Solar plant to power Ssese islands

Saturday September 20 2014

The Kalangala Infrastructure Services solar project on Bugala Island in Uganda. Residents of Bugala Island will have power all  the time, up from just six hours. PHOTO | ISAAC KHISA

The Kalangala Infrastructure Services solar project on Bugala Island in Uganda. Residents of Bugala Island will have power all the time, up from just six hours. PHOTO | ISAAC KHISA 

By ISAAC KHISA The EastAfrican

Uganda’s first large-scale power project goes live next month when Kalangala Infrastructure Services (KIS), a subsidiary of UK-based InfraCo Ltd, switches on its 1.6MW hybrid power plant located on the Ssese islands.

The solar system will generate 0.6MW of electricity, working in tandem with a 1MW thermal plant, to provide 24-hour electricity to 2,000 customers on Bugala Island. Bugala is the largest of the 84 islands which form the Ssese Islands in the northwestern part of Lake Victoria.

The development is expected to spur investment in the hospitality industry, whose operators have long complained about the lack of reliable power.

Until now, the few residents of Bugala relied on just 485KW of thermal power, supplied by the Kalangala Town Council, which is on for only six hours a day.

“We are very happy with the ongoing developments, because the price of grid power will likely be lower than the current cost of  our onsite 40 KVA generator that uses over 30 litres of petrol per night,” said Cosmas Kimbugwe, the spokesperson for Ssese Islands Club on Bugala Island.

With a litre of petrol costing Ush3,700 ($1.4) that translates into a daily bill of Ush111,000 ($42).

Barbra Kikomeko, the operations director at Ssese Islands Beach Hotel, said an alternative power source coupled with a better road network will help improve their efficiency in serving customers.

KIS managing director John Opiro said 2,000 meters had been connected to their grid, and another 3,000 consumers were expected to sign up over the next five years. 

“We will use solar to generate electricity on the island during the day and thermal generators during the night,” Mr Opiro said.

KIS has invited bidders for fuel supply to run the thermoelectric generators, and fill the 50,000-litre reservoir to cater for any incidences of fuel shortages.

Uganda’s solar plant on Bugala is part of four ongoing $50 million infrastructural development projects expected to improve connectivity and accessibility between the mainland and the island.

Other components of the project include building a double-hulled commercial ferry, a water supply system, and upgrading of the existing 66 kilometre main island road to Class B gravel; they are set to be complete by December.

The KIS project is being financed through equity and debt from InfraCo, Nedbank from South Africa, Uganda Development Corporation and Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund.

The United States Agency for International Development, UK’s Department for International Development, and Guarant Company are other financiers of the project.

The joint venture has only one ferry, MV Pearl, operating between Bukakata and Luuku; a second one is under construction.

Though road and ferry services will be offered to users for free for 15 years, water and electricity users will have to pay monthly for the services.

The completion of the new infrastructural developments on Bugala Island will also boost marketing of agricultural products, especially those involved in palm oil growing.

Over 1,700 small-holder farmers grow palm oil in Bugala Island on the 3,500 hectares of land, according to Kalangala Oil Palm Growers Trust, whereas the regional edible oil and soap manufacturer Bidco grows on 6,500 hectares of land.

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