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Monday, December 19, 2016


This week a 10 MW solar project, the largest in the region was launched in Soroti district.

The power from this $19m (Sh68b) project is enough to power 4,000 households or about five times the number of homes in Bugolobi flats.

Promoters of the Soroti  project estimate that if we were running generators to produce the same amount of power, we would need 15,000 liters of diesel daily.

They also report that to run a project of this type a key requirement is that there be between four to six hours of sunlight daily, Soroti gets about eight hours of sunlight daily making it one of the best solar resource areas in the country.

Rwanda recently commissioned a 8.5 MW solar project which is projected to power 15,000 households there.

But Morrocco, while not using photovoltaic technology like Uganda and Rwanda, earlier this year launched the first 160 MW of an eventual 510 MW solar farm, the largest in the world. The project which covers an area equivalent of 200 soccer pitches will eventually export power to Europe.

The issue of energy is critical to us. 

One because our power generation to our population is way below the average for the middle income country that we aspire to be.

According to the CIA Factbook next door neighbour Kenya was generating 189 kwh per capita of electricity in 2012 (the most recent year for which there were figures). Uganda in comparison was generating less than half that at 91 kwh per person that same year.

But even Kenya is a poor comparison. In the same year Egypt was generating 1,856 kwh per capita, Mauritius 2,182 and South Africa 4,896 kwh per capita.

These figures serve to show how far behind we are in our ambitions to make middle income status. Kenya already is so, at a bare minimum we need to double our generation capacity.

And secondly, to paraphrase the second law of thermodynamics, any country will regress into chaos unless energy – in this case electricity, is injected into the system.

"We don’t need theoretical physics to tell us that. A few years ago when we were not generating enough power to meet our needs, we suffered frequent loadshedding to the point that at one time a study showed that Ugandan manufacturers were losing at least 30 days per year in production as a result....

This would be disastrous because not only would our local businessmen be uncompetitive at home and abroad but one is unlikely to attract the kind of investment required to push the country to the next level of development.

They say we have at least 4,000 MW of hydropower generation capacity on the Nile, another 160 MW potentially from small hydro plants, geothermal capacity of 450 MW and another 800 MW from the use of peat from our numerous wetlands.

Given that our population continues to grow at about three percent annually, meaning it doubles ever 24 years, the urgency to unlock our power generation potential cannot be over exaggerated.

While we should be pushing for more and more generation we would not forget the other side of the story – directing even the little power we have towards productive sectors of the economy.

The campaign to get us to use the pricier energy saving bulbs has recorded a saving of about 30 MW according to the energy ministry.

In addition and related to the Soroti power plant we should find ways to move residential consumption to solar energy. A solar unit on every residential roof to power our bulbs and boil our water would probably save multiples of that saved by the new bulbs.

This is not as farfetched as it seems. The price of installing power has been falling precipitously over the last 40 years. The price per watt of solar power is now at around $57cents compared to $76 in 1977....

In preparation we should be looking at what policy changes need to be done to the current situation to kick start a move towards more residential use of solar power.


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