Lack of access to electricity in poor, rural areas has long been seen as a barrier to economic development in developing countries. In many cases, the cost of providing electric service to remote areas far exceeds the ability of governments to recover those costs from poor customers through electric rates.
Uganda is a case in point. According to the World Bank, only 9 percent of the population has access to electricity, and in rural areas, the rate drops to 6 percent. However, the efforts of a Netherlands-based environmental and engineering consultancy group promise to make a small difference in Uganda’s rural electrification rate through small-scale hydroelectric generators.
Royal Haskoning has recently announced plans to install a cluster of 10 mini-hydropower facilities (7-10 MW total) and electrical distribution systems in rural areas of Uganda. The “Western Uganda mini-hydropower & Rural Electrification Project” will supply grid power to 350,000 people; increasing the country’s rural electrification rate from 6 to 7.5 percent.
According to Royal Haskoning, Uganda has an estimated 5,300 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy potential, including 2,000 MW of large hydroelectric resources on the Nile, 200 MW in micro-hydro plants, and other resources including solar, biomass, geothermal and peat. But, the company is primarily interested in harnessing Uganda’s small-scale hydro resources.
Compared to large-scale hydroelectric dams, small-scale hydro projects (less than 2 MW) require lower upfront capital investments, shorter permitting procedures and have fewer environmental impacts. Because the small generators can be sited close to the point of use, they can also reduce transmission costs. In the case of Uganda, remote and isolated villages can be connected to each other via a mini-grid.