Free Connection Alone Won’t Increase Electricity Access; Off Grid Solar Offers Better Option

While I commend the government’s efforts to increase access to clean energy, the government must increase investment in off grid solar energy to meet the energy needs of all Ugandans. INTERNET PHOTO While I commend the government’s efforts to increase access to clean energy, the government must increase investment in off grid solar energy to meet the energy needs of all Ugandans.

By Cirrus Kabaale

I recently read a story that noted that the government is planning to resume the electricity connection policy (free connection policy) to enable Ugandans to connect on the national grid. The story pointed out that the free connection policy aims at addressing the challenges of low connection rates that previous policies did not address.

The policy was unveiled in 2018 with aim of increasing the number of connections made annually from the average 70,000 before the policy to 300,000 customers annually at full implementation.

However, the initiative was suspended last year in 2020 because government had failed to increase the rural electrification rate in Uganda. The policy had only managed to attain 7%rural electrification yet 80% of the Ugandan population lives in rural areas. The failure had left the majority of Uganda’s rural population without power.

The government intends to increase demand for power through increasing the number of industries in industrial parks in addition to expanding the domestic consumer base through implementing the ‘Free’ Electricity Connections Policy. However, just last year, UMEME informed electricity sector players that while the company experienced an average growth rate of 16% in its domestic customer base between 2012 and 2018, consumption only grew by a half, at 8%. In addition, the manufacturing sector has consistently complained about the high power tariffs.

As you are aware, a poor and highly indebted country that is struggling with COVID-19 impacts, citizens cannot afford to for high power tariffs.

While I commend the government’s efforts to increase access to clean energy, the government must increase investment in off grid solar energy to meet the energy needs of all Ugandans.

Access to clean and affordable energy is crucial in the eradication of poverty through advancements in health, education, water supply and industrialization, to combating climate change.

Initiatives such as the sustainable Energy for All, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal seven and others highlight the need to have equal access to clean, affordable and reliable energy.

Although the Government of Uganda is making heavy investments in the construction of hydro-power dams and extending the grid across the country to provide electricity to all Ugandan, Government needs to broaden its scope and focus more on investing heavily in other renewable energy sources particularly off grid solar energy. 

Electricity access in the country stands at 24% in urban and less than 7% in rural areas and of the population with access, over 90% cannot afford to use electricity for cooking or to meet other key energy needs due to unaffordable high power tariffs. They remain stuck on using biomass to meet most of their key energy needs such as cooking, boiling water and others.

Increased investment in off grid solar energy would not only increase access to affordable and clean energy for, especially rural households in Uganda, but it would also help to reduce carbon emissions from use of fossil fuels especially urban centres, thereby, addressing of the biggest drivers of global warming and climate change.

Secondly, increased investments in solar powered water irrigation systems could improve agriculture production in rural areas, thereby addressing poverty and the challenge of food insecurity, contributing to the SDG on zero hunger.

Further, solar powered water pumps would enable rural households to access clean water and would improve the quality of education and life of girls and women respectively. With less household chores such as fetching water from wells, girls would better be able to stay in school.

Good health and wellbeing would be ensured through increasing access to safe water and sanitation as poor sanitation contributes to diarrhea, the second leading cause of death in children under five worldwide with Uganda not being spared.

Therefore, for Uganda to achieve the current Rural Electrification Strategic Plan target 2013-2022, which is to achieve electrification access of 22 percent and contribute to the global initiative of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) seven, the Government must plan and invest in off grid solar energy. We must know the energy sources that are more relevant to the needs of the poor. 

Cirrus Kabaale, Project Officer at Environment Governance Institute (EGI)

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