The mayor of Kasese’s ambitious plan for his region’s renewables programme aims to improve living standards and public health
Wind-powered street lamps is one way to reach 100% renewable energy in Kasese district, Uganda. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
My desire to set a 100% renewable by 2020 goal was strongly motivated by the alarming climate-induced degradation of the snowcapped Rwenzori mountains, from which the communities here derive their livelihood, water supply and identity. The people of the Rwenzori get their name from the snow. Without the snow, our name will be no more. Also, I want to boost energy access in the region to improve living standards, increase public health and bolster the local economy.
The 100% renewables programme was launched in 2012 with the aim to transform the energy supply in the city of Kasese and the surrounding district. I want to bring access to clean energy services for all domestic, productive and social needs in both rural and urban areas by 2020. Only 7.6% of the 134,000 households in the district have access to the nation’s electricity grid so we are working on adopting a variety of renewable sources including biomass, solar, geothermal and micro-hydroelectric technologies.
The national government, civil society organisations and regional leaders are supporting our 100% renewable energy vision for Kasese. Three years into the project, tens of thousands of people have access to energy for the first time. Today renewables are estimated to be supplying 26.8% of the Kasese district with energy.
In the past, 97% of the local population relied on charcoal and firewood for cooking which caused noxious fumes leading to health issues, particularly for women. Similarly, 85% of locals relied on kerosene for indoor lighting, which is an expensive and inefficient fuel and imposes a significant financial burden on poorer families. Solar for lighting and biogas for cooking has replaced the traditional three-stone method of cooking – reducing indoor pollution. At the same time the deployment of relatively cheap domestic solar systems is providing electricity for many of the poor, freeing up money for food, clothing and education.
Biogas systems and energy saving stoves are improving community relations. Conflicts as a result of groups searching for firewood have reduced, while the time spent to collect firewood is being used for other, more productive work.
The increasing electrification has meant that residents of Kasese have the power to run their own radio and TV sets for the first time. Important lines of telecommunication are opening up and becoming increasingly reliable due to the roll-out of solar phone charging facilities and solar-run computers with internet access. Residents are increasingly able to access new forms of entertainment, each other and the outside world.
There are new jobs available for locals as the renewable energy sector expands in the region. The number of businesses in our green economy has increased from from 5 to 55 since 2012 – at least 1,650 people have been trained in the process. The businesses sell solar equipment, construct solar hubs, build biogas systems, improve cook stoves and deliver mini-hydro projects. The tourist industry has also enjoyed growth, as our camps and lodges get access to electricity we are able to attract more visitors.
In order to achieve the vision of 100% renewable by 2020, we need sustainable funding of renewable energy technologies. Sustainable financial support for the programme and finance mechanisms for individual households – especially those living on less than $1 a day – need to be ensured over the years in order for the 100% renewable vision to be realised.
Kasese’s journey towards 100% renewable energy by 2020 is happening right now. This bold project is empowering communities and improving livelihoods. It is setting a great example for other districts and municipalities to follow in Africa and in the rest of the world.
Godfrey Baluku Kime is mayor of Kasese, Uganda