Alternative Energy Sources Could Hold the Key to Rural Electrification Project

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

UGANDA has one of the lowest per capita electricity consumption in the world despite having abundant renewable energy sources in the countryside.

Only about 7 percent of Ugandans have access to electricity and only 3 percent of the rural population access electric power.

That means only 10 percent of Ugandans access electricity leaving the rest to use other means including gas, paraffin and wood.

Inspite of availability of numerous renewable energy sources in the local communities like biogas, solar and others, only 1 percent of rural people generate these alternative sources of power.

The supply of electricity power to rural areas is viewed as a means to alleviate poverty in rural areas but as Ms. Barbara Musoke, the Information and Outreach Manager of the Rural Electrification Agency, says it is remains the most wanting commitment from the government, which has privatised the electrification process.

“The government is unable to supply grid electricity to remote areas. It has now even moved out of the business of supplying electricity, which is being left to private players,” she says.

A majority of the rural poor still depend on wood fuel for cooking and lighting, which are basic uses other than for economic uses like burning bricks, which explains the persistent poverty.

Wood fuel has no any other significant economic development bearing but highly contributes to environmental degradation further endangering the agricultural sector that is the lifeline of the larger population.

One reason to smile for rural folks, however, could be the World Bank has made a $500 million credit available to the government for rural electrification over the next ten years to increase power consumption from current 1 percent to 10 percent by 2012.

It will provide rural households the direct and indirect benefits of increased access to adequate and reliable supplies of electricity.

This is expected to power rural productivity and increased incomes crucial for the eradication of poverty.

Mr Michael Ahimbisibwe of the ministry of Energy & Mineral Development told a seminar in Mbarara last September that the implementation of the Electrification for Rural Transformation (ERT) programme would start with training and building capacity of the stakeholders.

Projects for immediate development according to MEMD include mini-hydro power stations at 41 waterfalls in the countryside. They are potential sites for power generation that can be used by private investors and local governments to generate power.

About Shs150 million has been secured for power extension work in Rukiga county, Kabale district. The power will be extended from Muhanga trading centre along Ntungamo-Kabale Road to the surrounding areas including Kandago and Kerere.

The electrification of rural areas is key to the development of viable economic businesses such as saloons, preserving drinks, welding, battery charging and irrigation among other projects.

Perhaps these economic projects could also be curtain raisers to rural industrialisation by inventing small-scale industries.

According to MEMD the programme will run for 10 years, meant to increase provision of access to electricity with focus on economic, social and household use.

Makerere University in conjunction with the Nyabyeya Forestry College in Masindi district is also developing a biomass gasification technology. This would help to utilise the abundant vegetation and animal waste to generate much needed electricity.

Other energy sources include generators, proper use of fuel wood and installation of solar technology, but with least attention because of its use limitedness in economic projects.

Rural electrification is an important aspect of poverty alleviation because it marries all the development approaches such as the Universal Primary Education, and roads development.

The rationale and advantages of ERT have a number of multiplier effects ranging from small scale industries, increase in employment, revenue enhancement, environmental protection, telecommunications and ICT and improved service delivery in Primary Health Care, UPE, water and agriculture modernisation.

Source: The Monitor (Kampala), Alfred Tumushabe (link opens in a new window)