Uganda has commissioned a 10MW solar power plant, the largest in East Africa, in its eastern district of Soroti. Built by Dubai’s Access Energy Group and France’s Eren RE, the $19m plant will provide clean electricity to 40,000 residents.
It is Uganda’s first grid-connected solar plant as the country looks to raise power generation capacity to 1,500MW by 2020, from the current 850MW. The power plant has the potential to increase its net output capacity by a further 20MW of solar energy. “We are ready to double generation capacity as soon as the national grid is ready,” David Corchia, Eren’s chief executive, said.
“We are really proud to have the project here in Soroti, some of us had even lost hope in expanding our businesses,” said 30-year-old Daniel Owundo, who owns a restaurant in the outskirts of Soroti, plagued by soaring costs of using a diesel-powered generator.
According to Owundo, for years, government has promised but not delivered electricity to his small township of Ongori, located some 10km from the main town. Since the connection of solar, Owundu has retired his generator and is looking forward to introducing a fast food section in his restaurant, which has previously concentrated on only local dishes.
“More people are visiting this area now, business is picking up,” Owundu said. The government of Uganda has been keen to develop alternative energy sources to diversify away from its hydropower plants, which are currently beset by unstable water levels blamed on dry spells and changing weather patterns.
With the sun shining every day in the country, analysts say solar is the way to go. “It’s an untapped potential. While there is uncertainty about fuel prices, we are assured of daily sunshine,” said Benon Mutambi, the head of the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA).
Demand for electricity has also been growing spurred by the increasing population. Statistics from the ERA indicate that peak demand for power is growing by 15% every year. All this is crucial in an economy that is expanding fast and aims to give half of its 34m people access to electricity by 2017.
The government has long regarded solar energy as a viable option for renewable energy generation. According to the renewable energy policy, the country has a solar electricity potential of about 200MW, 1650MW from biomass, 800MW from peat, 2200MW from hydropower stations and 400MW from geothermal energy.
Uganda recently signed a €90m ($95.5m) loan deal with the German development bank KfW and the French government finance agency AFD to build a 45MW power plant. According to the Ministry of Energy, 85% of the population does not have access to electricity and that number is rising. There is a desperate need for more energy.