Solar energy may be solution to East Africa's power needs
The East African Community budget looked at ways of realizing adequate and reliable energy supply in the region.
Specific areas mentioned included linking the power grids between the countries and cooperation in oil and gas
While this is to be encouraged, little mention was made of alternative sources of energy. Tanzania has natural gas potential in the Indian Ocean and Uganda has been discovering petroleum deposits over the recent years and has also been talking about exploiting uranium for energy production.
Rwanda for example is in advanced stages of producing methane to such large scales that it could be used to power
motor vehicles. Most of this will come from human and animal waste. If such a project is developed at regional level
it could be even more productive. All East African countries have excess in both human and animal waste, and bigger
plants can therefore be developed.
Of particular interest are two firms that are soon installing wind mills in the Tanzanian region of Singida. It is estimated that when completed, they will produce about 100 MW of power, or about 10 % of Tanzania's energy needs. This is a very welcome development that should also be developed at a regional rather than national level.
More critical is solar power. East Africa is one of the few regions blessed to sit on the equator. This means that
all year round, strength of the sun's rays is very good. Yet solar power is still a very small component of our
energy uses. This is because the entry levels for consumers are still high.
It costs up to $ 1,000 to get a basic solar unit in most of the East African countries. This is way higher than connecting to the already congested hydro-power grid. So most people would rather connect to the national grid than get their own solar facility.
Yet if the EAC came up with a regional investment policy of solar, the market would be big enough to attract big
players and lower the unit costs because of economies of scale.
The high costs would then become history!