By Diana Taremwa Karakire
As climate change rages on with numerous outcomes including locust invasions, droughts and floods in Uganda, clean energy entrepreneurs are working hard to find new ways of resolving the energy challenge in a more sustainable and climate smart way.
Ugandan enterprise, Eco Fuel Africa EFA came up with an innovation turning agricultural waste into clean biomass energy. EFA uses coffee husks, corn cobs, sugar cane waste and rice husks to make clean and affordable cooking energy called briquettes.
The briquettes are a carbon neutral cooking fuel which function the same as wood fuel but are highly efficient, cleaner, smokeless, and burn longer, addressing one of the largest causes of emissions and deforestation while also improving household health in Uganda.
“I got the idea of making briquettes when I visited my home village in rural western Uganda and found that my sister had missed school because she had to walk long distances to collect firewood,” says Moses Sanga, the director of EFA.
“The trees that surrounded our home were gone, and she had to walk longer distances to gather firewood. I had to find a solution”
It wasn’t the only thing Sanga noticed in his hometown. “There was plenty of litter everywhere,” he says. “Uganda is primarily agricultural, but farm waste is just abandoned.”
EFA works with a network of women micro-retailers that sell the briquettes to last mile customers. Selected women are trained and at the end of the training, EFA builds a kiosk for each of the women which they use as a retail shop to sell briquettes in their local communities. Already, EFA has created a network of over 2,000 women retailers.
“By using agricultural waste, we are making clean, affordable and accessible energy, helping to create socially and economically thriving communities,” says Sanga.
However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for EFA. Sanga says that some potential investors remain sceptical about the project; they view it as just another experimental energy solution and thus haven’t supported it much.
Limited resources have also made it difficult to conduct massive marketing awareness campaigns among the Ugandan population about the advantages of using briquettes.
But in spite of these challenges, EFA continues to grow. They plan to expand operations in other East African countries.
Government of Uganda has long regarded biomass energy as a viable option for low emissions clean energy generation. Uganda’s Renewable energy policy recognizes biomass as a significant source of clean energy with potential of about 1650MW contribution to Uganda’s energy sector development.
Also, government put in place legal and institutional framework to attract private investments in development of modern energy forms. This includes, introduction of specific tax regimes that favor modern energy such as preferential tax treatment and tax exemption.
According to statistics from the ministry of energy and mineral development, Uganda’s energy consumption matrix currently stands at 90% biomass, 7% petroleum products and 2% electricity produced from hydro and thermal power plants.
The majority of the population relies on wood fuels inform of wood and charcoal as a main source of energy for cooking. This has led to massive environmental degradation and health hazards among households.
The Uganda Demographic Health Survey (2006) also states that cooking with wood fuel is a major cause of respiratory infections among Ugandans such as lung cancer given that it emits a lot of smoke thus affecting the quality of air in a household.
Worse still, use of biomass hugely depends on traditional technologies such as three-stone fireplaces and charcoal stoves that are quite inefficient in their fuel utilization, leading to excessive use and demand for firewood.
Also, Biomass energy is yet to receive prioritization in terms of funding from government compared to other renewables such as hydro-energy which impedes its development. Uganda typically generates almost half of its modern energy output from Hydro-power dams along the Nile River.
The micro social enterprises that form the bulk of investment in the biomass energy sub sector face a number of challenges including maintaining appropriate financial and human resources, to sustain operations.
Further, traditional financing through commercial lending institutions has not been a viable option for many of these micro social enterprises. The inability to predict monthly sales, the lack of collateral and credit history, and the large informal economy mean that commercial banks sometimes hesitate to provide loans to these businesses.
However, government has established the Uganda Energy Credit Capitalization Company UECCC to assist micro project developers interested in doing business in the biomass energy sub sector in Uganda attain financial closure.
It is clear that biomass will continuously play an important role in Uganda’s energy sector. Investment in efficient, clean and less polluting modern biomass energy should be a priority if the country’s emissions are to be curbed and forest cover conserved.
Finally, Uganda is signatory to the Paris climate accord and according to its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions INDCs, it has committed to a 22 percent emission cut on a business as usual basis by 2030 in a bid to mitigate and adapt to climate change and transit to a low-carbon climate-resilient economy.
Government hopes to do this by increasing renewable energy deployment and achieve a total of at least 3,200 Mega Watts renewable electricity generation capacity by 2030.