Power Trade: Inside Uganda’s move to become Africa’s powerhouse

by Christopher Kiiza
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Uganda has bilateral agreements with neighboring East African countries to both sell and purchase electricity.

Initially, Uganda’s power trading was limited to Kenya due to the two countries’ interconnection, but the Uganda’s electricity initiatives have since expanded significantly, fostering interconnectivity with nearly all nations in the East African region, thereby broadening its scope of power exchange agreements.

Uganda exports electricity to Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and latest South Sudan which entered into an agreement with Uganda in June 2023 to purchase electricity from Uganda.

Between June 2020 and June 2021, the country exported 294.1MW, earning $26.84 million.

The country has invested millions of dollars in electricity infrastructure to further facilitate transmission and sell of electricity across the East African region as it establishes itself to expand across the African continent.

Some of the infrastructure put in place for regional power transmission and sell include; the 14MW Kikagati – Murongo hydropower plant that was commissioned by President Museveni and his Tanzanian counterpart, Samia Suluhu Hassan in May 2023.

The Kikagati – Murongo hydropower plant is a cross border project located on River Kagera in Kikagati, Isingiro district on Ugandan side, and Murongo on the Tanzanian side.

The project sets the stage for heightened economic activity in the border area, creates employment opportunities, and provides electricity access to over 815,000 individuals.

Additionally, Uganda has injected millions of dollars to construct a 220/132/LV Mirama substation in Ntungamo district near the border with Rwanda.

The substation serves both national interests and the East African Community regional interests.

Power regulator, the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) CEO, Eng. Ziria Tibalwa Waako explains that Mirama substation which is over 95% complete will take over power export to Rwanda which is currently served by the Mbarara South substation in Mbarara city.

“This is where we start the line that feeds into the country of Rwanda. And this line is part of the regional interconnections across the East African Community that will be integrated into the Eastern African Power Pool, of which I chair the Independent Regulatory Board. Therefore, this is a very critical facility, both for Uganda as a nation, but also for the East and Eastern African power pool,” says Eng. Waako.

“Currently, we export 40 megawatts into Rwanda, and as we continue to commission Karuma [hydro power plant], and mobilize resources to be able to extend the distribution network and connect the population, these electrons that are currently not being put to good use (excess power generated), are used through export to be able to earn revenue that we partly use to extend the distribution grid into the country,” she adds.

Further, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) is upgrading the 132/220kv Mbarara South electricity substation – a regional interconnection station that exports power to Rwanda.

UETCL says that soon, the Mbarara substation will be dropping power at Mirama substation after its commissioning, and Mirama will in turn export it to Rwanda.

The upgrade of Mbarara electricity substation is not only intentioned to boost power supply to regional neighbors, but also enhance connectivity in southwestern Uganda.

“We have Mirama – Kabale project which is going to be taking power from Mirama substation, we have the Kisoro Business Park which will come up later. So, when we upgrade this station (Mbarara substation) we shall be able to boost the capacity here and supply the south western region comfortably,” says UETCL projects engineer, David Kabwama.

He adds: “Plans are underway to improve on the capacity of the transformer here at Mbarara south substation. We have transformer in Kawanda substation that is not fully utilized, its about 250 mega volt amps. When we bring it here, this entire region will be comfortable.”

Electricity Transmission & Sell Across Borders & Tariff Reduction

ERA Board Chairperson, Sarah Wasagali Kanaabi says that Uganda’s future plan is not to just set eyes on the East African region, but rather expand connectivity and sell electricity across the continent.

“So, we are not only connecting East Africa, but we have also future plans to connect as African countries. So, the future is really in the trading as Africans, and this will actually guarantee the tariffs to come down because of competition in trading as East African countries,” Mrs. Kanaabi says.

“We are interconnected with the Kenya, we are interconnected with the Rwanda, Tanzania. We are already trading with the neighboring countries, including DRC and we have plans to interconnect with South Sudan,” she adds.

Asked about the cost of power traded across the region, Mrs Kanaabi says, “the tariff that we export to Kenya is the same tariff that we import power from Kenya and other neighboring countries is 10 US cents. So, it is one tariff that we agree upon.”

Uganda Hosts Independent Regulatory Board of East African Power Pool

Uganda currently hosts the Independent Regulatory Board (IRB) of the East African Power Pool (EAPP).

IRB is an organ of EAPP, a regional institution established in 2005 to coordinate cross-border power trade and grid interconnection among nations of the Eastern Africa region.

This power trade enables proper and effective utilization of the region’s energy resources for the benefit of the respective citizens.

The IRB’s mandate is to provide fair and effective regulatory services to facilitate the development and efficient operation of the regional electricity market in Eastern Africa and ensure a conducive environment for regional infrastructure investments.

The EAPP currently has eleven-member countries that signed the Inter-Governmental Memorandum of Understanding (IGMOU) and fourteen utilities that signed the Inter-Utility Memorandum of Understanding (IUMOU).

The pool comprises the following countries: Burundi, Djibouti, the Democratic Re- public of Congo (DRC). Rwanda. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Libya. South Sudan and Somalia joined recently, and there is a possibility that Eritrea may join.

The current member utilities are REGIDESO of Burundi, SNEL of DRC, EEHC of Egypt, EEP of Ethiopia, GECOL of Libya, KenGen of Kenya, KPLC of Kenya, KETRA- CO of Kenya, REG of Rwanda, SETCO of Sudan, SINELAC of DRC – Rwanda – Burundi, TANESCO of Tanzania, UETCL of Uganda, EDD of Djibouti and the newly joined SSEC of South Sudan and Electricity utilities of Somalia.

Uganda’s Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) says hosting the IRB Secretariat, among other benefits, provides Uganda with greater influence in the region and enables it to steer the agenda of the Body and take a lead role in developing the regional power pool.

“Hosting the IRB Secretariat, among other benefits, provides Uganda with an opportunity to contribute to the development of an effective Regional Electricity market, which will ensure supply security, improve sector efficiencies, improve reliability, and spur economic development,” says ERA CEO, Eng. Waako.

She adds that hosting the IRB will improve the country’s image, provide training and employment opportunities to Ugandans, and boost economic activity in the country and the region at country at large.

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