Uganda has recorded slow progress in ensuring that majority of Ugandan households have access to electricity. This has been partly due to the limited exploitation of renewable sources that can offer alternative sources of energy. In 2011, for example, renewable energy other than from hydro sources accounted for 12 percent of total electricity generation.

Data from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics indicate that access to electricity by Ugandans has improved modestly from 9.5 per cent in 2002 to 14 per cent in 2013. Consequently current electricity access rates are some of the lowest in Sub Saharan Africa. There are also challenges of ensuring that majority of rural dwellers get access to electricity. 

Unequal Distribution  

Energy access is unequally distributed across the country and the provision of electricity has been limited to mainly urban and semi-urban areas. While 40 percent of urban households have access to electricity, progress in the rural areas has been much slower. In 2013 a whopping 95.6 per cent of all rural households did not have access to electricity on the national grid.  As a result, tremendous effort and out-of -the-box solutions are required to ensure that the National Development Plan target of universal electrification by 2035 is realized.

Low Consumption Per Capita

The slow progress in ensuring adequate electricity supply has been exacerbated by a rapidly growing population in Uganda with the result that Uganda's electricity consumption per capita is one of the lowest in the world. For example, electricity consumption in Sub Saharan Africa is estimated at 124 kilowatt hours per capita per year, while in Uganda it is 75 kilowatt hours per capita per year, barely enough to power one 100-watt light bulb per person for two hours a day.

Current efforts of improving electricity generation and access have largely focused on the exploitation of water (hydro) sources.  Government efforts are now focused on a few large and many small hydro plants. To date more than 50 sites have been identified as suitable for mini hydropower generation with a combined potential of 210MW. However, small hydro generation currently accounts for only about 10 percent of this potential highlighting the under tapped opportunity for improving electricity supply from mini hydro projects.

The case for Alternative Sources

However, recent developments have shown that hydrological constraints as well changes in the climate can pose severe challenges for hydro electricity generation.  It is therefore important that Uganda quickly moves to attract investments in alternative non-hydro sources of electricity.

The National Development Plan identifies the potential of alternative sources of electricity as follows: biomass co-generation - 1650MW; Geothermal - 450MW; peat - 800MW and unlimited potential for solar. These sources can be a great alternative or addition to the hydro sources. Investing in alternative sources of electricity will go a long way in solving the long term energy needs of the country. One such alternative source of electricity that takes advantage of biomass gasification, typically the use of maize cob waste, has proven successful in providing off grid electricity in some parts of rural Uganda.

Wider deployment of renewable sources, particularly solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass gasification, will not only diversify sources of electricity supply but also ensure that majority of Ugandans have access to electricity.  Equally important, the nascent oil sector offers opportunities for the exploitation of natural gas, an environmentally friendly energy source.

Joseph Mawejje is a Research Analyst at the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC).

RSS Feed