KAMPALA – Last year, the World Bank reported that over 600 people in sub-Saharan Africa lacked access to affordable and sustainable energy. This same population spends a great potion of its meagre resources utilizing unhealthy means of cooking, lighting and transportation such as charcoal/ firewood, kerosene candles (Tadooba) and petroleum. Others engaged in small scale business activities in remote off grid communities also use energy sources that endanger the environment, for instance many maize mills are powered by diesel generators. Given the importance of energy in the economic and social value chain (it powers cross-sector activities like mining, telecoms, agriculture, food processing and cooling, health center lighting, vaccine cooling and clean water, among others), its provision cannot be left to government and energy industry players alone.
Continents like Europe and Asia that have realized their energy access targets as set out in the Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) have done so through collaborative partnerships with other sectors that need energy to power their daily operations. For instance, while Asia projected to reach 99% access by 2030, by 2018 the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that it was already at 94%. This was largely driven by deliberate efforts by all sectors and stakeholders to have energy at the core of their development strategy.
Sectors like health, ICT/Innovation, transport and agriculture that receive global funding annually from multi-national corporations and countries that support efforts towards decreasing energy poverty can work with local Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by providing them with investment opportunities to expand energy access and utilization. This coupled with progressive energy policies at national level would help Africa catch up with the rest of the world.
A good example of a collaborative partnership that has worked in Uganda is the 172kW industrial solar power plant commissioned by the National Union of Coffee Agri-businesses and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE) at their coffee processing factory in Namanve in August this year. The first of its kind in Uganda, the plant, apart from producing and exporting carbon neutral coffee will also save 241.3 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year from the earth and atmosphere. A project of this magnitude is only possible through partnering with funding institutions that ease the burden on already capital stressed enterprises that most times receive little or no support from their governments.
Collaborative partnerships allow those involved to leverage each other’s strengths in the form of skills, experience, knowledge, resources and networks. For the case of NUCAFE, support came through the Nordic Development Fund, the Agriculture Business Initiative and the NIRAS International Consulting.
Similar projects can propel Uganda closer to realizing SDG7 as well as making greater use of its vast renewable energy potential. This would for instance mean utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar to power productive use business activities like irrigation, water pumping, refrigeration in fisheries and dairy farms, food drying, among others.
There is an increased awareness and curiosity among Ugandan farmers on how the use of solar energy can improve their yields. However, many of them face limitations due to the high initial cost of the energy system. For instance, at a recent media learning session on “Productive use of Renewable Energy for Agriculture”, hosted by Power for All, Tulima Solar, a member of the Uganda Solar Energy Association (USEA) revealed that they were prospecting about 5000 farmers, 60% of whom were ready to utilize their solar water pumping technology but were struggling to access funds to make the down payment. Through collaborative partnerships that provide financing incentives, farmers would restore the agricultural sector’s lost glory through embracing technology based farming practices like solar water pumping that make irrigation sustainable, result in high yields and improve household incomes. In addition, solar based technology is climate resilient which means that farmers do not have to depend on unreliable rainfall patterns and can therefore plant throughout the year for as long as the sun is available. The easiest way for especially small holder farmers to benefit from this technology would be through partnering with solar companies and financial institutions that have climate –smart or solar loan facilities which allow them to pay back based on their yields.
In other sectors such as health, rural communities still must travel far for basic health services. Off-grid health centers are often marred with a lack of reliable power therefore cannot operate machines like x-rays and scans. Diesel generators break down often and the cost of maintaining them is high. A solar powered health center can provide all the needed health services to the community at the same or lower cost. However, health facilities have long been viewed with little consideration for energy. A local SME contracted to install and maintain a health center’s solar powered system can do so quickly and effectively thus, ensuring reliable power supply throughout the year. A partnership between the local governments and SMEs would avail financing and ensure reliable health services to the community.
However, local farmers and solar companies must be ready to embrace such partnerships because they come with stringent requirements to ensure value and return on investment. They should endeavor to close existing loopholes in their systems and management structures in order to attract large scale financing and investment opportunities.
Governments working with the private and development sectors should promote cross-sectoral financing to support increased energy access and utilization for Uganda and Africa as a whole.
The writer Jamidah Namuyanja is a Communications Specialist at Uganda Solar Energy Association (USEA).