Uganda: Lighting Villages With Wind Energy

HE may be little known in towns, including Kampala, where he is based.

But, Samuel Agwotu is a hero in the rural areas of western Uganda and parts of Kampala, where his wind power is lighting several homes and driving water pumps.

Recognising him would have been impossible, had it not been for Godfrey Batenganya, who has used Agwotu’s wind power. He believes Agwotu is fighting poverty by providing affordable electricity and employment.

Until six months ago, Batenganya, a resident of Koome islands, where hydro electricity is non existent, was using solar power to run his business, but the sun was very unreliable.

"But when I learnt of wind power, I approached him and he fixed it. Now I am able to use a fridge for hours, light 20 bulbs and watch video," Batenyanga.

He says his profits increased from sh200,000 monthly to sh600,000 due to wind energy.

This is partly because he can now save the money he used to spend on fuel to run a generator. The wind power he is using produces about 7,000 watts of power daily for over five homes connected to his system.

In Bushenyi district, about five homes also pooled sh2.5m and bought a wind turbine.

Alice Atukwase, 41, says ever since they connected their homes five month ago, they no longer experience respiratory problems resulting from use of kerosene lamps.

They have also forgotten the inconveniences of power cuts. Children no longer have to revise their books on lamps. They now have enough light to use. Atukwasee also no longer spends on paraffin.

How initiative was conceived

Agwotu’s initiative aims at bringing affordable electricity to areas without hydro power, reduce poverty and also avail an environmentally friendly form of energy.

"Poor people in villages spend the little money they earn on paraffin. With wind energy, they will save money and spend it on food and clothing," he says.

Agwotu says his eyesight was affected when in primary school because of the smoke from the paraffin lamps. This challenged him to find a smoke-free source of power.

The journey

Agwotu grew up in a family of 10 children in Angerepo village, Amuria district (Teso).

He dropped out of school in Senior Four following his father’s death. With the help of a friend, he trained as a vehicle mechanic.

Unfortunately, he got an accident when oil burnt him, but this did not deter him from helping his siblings with food and other basics.

In 1999, Agwotu used his earnings from vehicle repairs to go back to school. He sat his O’ level at Light Senior Secondary School Soroti and passed in first grade.

After A’ level, he joined Gulu University on private sponsorship to undertake development studies, although he dropped out due to financial problems.

He joined the army, but left in 2004. He felt it was not the kind of job he wanted to do.

However, he had to survive.So, when private security companies called upon Ugandans to take up security jobs in Iraq, Agwotu applied. His military background worked in his favour.

In Iraq, Agwotu discovered that wind power was widely used because it is affordable and can be connected in any remote setting.

"With some savings made in Iraq, I came back to Uganda in 2008 determined to start a business. I thought of importing inverters from China to sell to solar power users and also to electricity users to avoid the rampant load shedding."

He abandoned the inverter business when he realised it was not viable.

He loaded the inverters onto a plane to Nigeria where he sold them, but also changed business.

"In Nigeria, I found a wind power company that was training people how to get power from wind. I joined the company and received training for about five months. When I came back, I went to Britain and got further training," he says.

Wind energy initiative starts

Before starting, Agwotu explored the feasibility of wind power in Uganda. He discovered it was more viable than solar or any other form. With sh25m, he bought 3,000 magnets from China.

He sourced locally most of the materials, such as wood, iron sheets (for making blades) and wiring cables, metals for the mast and cement for fixing the power system.

He operates under the Uganda Veterans Wind Power Initiative whose headquarters are in Nalukolongo in Kampala.

Agwotu employs 12 young men who work on the wind power system within a period of two weeks. He feels he has also realised his dream of creating employment.

The team can make wind power panels that produce 1,000-15,000 watts of power per day depending on the location and the needs of the client.

A 1,000 watt wind power costs sh700,000. It can power a fridge, light five bulbs, radio, a television and an energy-saver kettle.

A 15,000 watt system, costs sh9m and can power an institution, such as schools, light about 100 bulbs and run about 18 computers. In a home, it can power a fridge, 100 lights, three television sets, a radio, an electric flat iron, an energy saving kettle, three computers and a printer.

"My dream is to have every home without electricity connected to the wind power system. However, I cannot achieve this without help from the Government and donors, especially those interested in environmental protection, poverty reduction and against climate change."

Agwotu adds that, if donors can support his initiative, he can produce free wind power in the rural areas with large wind sources.

He has approached several organisations, including the ministry of energy, but with no fruits.

Lack of market for his products is also a challenge. He says some agencies are importing turbines from developed nations yet when they reach in Uganda, they cannot function due to different wind speeds. But he has a solution.

"We know how the wind works here and how to produce efficient power," he says.

"I am not motivated by profits. I want to improve the standard of living of my people. If they have power, they can start businesses such as barber shops and grinding mills from where they can generate money to pay school fees and meet medical expenses," says Agwotu.

His wind-power has a 20-year lifespan with routine annual maintenance. He also manufactures wind turbines to pump water for home use, irrigation and for livestock.

What experts say

James Banabe, an energy expert from the ministry of energy, says wind power is viable in Uganda, especially in places with few trees and around water bodies, where the wind speeds are between 5-10 metres per second.

He adds that Kenya is producing wind power on a commercial scale, but Uganda is not because it does not have the expertise or the technology, money and research needed.

He, however, says the wind speeds in Uganda are low, requiring more technology to increase the amount of power generated.

"If we were near the sea or ocean, or next to large water bodies, where the wind speed is naturally high like north African nations or Kenya and Tanzania, we would produce wind power with ease. However, it can work in places with high wind speed such as Karamoja," he says, adding that solar energy is the best option for Uganda.

Agwotu says solar energy can be produced in almost every part of Uganda because the sun is available everywhere.

He, however, says the high price of solar panels is what is discouraging many people.

By Frederick Womakuyu,