Environmental Talk At UGPulse: Alternative Energy Solutions for Ugandans

Environmental Talk At UGPulse: Alternative Energy Solutions for Ugandans

In Uganda, even a nursery kid knows what Umeme means black outs!

By Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli
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First published: January 26, 2007


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In Uganda, even a nursery kid knows what Umeme means-- black outs! So, if someone said to you "I am going to umeme your house!", you very well know what they are going to do to you. In fact, Umeme's name was changed from UEB (Uganda Enzikiza Board). Umeme's notoriety can easily be measured by the brisk business Uganda's alternative energy equipment suppliers are currently doing. This brings me to today's topic: What options do Ugandans have with regards to alternative sources of energy?


Below are a few that came to my mind.

Option 1: Umeme Let's not go there! Umeme's unreliability is the sole reason why I am writing this article.

Option 2: Generators

Honda Generator



There are quite a few brands on the market in Uganda. Without going into details of which brand is better than which, let me point out a few pros and cons about purchasing and running a generator to power your house or business.

For:

  1. Most small to medium sized generators are quite portable. If you are going to the village for X-mas, you can take it and wow the villagers.
  2. They are relatively easy to install and operate. I have noticed that connections to most generators in Uganda are temporary.

Against:

  1. God, they are noisy!
  2. They pollute the precious air we breathe with soot and other toxic gases that ruin the environment. Quite as guilty of this offence as cars.
  3. They cost you plenty to fuel.
  4. They are not really economical power sources. If a generator has the capacity to light ten electric bulbs, it will consume slightly less fuel when lighting five bulbs but certainly not half the fuel compared to when it is lighting ten bulbs. I think you get my drift.
  5. Most common models are a pain to start. Only a few expensive ones start automatically and even then, the period between the power outage and the generator starting is quite noticeable.
  6. Their engines are quite temperamental if abused. If you have owned a car you know what I mean.

Option 3: Inverter/Power Back-up systems

APC Power Back-up currently used by UGPulse.com





Almost every Inginiya, Kamyufu and Mufere is getting in on the sale of these systems so you need to be very careful where you source yours or else... However, there are a few reputable brands and dealers around. Their case is as follows:



For:

  1. Most operate automatically and if properly connected, it is difficult to notice Umeme have done their favourite thing yet again.
  2. Certainly much quieter than generators. Most have in-built cooling fans and produce a humming sound especially when charging but are not much louder than the fan in your PC.
  3. Most reputable brands are quite reliable and durable if they are not abused. Infact, they have such elaborate safety/tripping systems it is difficult to abuse them.
  4. Most are maintenance free. The only exception is those connected to wet storage batteries which need topping up with deionised water just like car batteries.
  5. They are basically neater systems than generators if properly installed.
  6. They provide stable electricity and act as surge protectors to protect all connected equipment.

Against:

  1. Depend on a primary source (Umeme, generator, etc) to provide the power they store. If it takes Umeme a month to restore the transformer that feeds your neighbourhood after it has blown, 'Nzikiza' will come pay you a visit after the first few days.
  2. Incur small energy losses through the unavoidable heating up of the system while in operation, operation of the onboard fan and the nature of the charging/discharging process in the connected batteries.

Option 4: Solar Power systems

Solar Panel

Most of you have heard about or even seen this type of power source for some time now. Their efficiency keeps getting better with each improvement in the technology they employ.

For:

  1. A very reliable and durable source of electricity that banishes Umeme blues.
  2. The source from which these systems make their power is free. Who does not want free things? Even Bill Gates is grateful for the free air he breathes.
  3. These systems are relatively maintenance free.
  4. They can be installed just about anywhere even in very remote places. Good bye Umeme!
  5. Most require an inverter to turn the d.c. form of electricity they make into the a.c. form that can be used by most equipment so the hum of the in built cooling fan is back but it is preferable to most people over generator noise.

Against:

  1. Most reputable systems cost an arm and a leg.
  2. These systems are not so mobile/portable.
  3. Their efficiency is at the mercy of nearby shading objects/structures (hills, trees, tall buildings, etc) and the amount of cloud cover. The sunnier, the better.

Option 5: Umm...

Use tadoobas, sigiris and firewood. Now, you all know how environmentally unfriendly this option is.

Option 6: Oh Well...

Admit that we have failed to fit in with the times and go back in time to live in the first Stone Age!

So, there. We have it. What is your choice?

By Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli
more from author >>
First published: January 26, 2007
The author is a pollution control equipment engineer/consultant and a proud active member of UGPulse.