream but hard to achieve. Even in 2050, we will still be grappling with wood as our source of energy," says Thembo Gideon Mujungu, the managing director of Kilembe Investments Ltd (KIL), a public limited company licensed to sell electricity in the districts of Kasese, Rubirizi, Buhweju, Mitooma, Sheema and Bushenyi.
"Our leaders are ignorant; they haven't included renewable energy on their agenda. When we push these agendas, are our leaders on board?"
Mujungu's views are in tandem with Kasese district natural resources officer Joseph Katswera, who says: "The biggest challenge we have in this country is that we have proper policies on paper that are poorly implemented."
Kasese was selected by energy stakeholders to become a 'champion district' that will showcase how to achieve 100 per cent access to clean energy. WWF Uganda's country director David Duli hopes that lessons from Kasese can be replicated to the rest of Uganda.
"It is clear that the provision of sustainable energy solutions in Uganda is crucial for alleviating poverty, strengthening the country's economy and protecting the environment," Duli argues.
Tchouate Pepin of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) project says it is possible to achieve renewable energy for lighting but not for transport and cooking.
"In life, it is better to dream than thinking of nothing," Pepin says. "Renewable energy for lighting is feasible because Uganda is endowed with sufficient resources to enable us do this using hydro- power. But on energy for trans- port and cooking, we can't."
According to James Baanabe, the commissioner efficiency and conservation department at the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, government is committed to securing stable energy supply for long-term social and economic development. This is through fast tracking the development of hydropower sites such as Isimba (183MW), Karuma (600MW), and Ayago (600MW).
"To increase energy access in rural areas, a rural electrification program was developed with a target of connecting district headquarters, production areas to support agricultural modernization, socially-desirable areas like schools, health centres, water supply facilities, trading centres, which provide services to the rural population," Baanabe said.
"Government, through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) has carried out an aggressive campaign to ensure that all district headquarters are connected to electricity. In the last financial year alone, 15 district headquarters were connected."
According to Banaabe, because grid extension for isolated settlements and facilities is costly, government has considered the use of solar to provide electricity to such communities.
Solar projects are supported through grants for social services, particularly under the Energy for Rural Trans- formation project, whose implementation is overseen by REA.
This programme focuses on providing subsidies and promoting credit for solar projects. By 2022, according to Banaabe, government hopes to have scaled up rural electrification level to 22 per cent, from seven per cent, and displace kerosene by 2030.