Uganda: Invest in Renewable Energy
21 August 2011
This week we had to dig deep into our pockets to buy a bag of
charcoal. Our current rate of a bag every two-and-a-half weeks was a
rude reminder that we need to urgently buy liquid petroleum gas and
make good use of the gas cooker, if we are to keep our energy budget
Charcoal now costs sh45,000 and we were charged another sh3,000 to
have it delivered to our house. The last time I wrote about charcoal
in these pages was in March last year.
At that time, a bag went for sh35,000, up from sh28,000 in a space of
six months. Back then, I had made a prediction that the price of
charcoal would shoot to sh100,000 in a space of six years. However,
going by the current trend, if Ugandans do not invest in renewable
energy, many will have a difficulty cooking food in the next three
years. How can one invest in renewable energy?
Renewable energy comes from natural resources, which can be
replenished. These natural resources include, but are not limited to,
sunlight, wind, geothermal heat, rain and tides, biogas, small hydro
electric generators and biofuels.
Renewable energy is coming to the forefront now because of the urgent
need to conserve the environment. It is estimated that one third of
the global population or more than two billion people use biomass
fuels, mainly firewood, to cook and heat their homes, while a billion
people rely on forests for their livelihoods.
As the world's population continues to grow (Uganda's population
growth rate is over 3% per annum), so does the pressure on natural
resources, including forests. Currently, 12% of the annual global
emissions of carbon dioxide (one of the gases responsible for global
warming and climate change) is due to deforestation. Investing in
renewable energy would, therefore, not only save you money, but also
directly contribute to a cleaner environment and help slowdown global
Whereas investing in renewable energy can be a complex affair
involving buying stocks, investing in mutual funds or companies
considered 'green', such opportunities do not exist in most of the
developing countries, which also have over 56% of the world's forests.
The opportunities for investing in renewable energy in these countries
lie in being able to replace conventional fuels in the areas of
cooking, lighting, heating or pumping water and power generation.
Biogas technology is cheap and easy to access locally, compared to
other energy options.
Africa has some of the regions with the highest solar intensity in the
world. In many parts of Africa, it is easy to get enough sunlight even
for equipment with low conversion capacities. There are basically two
types of equipment that one can invest in. One type converts sunlight
into direct current electricity using photovoltaics, while the other
tracks and concentrates sunlight using reflectors into a single
This kind of technology can be simple, cheap and easy to use. Last
month, Light Gives Heat, a not-for-profit company based in Colorado
US, in partnership with Solar Cookers International, an NGO which has
been promoting solar cooking since 1987, launched a programme which
will enable Ugandans buy solar cookers at only $5.
Windmills have been used by man to harness wind energy for over 2,000
years. A windmill is comprised of vanes and a turbine. The turbine
converts kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy. The
mechanical energy can be used to produce electricity, pump water or
drive other machinery. Batteries may be fitted to the turbine to keep
power which can be used when the wind is not blowing. A domestic wind
turbine, which can be mounted on the roof, costs between sh4m and sh7m
and lasts 20 years.
Wind turbines can be a good investment for those who live in open
windy areas or on high ground. A local organisation, Uganda Veterans
Wind Power Initiative, based in Nalukolongo, has the capacity to build
wind power panels that can produce 1,000-15,000 watts of power every
A 1,000-watt wind power, which costs less than sh1m, can power a
fridge, light five bulbs, a radio and TV. A 15,000-watt system can
light up a small village. Going by the number of villages which are
not connected to the national power grid, it is easy to see why you
can save or make millions by investing in renewable energy.
The writer is a development consultant
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