Is Uganda’s target to generate 52,000MW of power by 2040 achievable?

by Christopher Kiiza
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electricity generation

Uganda is aiming to have a total electricity generation capacity of 52,000 megawatts by the year 2040, President Museveni has said.

This, however, sounds like a distant dream in the ears of many Ugandans, given the country’s capacity to invest heavily in the electricity generation segment to hit the target.

Uganda has a number of energy sources that include; hydro, biomass, geothermal, solar, among others. However, hydro dominates all of them combined.

This means that for the country to achieve its 2040 target of 52,000MW generation capacity, hydro must play a very vital role.

Uganda’s total electricity generation capacity stands at 1,346 megawatts. This will increase to 1,946 MW, if the country’s biggest power plant, Karuma (600MW) is commissioned this year as promised by the Government months ago.

Despite the set timeline to have the plant commissioned, no one is sure whether it will be launched. It is worth noting that Karuma hydro power plant has suffered a number of setbacks.

The construction of Karuma hydropower dam commenced in December 2013 and was initially set to be commissioned in December 2019, but missed the target due to defects that had been identified, which, if not addressed, could adversely affect the safety, reliability and durability of the plant.

This prompted for an extension of 12 months that the contractor again failed to meet.

The Government yet again pushed the completion of the 600MW dam by 12 months to June 2023. It remains to be seen whether Karuma will be commissioned this month.

The continuous extension of commissioning of the country’s biggest power plant which has a generation capacity of 600 megawatts, casts doubt on whether the 52,000MW generation capacity can be achieved in just 17 years.

Meanwhile, the electricity sub sector in Uganda has significantly grown since the first hydro power plant (Owen Falls Dam) was switched on in 1954, with the installed capacity of 150 megawatts.

Around the year 2000, Owen Falls Dam was upgraded, and currently has installed capacity of 180 megawatts.

Since then, various generation plants have been commissioned. They include; Bujagali power station generating 250 megawatts, Kiira – 200 megawatts, Isimba – 183 megawatts, among others.

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Nuclear Energy

Uganda is making firm steps to integrate nuclear energy into the electricity generation mix to ensure energy security, and provide sufficient electricity for industrialisation.

To achieve this, the Government is evaluating the Buyende Nuclear Power Plant in Eastern Uganda which it (government) hopes to generate 1000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2031, out of the plant’s expected 2000 megawatt generation capacity.

The Government has identified nuclear as part of Uganda’s energy transition plan as it continues to invest in developing the requisite infrastructure, including human capital development in specialised areas to support the early development of nuclear power.

The Uganda Vision 2040 and the subsequent National Development Plans identify electricity as modern energy to shift the country from a peasantry to an industrialised and predominantly urban society.

In that regard, Uganda embarked on diversifying the electricity generation mix to address the electricity crisis of 2005, predominantly hydropower, to develop all the available generation potential.

 However, according to studies conducted in the energy sector, electricity generation from hydro, biomass, geothermal and peat potential, if fully developed, cannot meet Uganda’s Vision 2040 targets.

In 2021, Uganda hosted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review Mission (INIR Phase1) to evaluate the status of nuclear infrastructure development. The experts made recommendations and suggestions to the Uganda Nuclear Power Programme and identified good practices in national position, stakeholder involvement and local industrial involvement.

Although the introduction of nuclear energy in Uganda’s energy sector will be a tremendous achievement for reducing the country’s energy poverty, its contribution to the generation capacity remains far below the target of 52,000MW by 2040.

The demand for electricity is increasing by 15 percent per year. This means that even with the 1,946 MW installed electricity generation capacity after the commissioning of Karuma, there will not be enough power for consumption and for manufacturing in the next five years, if the country doesn’t continue to invest in energy generation.

Given the many manufacturing plants that are being established in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, while delivering a State of the Nation address in Kampala on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, said the country shall need to increase and diversify its energy sources, including nuclear energy, to supplement other sources such as hydro, solar and thermal power.

“Nuclear energy is expected to add another 2,000 MW to the national grid by 2036. However, by 2040, we must ensure the generation of 52,000 MW from all sources,” President Museveni said.

In the immediate future, he said, the Government shall prioritise investment in rural electrification in the remaining subcounties; electricity connections for upcoming industrial zones and factories in different parts of the country; construction of additional power sub-stations to boost and regulate the generation, transmission and distribution; and strengthening the capacity of the Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL) and Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL), to manage the distribution of power in preparation for the expiry of Umeme limited, and Eskom which has already exited the Ugandan market.

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