Uganda: Solar power is country’s energy solution

Solar energy solutions – I wrote an article entitled "Private Solar Generators can stem power shortage", which appeared in the New Vision of September 10, 2008. Despite the negative commentary my article got from the Makerere energy expert, I still insist that of all the alternative energies available, Uganda’s nearest hanging fruit remains solar. The counter -argument advanced by the energy expert that author (meaning Me) says that only 50 of solar panel can generate 660MW of electricity. It may be true but at which cost?

It is a known fact that presently one can install 1000 Watts of hydropower with $1000. Well if you try to install that same 1000Watts of photovoltaic electricity you will pay at least $10,000. So economically it does not make any sense to invest in solar PV power generation in a country like Uganda where the Nile River alone can provide at least 3,000MW from some five to six suitable sites.

Recent media reports that power cuts to double despite heavy rainfall – Eskom told to reduce amount of hydro power generated in order to keep Lake Victoria water levels from falling further".

Where does this place my argument of three years ago versus the counter one advanced by the Makerere energy expert? I leave the reader to judge! Suffice to say; that next time I talk or write about solar, Ugandans should take me very seriously.

The current truth about solar energy is good for Uganda, but unfortunately; solar still gets biased views that are mainly based on lack of up-to-date information. For instance, in the official document outlining Uganda’s Renewable Energy Policy 2007, it says: "Solar technology can also be used for power generation; however, the prohibitive costs make it less favourable than other sources of power generation".

Clearly the use of the word "prohibitive" tantamount to condemnation of solar energy which I happen to be promoting as the nearest, hence best available alternative source of energy for Uganda – does it mean I am crazy? Of course I am not.

I am only ahead of all the negative arguments that solar keeps receiving up to now. The same policy document page 51 estimates the upfront cost of 1KW of solar technology at $12,000-15,000, yet the up-to-date cost estimate stands at $4,000 and still falling! If one compares the 2007 estimate and the 2011 actual market cost one should start to see my stance as not crazy, after all!

Uganda should face the reality and embrace solar by ignoring all these counter arguments about upfront costs and misleading references to the cost of batteries (which are actually not needed when one is feeding solar power directly onto a utility grid).

Allow me to ask; what is wrong with spending heavily today and your citizens being happy for many years hereafter? Basing on today’s thermal diesel and other interventions; any well planned solar generation investment today can pay back comfortably within 12 years, and thereafter enjoy almost 100% net revenues for another 13 -18 years.

Since Uganda as a country is not going to die in the next 13 years, why can’t the Government spend heavily now, even if it means borrowing heavily so that we can have enough clean power for the next 30 years and beyond? Imagine Germany, a country with by far less sunshine than Uganda managed to set a world solar record by installing 7400MW of solar power just in one year 2010 alone!!

Does Uganda want 1000MW generated from solar tomorrow? Well, just give me $4b, and 2500 acres of land distributed around the country, and 25 Germans to assist me – believe me, and I am serious; within less than three years after that; Ugandans would read better headlines about energy than what we are seeing in the media today – they would have more reliable clean power than all the hydropower and thermal diesel stations combined – at nearly the same comparative cost per unit. Over to you, Minister Eng. Irene Muloni.