10 February 2018

East Africa: Changing Climate Pushes Producers to Alternative Energy

Climate change is pushing governments and players in the energy sector to innovate and diversify their sources of power.

Power producers are now lighting homes, businesses and public buildings using off-grid innovations. For farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture, off-grid solar solutions have enabled irrigation, a breakthrough that will help beat the effects of harsh weather conditions ravaging the continent.

The Uganda Solar Energy Association (Usea), the apex body for solar companies, last week hosted the Africa Energy Forum, an exhibition in Kampala, with support from USAid through its Power Africa initiative.

More than 40 local and international solar companies gathered to showcase off-grid solutions, which, according to Usea chairman Emmy Kimbowa, will catalyse economic growth.

Uganda's electricity generation capacity is 870MW, with peak demand at 550MW. Demand is increasing by 10 per cent every year so electricity shortfalls are expected until more power generation facilities are brought onto the grid.

With the bulk of grid electricity generated through large hydro sources (about 85 per cent), Uganda's power supply is susceptible to drought, intermittent rainfall, and reduced river flows -- factors that are expected to become more acute with climate change.

In addition to the 600MW Karuma and 183MW Isimba hydropower projects set to come onstream later this year, Uganda is also pursuing a more diversified energy mix in order to meet its target of increasing installed capacity to 2,500MW by 2020. The country is making greater use of other renewable sources including medium and small-scale hydropower, biomass, solar, and geothermal.

Uganda's per capita electricity consumption of 157 kilowatt hours (kWh) is considerably lower than the sub-Saharan Africa average of 552 kWh and the global average of 2,472 kWh.

At the Forum in Kampala, US ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac, UK High Commissioner Peter West and Uganda's Energy Minister Irene Muloni launched the Power Africa Uganda Electricity Supply Accelerator (Pauesa) project.

Power Africa is a US government-led initiative launched in 2013 to expand electricity access and generation capacity in sub-Saharan Africa by adding more than 30,000MW and 60 million new home and business connections.

Energy Africa, a UK government-led initiative, has been working with other development partners and the Ugandan government to support growth of the off-grid solar market.

The Pauesa -- also referred to as "the accelerator" -- is a project aligned both with Uganda's objectives and the Power Africa roadmap of increasing regional generation capacity by 30,000MW and increasing connections by 60 million.

The accelerator project also manages a catalytic support fund, which, according to USAid's Power Africa, disperses resources to local and regional entities.

The project aims to add 1000MW in installed capacity as well as one million new connections.

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