By Patrick Edema
The government of Uganda set out priorities in 2006 which included transport, electricity generation and transmission, and defense. The focus on electricity was tied to its role in determining the success of other sectors, such as manufacturing, health, education, agriculture and infrastructure development. So, the question is, has electricity access increased to 75% of households in the country?
As of December 2017, the Uganda Electricity Generation Company (UEGL) generated about 380 megawatts, or about 74 kilowatt hours (kWh) per person. The reason why Uganda’s generation capacity still remained low was mainly due to the fact that the country’s hydroelectric power potential remained largely untapped, with 317 MW of power produced compared to a total potential of 2,000 MW.
The 2014 Uganda National Population and Housing Census notes that only 20.4% of households use electricity as their main source of energy for lighting. The report notes that 51.4% of urban households and 10.3% of rural households used electricity as the main source of energy for lighting. Electricity use for cooking is much lower, at 1.9% nationally, with 4.4% of urban households and 1.2% of rural households using electricity to cook.
By focusing on lighting, the government may be taking credit for the work of other actors. The same census data shows that 15.5% of households in total are actually connected to the grid, with 4.9% connected to other sources of electricity, most likely solar power. According to the Uganda Renewable Energy Policy 2007, the total new installed photovoltaic capacity for solar home systems was estimated to be 200 kilowatts produced, with the expected generation for 2017 estimated at 700 kilowatts.
And according to ERA report of December 2019, the installed electricity generation further increased to 1177MW following the commissioning of the Isimba Hydro Power Plant that added 183 MW to the National Grid. The Isimba Hydro Power Project was developed by the Government of Uganda with 85% of the project costs financed with a loan from the EXIM Bank of China, and 15% financed by the Government of Uganda.
Following the commissioning of the Isimba and Karuma Hydropower Plants, a critical factor for the reduction of Electricity End-User Tariffs will be growth in Demand for or Consumption of electricity. The generation Tariff for Isimba Hydropower Plant is lower than the Weighted Average Generation Tariff. Increase in electricity consumption for both Domestic and Industrial customers will lead to increase in dispatch/utilisation of Isimba Hydropower Plant. This will result into reduction in the Weighted Average Generation Tariff and therefore reduction in the End-User Electricity Tariffs.
Although the government of Uganda has initiated several measures aiming at increasing electricity access such as, in August 2018, the Government of Uganda launched the Electricity Connections Policy to accelerate access to electricity across the country. The policy targets to promote mass electricity usage by all Ugandans with a connection target of 300,000 Domestic Customers per year.
This has however, not been able to achieve its expectations of increased number of households connected to the national grid due to the unaffordability of electricity. This is the right time for the government of Uganda to come up and save her citizens who are already being hit by the covid-19 pandemic. I therefore call upon Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) and the responsible ministries to come on board and improve the electricity sector by reducing the high rates of power bills for the citizens.