I Think Uganda Is Confused About Renewable Energy

Clean energy includes biofuels, biomass and waste, geothermal, solar, wind and small hydro PHOTO/inhabitat.com Clean energy includes biofuels, biomass and waste, geothermal, solar, wind and small hydro

If you argue that the government is not skeptic, cynic and hesitant about investing in renewable energy, look at the words of one Tchouate Pepin of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), a project aiming at promoting clean energy: “It is possible to achieve renewable energy for lighting but not for transport and cooking.”

“In life, it is better to dream than thinking of nothing,” Pepin says. “Renewable energy for lighting is feasible because Uganda is endowed with sufficient resources to enable us do this using hydro- power. But on energy for trans- port and cooking, we can’t.”

Clearly, this is a disheartening statement. But the good news is it is just another opinion. I believe key experts in Uganda’s energy field have such negative opinions too, yet access to just any form of electricity, leave alone renewable energy, has remained a dream to many Ugandans.

Majority households in urban areas leave alone the villages, mainly cook using charcoal and this has posed a huge burden on the country to provide biomass made out of wood. In the rural areas, the situation is much worse. The condemned charcoal is their gold, and the scarce wood fuel a luxury.

The threats of climate change flares high; the government is under pressure from United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), with a handful of aid organisations working closely to offer help they can to mitigate and adapt to global warming.

But government minds seem corrupted by cynicism and their actions tell a different story—that’s if we honestly understand what is meant by renewable/clean energy.

Clean energy includes biofuels, biomass and waste, geothermal, solar, wind and small hydro (up to 50MW) – but not large hydro.

The government herself has maintained its traditional, conservatist course of investments in gigantic hydro power projects. First, not until not so long ago, in 1999 when the Electricity Act was passed,was the monopoly of a statutory corporation, the Uganda Electricity Board downsized.

Today wehave spent over 1 trillion in the financial year 2014/15 in the “first track” of the construction of the 600mw Karuma and 188mw Isimba hydro power plants. Bujagali power dam was also built at the cost of an arm and a leg, all in the mighty name of redeeming the country from darkness.

But beyond these splendors and good intentions, it must be put blatantly that the government is biased on clean energy investment.

Another wicked irony, the most dystopian capitalistic illusion masquerading as oil and gas sector is under gigantic investment…and plans to build geo-thermal and nuclear sources, using uraniumhave remained in the papers too long.

Clearly, steeping up renewable energy sector would lift the country out of years of darkness than these much anticipated much bureaucratic, unclean energy sources.

Can’t we draw lessons from our neighbour Kenya who has achieved relatively high levels of penetration with installed capacity to the grid 5.45mw of clean energy tapped from wind alone? Wind energy is a clean energy source and environmental friendly. Wind turbines don’t produce atmospheric emissions that cause greenhouse gasses responsible for global warming effect, unlike burning of wood fuel that has been customised by most rural households.

The global call to end carbon is loud and clear: cut carbon dioxide emissions and aim towards investing in renewable energy—at all costs—and indeed there are available documents to show the government would be willing to cooperate better if some misgivings are cleared off its throat.

With charcoal demands currently standing at 44 million tonnes per year, yet the forests at the moment can only meet 26 million tonnes of the demand, according to the 2015 Energy Report for Uganda, which was released at the closure of 2015 renewable energy options are no longer optional but a clear way to achieve a safer, carbon free future in order to achieve 1.5 degree global temperature goal.

 

Authored by Boaz Opio

 

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