By Guest Writer
OPINION: Every day, the media reports about the increasing climate changes that are happening across the country.
The country has lost its forest cover of about 967 kha, equivalent to a 12% decrease in tree cover since 2000, due to the need for firewood and charcoal for cooking, which can be avoided when we emphasize and utilize renewable energy potential.
Uganda is blessed with many energy alternatives that have not been utilized, including solar energy that is free and sustainable, biogas, and wind power, among others.
Most communities in Uganda are cattle keepers and produce cowdung, which can be used for making biogas. Biogas is a renewable organic energy material that comes from plants and animals.
Most of these people in rural areas can spend even two months without a coin in their pockets or getting monthly salaries to pay for the high power tariffs.
This has had an effect on the environment as people have resorted to tree cutting for firewood and charcoal, hence degrading the environment.
Uganda is still a developing country, and reports from the Uganda National Households Survey 2019/20 (UNHS) show that there are still many people living below the poverty line of 20.3% per day who cannot afford electricity tariffs.
Electricity consumption is still low, yet the investment made is higher than the economic returns. The higher cost of power tariffs is a fundamental challenge to accessing electricity. Goal seven of the SDGs is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030.
Access to cheap, clean, and affordable energy is indeed critical, as it can enable the attainment of eight of the 17 SDGs. These include poverty alleviation, zero hunger, and good health and wellbeing, to name a few.
Poverty and living far from the electricity grid all account for the challenges rural communities face when it comes to having light for visibility, purifying food and water, cooking, making phone calls, and keeping a functional refrigerator.
I feel embarrassed thinking about rural communities that struggle to have power on a daily basis at every given moment of the year and have to pay such high electricity tariffs.
Uganda’s strategy for sustainable development is to explore all the available options for accessing and reducing all energy needs, enhancing the efficiency of energy resource use, and developing other new and renewable resources.
Therefore, to reduce the rate of deforestation and avoid the high power tariffs that are choking people, it’s high time for the government to invest in renewable energy alternatives like wind power, solar energy, and biogas for inclusive development.
Uganda is blessed with a sun that is sustainable to power solar energy, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and mitigates climate change, which is critical to protecting humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. Solar energy is 70% cheaper compared to hydropower, making it a valuable opportunity for people to easily access.
Wind power is plentiful, unlimited, widely distributed, affordable, and carries renewable energy attributes as a clean and environmentally friendly energy resource. It also reduces geographical security risks through energy diversification, commands lower risks compared to fossil fuels, carries less variability in generation costs, and is primed as a vessel for increasing electricity access to rural communities.
With biogas available to the people, they are living to enrich themselves with clean and affordable energy, a greater learning environment for the children, and a way to make money for their families. This will not only provide affordable power for lighting and cooking, but also empower rural communities to start up small businesses.
Promoting and increasing biomass use will also encourage Ugandans who are below the poverty line to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy since it costs less than other energy resources, thereby improving people’s standards of living.
Therefore, to attain the objectives of international energy initiatives, I appeal to the government to promote and sensitize people about renewable energy alternatives like solar, wind power, and biogas that are sustainable and cheap to ensure easy accessibility of clean energy.
The government, through the Ministry of Energy, should increase investment in renewable energies to provide affordable, reliable energy to rural communities and create employment opportunities for people.
Furthermore, the government, through the parliament of Uganda, should put in place a consumer protection law to protect consumers of clean energy products from being cheated. Currently, the market is filled with counterfeit products like solar products, and this has resulted in many fake products on the market.
In addition to the above, the government should establish renewable energy training centers at district levels and facilitate free training for people to acquire skills and knowledge in renewable energy alternatives.
The ministry of education, through the National Curriculum Development Center, should introduce renewable energy practical trainings in education institutions to bless the energy transition agenda in Uganda.
The author is Olive Atuhaire, AFIEGO.
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