Uganda is set to have a total installed solar power capacity of more than 200 megawatts by the end of next year, with more than half-owned by a private investor Dr David Alobo.
Alobo, through his Xsabo group, has commissioned the construction of a 20 MW solar power project at Konge in Mityana district, which is one of the two largest solar plants in the country.
Xsabo Group says they plan to build another three projects, which will bring the number to five plants with a total installed capacity of 150 MW, worth a total investment of 735 Billion Shillings.
The company received funding for the Mubende project worth 63 Billion Shillings from the Uganda Development Bank and the DFCU Bank.
Uganda will have a total installed capacity of 2000MW when the delayed opening of the Karuma hydropower project happens this year. It was due for commissioning last year by the constrictors, but Synohydro of China asked for an extension of the date saying the works were at 98% completion.
The government embarked on a more complex energy mix to improve stability of supply, involving Hydro, geothermal, thermal, solar and wind energy.
Solar, one of the cleanest renewable sources is also considered the cheapest to maintain.
However, according to Julius Wandera, the head of corporate affairs at the Electricity Regulatory Authority, solar energy is also unreliable as a major source because Uganda’s weather is unpredictable.
When you are expecting a plant to give you 8 megawatts, a cloud comes and covers it, and you end up with no or less power,” he says. But he maintains that it is important to supplement the more reliable sources like thermal and hydro, despite the latter being more expensive.
According to studies at the Ministry of Energy, Uganda on average has enough sunshine to produce 5.1-kilowatt house per square meter.
Electricity demand is increasing at a rate of 8.2% annually, which translates to 125,000 new customers every year. Currently, four large solar power plants sell power to the national grid.
These include the Bufulubi in Mayuge District, the Tororo Plant and the Soroti plant, all 10MW each, as well as the largest one, the 20MW Kabulasoke solar energy plant in Mpigi district, also owned by Xsabo Group.
A 50 MW Namugoga Solar Power Station, in Wakiso District, planned for constriction by Solar Energy for Africa and Naanovo Energy Inc will be the largest yet if finished later this year. Small solar applications are often used in rural electrification projects such as Solar Home Systems or solar water heating.
The small off-grid systems come in handy because of some sparsely populated areas in Uganda where it would be less cost-effective to extend grid lines, according to the strategy.
For that, the government estimates that over 30% of the population is unlikely to be reached for the next several decades unless more investments are pout in small off-grid home systems. According to the Uganda Solar Energy Association, over 30,000 solar or photovoltaic (PV) systems have already been installed in homes in rural areas.
The 10-year Rural Electrification Strategy ending 2022 indicates that off-grid connections are supposed to have grown by 135,500 connections, with 95% of them being solar. The off-grid connection numbers are supported by the growing number of supply and distribution companies that offer products on credit or hire-purchase, where a customer pays for as low as 500 Shillings per day.
In 2013, the government awarded a contract to Ergon Solair, a Taiwanese-US venture to build a 500MW solar plant divided into two four parks of 125MW each. It was supposed to be completed by 2016. It would be the largest solar plant in Africa and the world alongside the 500MW Noor Solar Complex in the Agadir district of Morocco. In February, the China Energy Engineering Corporation (CEEC) announced plans to build a 500MW solar power plant in Uganda in two phases. The Electricity Regulatory Authority-ERA said they had not received any notification of that kind from the Chinese company. Xsabo is also implementing another project dubbed the Xsabo Lira Power Station or Xsabo Lira Solarline, a US$45 million, with a capacity to generate 50 MW. This is a public-private partnership between Xsabo and Lira District Administration and is also expected to be completed by December 2022, completing a total investment by Xsabo of about U$200 million.