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Rolling out power grids across Africa

Uganda ranked among worst performers as progress stalls on continent

| THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda has been ranked among the four countries with the lowest electricity connections in Africa which is the darkest continent in the world.

According to an analysis by Carolyn Logan, the Deputy Director of the research organisation Afrobarometer, 80% of Ugandans live in homes without an electricity connection. Only Burkina Faso, with 81% homes lacking an electricity connection is worse than Uganda. The other two worst performers are Liberia (78%), and Madagascar (76%).

Logan, who is associate professor in the Department of Political Science and MSU’s African Studies Center, Michigan State University, published her analysis titled `Progress in rolling out of national power grids has stalled across Africa’ on Jan.07.

Her findings are important because of the debate that has raged in Uganda on whether Uganda needs to generate more electric power or not.

The Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL) has had to defend its push to generate more electricity against claims that Uganda is already generation more than enough electricity. Critics say what is needed is increasing transmission capability and distribution of electricity into homes.

According to President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda aims to develop generation of 17,000MW of electricity in the next 10 years.

In an essay in The Independent magazine, the UEGCL Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Eng. Harrison E. Mutikanga, said the President’s ambition is justified because electricity access in Uganda is estimated at 22% implying that over 30 million Ugandans have no access to electricity.

Mutikanga said annual average electricity consumption is currently 80 kWh per person per year with suppressed demand of over 500 MW. He said, however, with more new connections through the new government electricity connection policy (2018-2027) with an annual target of providing 300,000 free on-grid connections and in the event that the National Development Plan (NDP II) goal of middle income status by 2020 is achieved, the average per capita consumption in 2028 could be about 1,874 kWh (World Bank dataset for low middle income).

He calculated that allowing for 22% energy system losses, and a capacity factor of 70%, Uganda will need not only 17,000MW but 20,505MW in installed generation capacity by 2028.

Uganda currently has installed electricity generation capacity of 955 MW. But it has ramped up generation by building a slew of new large and small hydropower dams and solar power plants. It has also already signed MOUs with potential investors for a cascade of hydropower plants along River Nile with a total of 1,862MW (Ayago-840MW, Oriang-392MW, Kiba-330MW, and Uhuru-300MW). Mutikanga argues that these should be fast-tracked but his call has been met with criticism.

In her report published online by `The Conversation’, Logan says on-the-ground observation and interviews throughout Africa suggest that the United Nations’ development goal of providing “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” remains a distant dream for many in countries like Uganda.

She says three years ago the African Development Bank launched an initiative to speed up the supply of electricity in Africa in 2016. Launching the New Deal on Energy for Africa, the bank’s President Akinwumi Adesina, remarked: “Africa is tired of being in the dark”.

Other high-profile initiatives – including Power Africa and Sustainable Energy for All – have also prioritised electricity for Africans.

But, she says, when survey teams from the African research network Afrobarometer asked people in 34 countries on the continent about access to electricity, and recorded the presence of an accessible grid, they found that expansion of national electric grids appeared to have largely stalled in recent years. And even in areas where an electric grid was accessible, service often remained unreliable.

About four in 10 Africans (42%) lack an electricity connection in their homes. This is either because they are in zones not served by an electric grid or because they are not connected to an existing grid. In 16 countries, more than half of respondents had no electricity connection. This included more than three quarters of citizens in Burkina Faso (81%), Uganda (80%), Liberia (78%), and Madagascar (76%).

Nor does being connected guarantee power. Power cuts continued to plague some countries. About one in seven respondents (14%) had a connection but reported that their power worked half the time, or less. All in all, taking into account households with no access to a grid, no connection to an existing grid, or an unreliable supply, only 43% of Africans enjoyed a reliable supply of electricity. While the comparable figure was nine out of 10 in Mauritius (98%) and Morocco (91%), it barely exceeded one in 20 citizens in Malawi (5%) and Guinea (7%).

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