Monday, August 12, 2013

Energy Patterns for Urban Uganda

Like many other countries, there is a noticeable migration to urban areas in Uganda. With the relatively hard economic times, many aspire to opportunities and higher living standards, only to end up in slums, with many shortcomings.

Urban migration
The case of energy therefore for many in the urban setting is really difficult to classify as an improvement on the rural one for the many drifting from there without a good prospect of finding employment.

Rural towns
Save for a number of towns that can be classified as ranking high, next to the City of Kampala, we have many small towns that invariably range from having one to a few streets. These also are often located along what we classify as main roads, some on highways on trunk roads, others on feeder roads, and in some instances on what we term as Community Access Roads (CAR). 

For the most remote and often least developed towns, we usually find a cluster of shops on either side of the road, often gravel and no access to electricity.

This dictates lighting to use of the paraffin lamps at best, although business tends to close early. Often times, the front constitutes the shop while the rear room is the residence.

More often than not, cooking is for largely food and tea, out in the open or inside a small kitchen shade at best, so to speak.

The rural towns will invariably use firewood for all the cooking.

Main towns
These fall between what I have chosen to classify as rural and below the most developed, Kampala, the main seat of government.

These major towns include Jinja to the east, Entebbe by Lake Nalubaale / Victoria lakeside, Mbarara to the mid-west, Mbale to the east, Masaka in the central region, Fort Portal to the west and not too far from Mt Rwenzori, to Gulu in the north, beside a host of others.

Although these major towns have access to the electricity grid, many residents largely use electricity for lighting and limited appliances. On average, many who live in the ‘central business district’ of the town will largely use charcoal for cooking, with natural gas and electricity at the lower extent respectively. The vast majority however, especially on the periphery will tend to use firewood for cooking. 

Capital City of Kampala
Kampala, the only urban centre to be elevated to district status, is for all intents and purposes the location of the highest standards in the country in general, energy matters inclusive.

It is here that you find the highest concentration of modern amenities, also representing a mix of energy sources and applications. One may with a degree of confidence say that highest standards are to be found here, only replicated in some other towns and settings in general.

Many businesses and homes have access to electricity, again largely used for lighting and lighter current  electrical appliances, with even fewer using it for cooking.

There is also a noticeable level of using bottled gas for cooking, which mode seems to be cheapest, compared to charcoal and electricity.

The poorer settings on the fringes of the city do invariably use firewood, although other categories also use it.

It is not uncommon to find a home with a cooker, rarely used, a gas stove more frequently used, and, a charcoal stove. If the home has a compound of its own, it may also have a firewood cooking facility, although not so common starting with middle echelons in society.

Cooking and other energy modes
As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of Ugandans depend on biomass and agricultural residues as the main source of energy. Although this has seriously depleted wood and other vegetation stocks, this dependence will continue to prevail for some foreseeable future, posing great challenges on times women dedicate to it, in addition to sometimes having to collect water from faraway places.

Firewood still used
This firewood question will linger on for a while, considering that populations have been multiplying fast amidst dwindling incomes, with the shilling losing value against other currencies.

The rural versus urban dependence on wood for cooking was 99.4-percent versus 22.9-percent, an average per capita consumption around 680 kilogram/year (kg/yr), based on findings of the 2005/06 Uganda National Household Survey. 

While improved wood-stoves are increasingly being adopted in institutions such as schools, and hospitals, their use still remains limited. These are sometimes custom-built at the institutions, sometimes with adapted pans, utilizing modest quantities of wood for the same task, while at the same time posing lesser pollutant hazards seemingly. These are often placed under a shade, often corrugated iron roofing without side walls, thereby improving on ventilation. These institutional stoves are used for big numbers, sometimes in hundreds if not more.

Prevalence of charcoal stove use
The rural versus urban dependence on charcoal for cooking was 8.2-percent versus 66.1-percent, an average per capita consumption around 21.6 kilogram/year (kg/yr), based on findings of the 2005/06 Uganda National Household Survey. 

These have been around for a number of decades. Largely made from sheet metal, they are cylindrical in design, with diameters of the order of one-foot, two chambers, the upper with a grill bottom to hold the charcoal and the lower solid to contain the ash dropping from the upper level. A small gate is added to facilitate lighting up and regulating air flow to a limited extent. They are also provided with three base supports and two handles on the sides.

These tend to lose a lot of heat to the surroundings, and, operating temperatures/conditions are not easily regulated. They can get pretty hot, often rusting away over the period of use.

Some are made of clay entirely, smaller, but handy, baked to red-color prior to use. The presence of a better insulated setting translates into better efficiency to some degree. These may be fragile, but, could easily be made to fill the gap of requiring metal, scrap or otherwise, with capacity to be much more easily made in rural settings.

These still outnumber the improved category below by far, a situation that may change with time.

Case of improved stoves
There have been various efforts to promote these improved stoves. Some of these are through bilateral assistance, and, donor projects, not to mention the growing number of Ugandan artisans who have picked up the trade. 

These are modifications of the stoves cited earlier, with a layer of clay added prior to baking, essentially improving efficiency through reducing heat loss to the environment. They are also more robust, given the outer sheet metal wall, and, often with a coat of paint.

Many designs are on the market, with very minor modifications from the technical standpoint. They are without doubt generally heavier, given both the clay and metal used in their fabrication.

Although their price is not prohibitive, lack of adequate disposable income is seen as a constraint to their acquisition viz-a-viz the unimproved ones, yet they are certainly greater value for money from many perspectives.

The government and many local entrepreneurs are mounting efforts to popularize these, with assistance from donors, bilateral and multilateral, both in the past and continuing.

Paraffin stoves
These have been around, starting with the pressurized ones that were on the market more in the last 30 – 50 years. These are increasingly getting replaced by ones using wicks, largely sourced from China.

The rural versus urban dependence on paraffin for cooking was 0.8-percent versus 3.5-percent, an average per capita consumption around 1.1 kilogram/year (kg/yr), based on findings of the 2005/06 Uganda National Household Survey. 

Paraffin stoves came into use with the arrival of petroleum products, largely to be found in more urban settings where access to paraffin is easier, although it is often carried to remote areas in twenty-liter cans, often of plastic.

The escalation of petroleum product prices has had a mitigating impact on their use, considering that it is largely used by the classes below the affluent yet above the very poor. 

Gas cookers
These have been espoused by many in middle and upper classes. Their wide variability eases acquisition at different levels. There are single burners mountable on small cylinders, while there are also several two-burner gas cookers. On the upper end, you find cookers with a mix of gas burners and electric coils or plates, some with an optional gas/electric oven.

Given the growing scarcity of charcoal that has driven its prices up significantly, cooking on gas seems to be the current most financially attractive option for those that could opt for electric cookers. 

Lately though, the number of users has been on the rise, with frequent price increases, in part due to international trends. This may change the situation, as the supply of charcoal and other competing energy forms may alter the status quo.

Electric cooking
In the earlier times, electricity prices were relatively low, on account of all of being hydro sourced, and, this favored the growth / prevalence of the electric stove / cooker for the upper classes.

In the last decade or so, Uganda has found itself unable to meet its growing demand from hydro, in part due to falling water levels in Lake Victoria, growing local consumer demand, slow increase of hydro generating facilities, and, continuing exports to neighboring countries, Kenya especially. This brought about the introduction of thermal generation, a matter that inevitably pushed up tariffs despite the often disputed subsidies.

Cooking on electricity is now on the decrease, largely on account of much higher cost, and, a host of other parameters.

While top echelon homes would use cookers with extensive facilities, many use twin-hotplates or single hotplates made by local artisans, often void of regulation. 

One of the tragedies has been the incidence of illegal consumption of electricity, facilitating its use for cooking and heating! Respective authorities have taken the bull by its horns, and made frantic efforts to cut on this illegal consumption, resulting in abandoning of some makeshift cooking using electricity.

Welding using electricity
This is an area where many in fabrication have depended excessively on welding over use of other techniques as using bolts and rivets. Much of this work for small artisans has probably been through illegally tapped electricity, a vice that continues to be seen despite efforts to stem it!

Small maize mills
These are variously scattered around the country, using electricity or diesel / gasoline. While many try to stay legal, a number still illegally tap electricity.

Those powered by diesel or less frequently by petrol are also available, only that the cost of power supplies appear prohibitive for the market settings most of them serve.

Lesser frequent technologies
These include biogas, solar, bio-fuels, and wind. I must say that, while some of these are still technologically and financially difficult to espouse, some are more easily adaptable.

On its part, biogas has not really caught on yet in the country. Yet, there have been many programs dating back several years when it was introduced to communities, large and small. I recall a project under the energy ministry where such facilities were installed at Makerere University and at a number of key schools. These seem to have come to no visible growth or expansion, given the training effort and the knowledge base that was created.

A number of donor agencies have continued to promote it, but, there is some momentum to be found in order to get people to adopt more of it.

A few homesteads have a zero-grazed cow, with its dung used to provide the cooking and lighting gas. This has to be promoted in some way, considering that even the most sophisticated and advanced countries like Germany have made a big success story out of it.

While the German experience is at a highly mechanized level, there are lots of small-scale examples to copy from similarly positioned countries like India and Philippines.

This technology is not only at our doorstep, it is also simple, relatively cheap and easy to implement, given the necessary commitment.

While this can target small applications in homes, it can really make a huge impact. Applications are largely in lighting, even bringing electricity to rural settings as grass-thatched huts, as has been applied in a number of countries.

Solar’s main undoing has been cost. Skills have become more abundantly available, and, local engineers and technicians have been in designs for varying functions to the taste of clients, often dictated by ability to pay.

On its part, government with donors have mounted various schemes with incentives to get people to adapt solar use in their settings.

Many companies have introduced schemes to put its acquisition on a soft landing. Packages include a number of lights with cell-phone charging, with optional TV operation, albeit at varying prices, depending on choice. They have also put in place financing schemes to get people started even without the entire sum for the schemes.

With further fall in international pricing, we should be able to see more in the off-grid areas pick up  

These can be largely started by the sugar companies, given the nature of their businesses. It is however becoming more widely spoken about, that there are many potential sources of biofuels. The constraints have largely been in lack of promoters as to seed money for projects to bring this to fruition.

Findings through investigations by government and other scholars put the rating of this low, save for a few areas like Karamoja and at elevated points like Kabale, near the Uganda-Rwanda-Congo border.

The islands of Kalangala in the middle of Lake Nalubaale / Victoria have also been seen as promising.

That wind technology has greatly advanced, and, it is not prudent to dismiss this potential vital source of energy.

Petroleum use

Petroleum use in energy mix
In 2011, the country consumed 23,000 bbl/d of petroleum products. Since Uganda is landlocked, it imports petroleum products via neighboring countries.

The discovery or more correctly the resumption of activity after the early finds of the thirties, have now cast the petroleum perspective to a new level. Development and exploitation of the resource will be discussed later separately, although its availability is still a few years away.

As the chart below shows, a small share for petroleum products is in the energy mix, with diesel in the lead at 4.3-percent, followed by gasoline at 1.9-percent largely for transport, all totaling less than 8-percent, with traces of liquefied petroleum gas as of 2008, see chart following:

Major uses
Transport in Uganda heavily depends on diesel for commercial vehicles largely and gasoline for cars and the multiplying motorcycle numbers littering the country. This is after the near-collapse of the railway system.

For much of the last decade, diesel and heavy fuel oil have been used for power generation, owing to the decline in hydro electric generation versus a constantly growing demand. This has lately subsided with the coming on line of the recently commissioned new 250-megawatt hydropower station at Bujagali, downstream of the old Nalubaale power station that has been in operation since the mid-fifties.

Kerosene, as shown above is also used by the lower level population, mostly for lighting, but also for cooking to a limited extent.

As for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), it is slowly gaining popularity in urban and peri-urban areas, especially in the big towns and Kampala City, on account of its being competitive to charcoal. Its consumption in the energy mix is below 1-percent, as shown in the chart above.

Keywords: Firewood, charcoal stove, improved stoves, paraffin stove, gas cookers, electric cookers, welding, maize mills, biogas, solar, wind

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