By Zuurah Karungi
The use of solar as a source of energy for lighting, heating and operating machines and doing other work was not well known in Uganda until the early 1980s when it was embraced and circulated in the country.
Reports from Uganda Bureau of statistics of 2012 on solar energy at the national and residence levels by sector shows that solar energy use levels were highest in the Health sector at 50.9 percent and lowest in the business sector at 5 percent. Analysis by residence shows that in the rural areas use was highest in the Health sector at 67.2 percent and lowest in the business sector at 2.2 percent.
The 2011/2012 report by the line ministry indicate that that hydro electrification is mostly consumed by people living in urban areas while most rural people relying on solar energy. And among Rural household’s 12.2 percent use solar energy.
Uganda’s population is estimated to be 30 million people and is growing at an average rate of 3.6% per year (CIA, 2006)1. The poverty levels in Uganda are reflected in the consumption pattern of modern energy that includes fossil fuels, hydro-power and wind, solar and geothermal energy.
By the year 2012, only 5% of people in rural areas were connected the national grid of hydro electrification and today, most households use Micro hydro power and solar energy. The Ministry of Energy is encouraging people to utilize renewable energy that includes biomass, solar energy among others.
There are two types of solar; on grid and off grid. On grid is installed where people have access to other types of energy for example Umeme, generator and more. Off grid is found in places with no source of energy. Most Ugandans are going for off grid, an indication that the biggest number is surviving on solar energy.
Isaac Bahati, a solar dealer notes solar energy doesn’t involve monthly bills; this is the reason so many Ugandans are embracing it, you only incur costs when installing. Power is always on as long as there is sunshine and it’s handled well, it’s also durable among others. He adds that solar is readily available and can be used directly.
Juma Kirya a solar dealer in Seeta notes that the appliances are easy and the technologies involved are simple and affordable.
“It is safe to use as there are limited negative effects of houses burning or electric shocks with solar as compared to hydro power. This makes solar more appropriate to village people who might not be educated about power usage and its effects.
“Solar is environmentally friendly and this has in turn led to growth of forests which have been cut to get firewood and electricity poles,” he adds.
Aisha Nalugya a small-scale entrepreneur notes that solar has increased on household income in villages since it doesn’t need so much money to operate.
“Small scale businesses have been improved as solar speeds up production compared to using manual methods of production. Solar works as an alternative for electricity in remote areas making businesses there able to compete with other businesses in towns,” she adds.
Bahati notes that counter fake solar materials on market are a great threat to dealers as people lose trust in the materials sold. He adds that this has costed people who sell original and quality solar that are of a high price since fake ones are sold cheaply.
“Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to transform the solar energy into electric energy as most of the machines used in production are meant for hydroelectric power. This puts much load on the solar hence reducing its ability,” Nalugya says.
Bahati adds that solar has been installed by individuals who have little or no knowledge about the whole installation process, also solar companies lack professional engineers and instead sign lay people who do work the wrong way. This has led to a lot of short comings among which is solar getting spoilt before its due time.
“People don’t follow the rules and regulations given by companies which make their solar get warn out quickly. They should put in mind that the capabilities of the solar they have installed in order to not over load it,” he says.
A lot of propaganda on the market as some solar dealers give buyers false information about what solar can do. People end up losing trust in solar products.
Early this year, Uganda launched a 19 million U.S. dollar solar power plant in Soroti. It is marked the largest in East Africa, the plant is run by Access Power Middle East and Africa and Luxembourg-based Eren Renewable Energy and is proposed to serve over 40,000 rural households in eastern Uganda.
It is Uganda’s first grid-connected solar plant as the country looks to raise power generation capacity to 1,500MW by 2020, from the current 850MW. The power plant has the potential to increase its net output capacity by a further 20MW of solar energy.