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Experts Push for Mini Power Grids Amidst Raising Skepticism About Solar Energy

With no clear standards for quality solar panels on the market, Brenda Akankunda, a researcher and Energy Economist at Makerere University Business School (MUBS), says the public is misled into buying solar products that don’t fit the hype attached to them.
Dennis Rukundo at the MAK - CEDAT Solar Grid tie system

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Experts are attributing the decreasing interest in solar energy in the country to the generally low-quality products on the market.

With no clear standards for quality solar products on the market, Brenda Akankunda, a researcher and Energy Economist at Makerere University Business School (MUBS), says the public is misled into buying solar products that don’t fit the hype attached to them.

As a result, she says there are increasing reports showing that people are pulling away from solar use.

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Grace Onjiru, a Senior Standards Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) acknowledges the loopholes in the standardization of solar products, saying that up to 80% of the solar products on the market are fake. She, however, says that they are challenged with enforcement due to the lack of an umbrella body for solar energy providers that would ensure that their members comply.   

According to standards for solar products, Onjiru says they among others require that batteries should have a charge controller with specific charging timelines and how often batteries should be serviced. She says that most of the initial solar panels didn’t meet customer requirements partly because of false advertising with many dealers hyping the panels to be performing better than they are able to.  

To be able to improve quality and access, Akankunda now urges the government to establish solar mini-grids especially in areas where water for hydro power generation isn’t possible for instance in northern Uganda.   

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For her, especially now that the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) is reviewing the renewable energy policy, customer satisfaction and access should be at the heart of the provisions, which should make the power affordable to users.

 

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Already some work is being done says David Birimumaiso, an Energy Officer in the ministry. He says at the formulation of the policy in 2007, they were more concerned with uptake such that people could gain interest in using renewable energy where solar falls.

Currently, he says, while grid connection coverage is at 24%, renewable energy stands at 27%.  He, however, notes that this is still low considering that their target is for renewable energy to contribute 60% to the total power supply in the country by 2030.

Joselyn Musiime who manages one of the solar energy providers in the country Foundation Rural Energy Services (FRES) Uganda, says that they have long wanted to set up mini-grids in Uganda but the policy hasn’t been clear even as they think this initiative can drive up solar energy uptake.
 

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