Energy investment, Uganda’s preparedness to modern, sustainable renewable sources of energy, the future and opportunities ahead

by Mmeeme Leticia Luweze
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Renewable energy refers to energy sources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale and are derived from natural processes. Unlike fossil fuels, which are finite and can be depleted, renewable energy sources are sustainable and have a lower environmental impact.

During COP28 in Dubai, Uganda announced its Energy Transition Plan (ETP) in collaboration with the International Energy Agency (IEA), aiming to transition 94% of its population from biomass to renewable energy sources by 2030. The plan sets a goal of increasing Uganda’s renewable energy capacity to 52 GW by 2040.

“With the development of the energy transition plan, we are sending a clear signal on Uganda’s intended direction of travel to industry, investors, and the global energy community,” said Irene Bateebe, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development in an interview last year

The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development noted that The Energy Transition Plan (ETP) in Uganda extends beyond environmental goals, emphasizing responsible utilization of natural resources. It introduces an innovative funding model, utilizing revenues from the nation’s oil and gas sector to drive the transition towards cleaner energy. Ruth Nankabirwa, Uganda’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, highlighted the significance of this approach, stating it exemplifies responsible and sustainable development. “ETP aims to not only mitigate carbon emissions but also preserve Uganda’s forests. By transitioning away from biomass, the plan intends to protect lives, addressing the stark reality of 50,000 annual deaths attributed to indoor air pollution from traditional biomass use.” She explained

Uganda has many renewable energy resources that can be used for energy production and the provision of energy services. These resources include bioenergy, through biomass and biogas, water/hydro, solar, geothermal, and wind energy potential. Many of these resources are yet untapped. The government, in cooperation with international partners, is involved in several projects to promote and improve the conditions and implementation of renewable energy in the country.

Climate change is a huge concern for Uganda and is a key driver for the renewable energy sector in the country. Uganda has experienced increased adverse weather patterns such as devastating floods, landslides in the east, and prolonged drought in the north. Uganda’s energy consumption is largely renewable, mostly from unsustainable sources like firewood and charcoal. Modern renewable energy sources (like solar, wind, and modern biomass) accounted for only 22% in 2020. In recent years, the Ugandan government has promoted solar energy through tax breaks and consumer subsidies as well as rural electrification projects.

Fuelwood and charcoal are primary sources of household energy across Uganda and are associated with serious environmental and health problems, including deforestation, the destruction of wetlands, and (indoor) air pollution. As an intervention, the government is increasingly promoting the use of climate-friendly energy in the form of renewable energy options such as solar power.

In 2020, 42% of Uganda’s population had access to electricity, and 5% had access to clean cooking. According to Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD), electricity consumption accounts for only 2% of the primary energy demand. Hydropower is the main source of electricity generation, with a total capacity of 84%.

The accessibility of electricity varies sharply between rural and urban areas. In 2019, only 8% of the rural population had access to the power grid. The total installed power generation capacity reached 1.3 GW in 2021, compared to Germany’s installed capacity of 229 GW in the same year. In June 2019, per capita electricity consumption in Uganda was only 75 kWh per year, while in Germany it was 6787 kWh per year.

While a high percentage of 92% renewable energy in Uganda’s total energy supply seems astounding, the figure is a bit more complicated than it appears at first glance.

Out of its total energy supply, 92% is derived from renewable sources, with 98% coming from bioenergy. To illustrate, only 2% of renewable energy consumption is allocated to electricity generation, while a staggering 98% is utilized as bioenergy, primarily for cooking purposes. This indicates a disproportionate emphasis on bioenergy as the primary source of renewable energy, with cooking being the predominant application.

The high demand for biomass leads to deforestation. In 2013, the demand was at 53 million tonnes, while the annual supply remained at just 26 million tonnes. The fact that only 5% of the population has access to clean cooking facilities casts these numbers in a less positive light.

The executive director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Dr Barirega Akankwasah noted during a media interview that it is unfortunates that many households in Kampala and other urban centers in the country still rely on burning charcoal and firewood for cooking, which also contributes to air pollution.

“In Uganda, compromised air quality increases disease burden with close to 31,600 people dying from air pollution-related diseases annually, especially in urban areas starting with Kampala. This is a staggering number, and it’s time we take action to address this silent killer. The economic impacts of air pollution in Kampala are estimated to be in the billions of dollars,” he said.

Air pollution is caused by a combination of factors, including industrial activities, vehicle emissions, and burning of fossil fuels among other things.

Akankwasah further disclosed that air pollution is the leading environmental risk to human health, with 99% of people worldwide exposed to air pollution levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. “Globally, air pollution is associated with 6.7 million premature deaths annually, which is a significantly higher number than deaths from malaria, HIV, road accidents, and battle-related deaths combined,” he revealed.

One step towards energy justice and a very crucial way to start is through policy and awareness. The Ugandan Government committed to several energy policies over the years, with one of the most significant being the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) Initiative. SE4ALL is an initiative by the United Nations (UN) Secretary General towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) – access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030.

The legal and regulatory framework for the Uganda energy sector is complemented by a policy framework that includes the energy policy, which was completed in 2002, and the renewable energy policy was completed in 2007

Uganda’s energy transition plan envisages most of the population cooking on electric hobs, clean gas rings, or closed combustion stoves that emit no methane, a gas that is highly damaging to the climate and public health. Authorities say as many as 30,000 Ugandans die each year from air pollution generated from burning biomass inside homes.

The major challenge ahead is how to get a population of millions to switch practices that have been passed down through generations while reassuring them cooking by gas is safe.

To achieve the universal clean cooking target, a million cleaner stoves will be needed annually until 2030. If left unchecked, the current demand for biomass is so high it is estimated Uganda’s entire national stock of forest and tree cover will disappear within 20 years.

Energy transition notes that for Ugandans to ensure a sustainable energy supply for all its people,  it is crucial to diversify the energy mix. It notes that this can be achieved through the adoption of decentralized and grid-connected renewable energy solutions.

“The government should promote the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies, such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power. Additionally, decentralized energy solutions, such as off-grid solar systems, mini-grids, and small-scale hydroelectric projects, should be prioritized to ensure access to clean energy in remote areas. Strengthening the grid infrastructure is also necessary to support the integration of renewable energy sources and improve overall energy access and reliability. Only then, will the country begin to live up to its potential.” Energy transition notes in its recommendations for Uganda that Renewables’ enormous potential is yet to deliver

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