Kampala, Uganda | JULIUS BUSINGE | Esteeri Kabonero is the managing director for Powah Limited, a solar solutions energy company operating in Uganda. She spoke to The Independent’s Julius Businge about the recent grant that they obtained from Trade and Development Bank (TDB) formerly known as the PTA Bank to go about solar energy needs in Nakivale Refugee Settlement.
What is the significance of the US$25,000 grant that you received from TDB Group for the people of Nakivale Refugee Settlement and the entire country?
In the refugee settlements, access to power, information, and basic necessities are inadequate. There are numerous entrepreneurs, students, and farmers who can create opportunities for themselves. However, the lack of basic infrastructure hinders many people in these camps. With access to energy and internet we can raise the standard of living for many in this community. Access to ICT services allows people to earn income beyond the confines of their communities. Digital services push people from informal to formal businesses, establish financial inclusiveness, and create tools for self-reliance and exposure. In Nakivale alone, 80% of refugees own a phone; of those 26% own a smart phone.
What emerging issues would you share with us regarding solar energy business in Uganda?
Unlike solar energy, oil and gas and hydro-power have huge voices in terms of policies and have a lot of government support. Because there are small solar companies, there has not been a push for or lobby for serious policies for solar. We hope with more solar companies coming into Uganda there will be space for policy formulation and making solar business more attractive. Some people think solar products are fake…that is not the case – it is the people who are not informed. We need to do more education on solar products, technology space and price. People should go for solar because it is more of a necessity and also the national electricity grid hasn’t reached some communities. Solar in the long run is actually cheaper than the grid. The reason why some people haven’t adopted it is because the upfront cost is high; however there are companies that are trying to come up with friendly ways of payment to make it easy for people to access solar systems.
How does Powah Limited’s work feed into the solar energy sub-sector in Uganda?
Powah Uganda Limited is a solar solutions company. We focus on solar for productive use – we design our own solar solutions just like the Powah hub for Nakivale. The hub is essential because it can help people have access to their computers, charge their phones, use mobile money and do any other income generating activity. We also focus on solar installations in offices, homes and farms. We have come across customers who use solar as a backup in the event that power from national grid is off. There are different solutions for different people. We also do product distribution like affordable lights, lanterns and others especially to those who cannot afford the high cost of solar installations.
What other partnerships are you eying that would directly or indirectly tackle energy and related problems of the country?
There are numerous partners we are trying to look at. We are also looking at going into health technology, agriculture, and mobile clinics where these would run completely on solar energy. In agriculture, we are looking at solutions to power milling plants.
How best can government go about solar energy in its service delivery programmes?
Like I said earlier, government has put a lot of focus on oil and gas and hydro-power. Solar hasn’t got its day. There are subsidies in other sectors but solar does not have such offers. If we have voices pushing government for better policies, the investment in solar will have to grow with time costs will decline as more and more people demand for solar solutions. Uganda has the best weather for solar energy and we should utilize it.
Being a manager, what kind of management philosophy do you embrace to move things at Powah Limited?
As a leader, I inspire my team and try to be kind of a visionary. I try to show people our vision mainly looking at where the company will go. I bring in a team that balances with my management skills.
And lastly, what two major things do you envision for Powah Limited in the coming few years?
I want to see Powah Limited being one of the leaders in the energy solutions in the country. In Uganda, 20% of the population has access to the grid, so if we can increase that, it will be great. We intend to expand to neighboring countries like Rwanda in the next few years.