The biomass potential in Uganda

The Ugandan government says the country has vast renewable energy resources for energy production and biomass alone can produce an estimated 1, 650 megawatts of electricity if exploited.

In it's current document titled 'Renewable Energy Policy for Uganda', the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development cites other resources which still remain unexploited including geothermal, large scale hydro, mini/micro/pico hydro, wind and solar energy.
"With the exception of biomass, whose contribution is very significant, the remaining renewable sources contribute about five per cent of the country's total energy consumption," adding that this limits the scope and productivity of economic activities that can be undertaken in any part of the country. It adds that the renewable energy power potential for solar is estimated at 200 megawatts, geothermal 450 megawatts, peat 800 megawatts and mini-hydro 200 megawatts.
"Biomass contributes over 90 per cent of the total energy consumed in the country and provides almost all the energy needs for cooking and water heating in rural areas, most urban households, institutions and commercial buildings, the document notes adding that biomass is the main source of energy for rural industries.
"Limited availability of electricity and high prices of petroleum products constitute barriers to a reduction in the demand for biomass and trading in biomass especially charcoal contributes to the rural economy in terms of tax revenue and employment," it notes.
"The per capita consumption is 680kg per year for firewood and 4kg and 120kg for charcoal for rural and urban areas respectively. Total biomass (firewood and wood for charcoal) demand for households (2006) was 22.2mn tons per year and cottage industries account for about 20 per cent of total biomass use adding a further 5.5mn tons and bringing the total biomass demand to about 27.7mn tons country-wide," the document indicates.
The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development warns that fuel wood requirements have contributed to the degradation of forests as wood reserves are depleted at a faster rate in many regions while charcoal stoves, ovens and kilns used in Uganda are inneficient. Several initiatives to conserve biomass have been undertaken by the government and the private sector and the government and have started to have a significant impact noting that some pilot projects to produce biogas from wastes (animal dung and human wastes) or gas and electricity from gasification also offer good opportunities. The figures contained in the document show that there are about 500 functioning biogas plants in the country at present and over 250,000 zero grazing farming households and these define the extent of the potential for small household biogass digesters in the country.

Meeting need economically
"Commercial diary farmers and piggeries could also support several thousand larger biogass plants to cater for their own thermal and electricity needs."
It also states that biogass is a zero-waste technology and the products of biogass like biogass and digested slurry can be utilised economically for cooking and as manure for agriculture and horticulture adding that biomass is a non-poisonous and non-toxic gas which when mixed with air, burns with a blue flame and has no soot or any offensive small.
"The slurry is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, potasium and humus material and has good applications in agriculture and horticulture. Methane burns very well thus biogas can be used as a substitute of keresone, charcoal and firewood.It is one of the renewable sources of energy which are popular in ruaral areas and can susccessfully meet the cooking and lighting needs of families."
Meanwhile the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) says it's encouranging and teaching consumers how to use sparingly and conserve electricity in joint efortts to address the shortfalls in power generation including using energy efficient appliances, switching off un-used appliances and lights and regulary carrying out energy audits in their homes. The regulatory body adds that since the liberalisation of the sector, it has attracted private investments in the electricity sector including Electro-maxx, Aggreko, Invespro, Jacobsen, Tronder Power limited, Bugoye, Africa EMS Mpanga limited, Eco Power limited, Hydromax, Umeme, Kakira, SCOUL and Kinyara Sugar Works with the latter three companies generating up to 30 megawatts from sugarcane waste.

Geofffrey Muleme

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