The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) is at the frontlines of Uganda's electrification and is currently implementing the Electricity Connections Policy which seeks to add 1.5 million new electricity connections by 2027. In an interview with Proper Magazine's Ismail Musa Ladu, Mr Godfrey Turyahikayo, REA's executive director, spoke about the agency's efforts and how solar solutions can power Uganda's goal of universal access.
The Electricity Connections Policy only talks of free connections to the grid. What plans do you have to expand to the off-grid space?
We address the off-grid space in the service territory master plans and the off-grid strategy that we are developing with support from USAID/Power Africa. These provide a framework for determining where off-grid services will be provided and where. Additionally, we are working on several mechanisms under the Electricity Connections Policy to ensure that households in the off-grid areas access electricity.
What role do off-grid solutions play in rural electrification?
Whereas we have plans to extend the grid, we recognise that we may not be able to do this throughout the country, in the short-term. As such, off-grid solutions will play a critical role in ensuring that we reach Ugandans that are not reached by the grid. By far, most households located off the grid can easily have access to electricity from solar PV technologies, including low-cost Solar Home Systems and solar PV-powered mini-grids. We are working with Uganda's solar PV industry and project developers to meet the demand for these.
What are some of the hindrances you in implementing the policy and how can they be overcome?
REA is responsible for several policies aimed at meeting the national universal service goal, and each has its challenges. The success of the Electricity Connections Policy will rely on addressing a variety of needs. While the free connection removes a major impediment, house-wiring costs remain high for most Ugandan families. We, therefore, need to make house-wiring affordable but also ensure that consumers have the financing they need to get their premises wired.
We also need to make sure there are enough wiremen, especially in rural areas where they are not readily available. Training, certification and assuring adequate supply-chain for house-wiring materials will be necessary.
Notably, the ECP recognises that not only service connections but also energy usage needs to be increased. Recent experience in other countries with free service connection systems shows the importance of building house-hold income to make electricity use of value to both the consumers and to utilities. We are mindful - and are working on - programme strategies to promote productive use of electricity.
The off-grid programme will require effective harmonisation with on-grid expansion, and adequate financing to assure that affordable electricity solutions are available.
We must also coordinate closely with the other stake-holding agencies - the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) and Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL), in particular - to assure that the electricity distribution service providers have the capacities and means in terms of power supply and effective regulatory frameworks that enable them to supply adequate and reliable electricity service to millions of consumers.
Among other things, a priority is in assuring the timely expansion and construction of the national power grid to deliver the needed power.
What exactly are you bringing to the table?
The Rural Electrification Agency is a government institution responsible for implementing Government's rural electrification agenda. It is the secretariat of the Rural Electrification Board which carries out the rural electrification responsibilities and manages the Rural Electrification Fund.
The Rural Electrification Agency is responsible for facilitating universal electricity access by 2040 and the implementation of the Rural Electrification Strategy and Plan (2013-2022).
How is REA boosting rural electrification?
We are implementing several initiatives in line with the Electricity Connections Policy and the Rural Electrification Strategy and plan (2013 - 2022). We are extending the grid to areas that are currently unserved. Through the free connections policy, we want to reach over 1.5 million new connections by 2027. We are working with several service providers to develop rural-area distribution infrastructure for on-grid electrification and to support low-voltage distribution systems for mini-grids. We also recently adopted a national off-grid strategy and we are working on an implementation plan. This will help us to reach Ugandans that are not reached by the grid.
How has master planning helped rural electrification efforts?
We have developed master plans for the 13 rural service territories with support from USAID/Power Africa. These provide comprehensive planning and financial information for the implementation of the Rural Electrification Strategy and Plan. These plans will feed into an integrated national master plan which will help us mobilise the resources required to implement the strategy.
You recently launched the Electricity Connections Policy. How will it being implemented and what are some of the successes that you have realized to-date?
The Electricity Connections Policy, which was developed with USAID/Power Africa support, is the driver of the national access programme and will help us to connect more than 300,000 Ugandans to electricity annually. To realise these numbers, we are working on a communications campaign which will help us to raise awareness about the free connections. We have established a Connections Department to coordinate the campaign and while USAID/Power Africa has embedded some key professionals with us, we still need more support to build the capacity of the office.
We are also undertaking measures to ensure that the electricity distribution service providers are equipped to meet the increased demand for service connections. The response thus far has been good with more than 20,000 new connections in three months since the launch of the policy.
There are various challenges that need to be addressed, including assuring the availability of enough numbers of certified house wiring electricians and affordable house-wiring materials.
We are testing an innovative technology designed to make house-wiring more affordable that was developed with USAID/Power Africa support that will reduce the cost of wiring to around $35 (Shs129,761).