Biomass to Electricity: Tears Of Joy As ERA Launches Pilot Project At Mulago’s Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit 

The Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) has launched a Biomass-to-Electricity pilot project at Mwanamugimu Nutrition unit in Mulago Hospital.

Dubbed Biomass to Electricity cooking, the clean cooking pilot project was launched Tuesday, April 12, 2022 and is intended to eliminate use of carbon-based fuel Like charcoal and firewood and replace it with clean cooking using electricity.

Speaking at the function, ERA Executive Director Engineer Ziria Tibalwa Waako said, the jointly funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and government of Uganda project; will greatly improve the general environment and health of the children at Mwanamugimu through elimination of smoke pollution during the preparation of their meals.

“Where we are now, to convert the kitchens at the Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit from using Biomass for Cooking to using Electricity, this Pilot project has been a big success, offering invaluable experiences and lessons that will be useful for the roll-out of the Biomass-to-Electricity initiative in other institutions that heavily rely on biomass as a source of energy for cooking.

Eng. Waako says the project presents notable benefits, including
a) Reduction in pollution associated with cooking using biomass
b) Improved health by eliminating inhalation of smoke during the cooking process
c) Reduction in Carbon emissions and displacement of wood biomass resulting in less pressure on forests

ERA Executive Director Engineer Ziria Tibalwa Waako Speaking at the function earlier today

She added that while they began with Mwanamugimu because of its uniqueness at the hospital, ERA’s ultimate goal is to transform the entire hospital’s cooking, having successfully launched the programme at Uganda prisons services.

“Besides being in tandem with achieving Sustainable Development Goal Number 7 which aims to ensure Access to Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable, and Modern Energy for All, ERA identified this project as one of the initiatives to conserve the environment as well as grow demand for Electricity. Our target is to cover 50,000 households and 500 institutions including prisons, hospitals, institutions of higher Learning and commercial premises within the next three years,” she said.

Waako edded that there could be fears of high Electricity Tariffs and unreliable power supply but as ERA, they have designed a Special Tariff of UGX 451.4 per Kilowatt Hour for institutions and UGX 412 per Kilowatt Hour for Domestic consumers under this project

“Therefore, Tariffs should not be a big challenge. Additionally, we are looking at further lowering the Tariffs as the consumption of electricity grows. On the issue of Reliability of Electricity Supply, we have put in place a mechanism for enforcing responsiveness to improve the performance of licensees to deliver a quality and reliable service. Further to the above, ERA on an annual basis identifies poor performing feeders and approves Investments for restoration of the network to improve power supply reliability,” Eng. Waako added.

Commenting on the project, ERA Board chairperson Dr. Sarah Wasaguli Kanaabi attributed ERA’s astronomical success thus far to President Yoweri Museveni’s recognition of the energy sector as one of the priority sectors for Uganda’s socioeconomic transformation and a timely Partnership and support by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

According to Dr. Wasaguli, the UNDP provided financial support for the Conversion of the Kitchen at the Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit of the Mulago National Referral Hospital from Use of Biomass for Cooking to Use of Electricity for Cooking.

“And on our part as ERA, we approved Investments worth over Ninety-Seven Million Uganda Shillings (an equivalent of 26,949 United States Dollars) for the Electrical Installation component of the project (including the Transformer, Conductors, Poles, and Metering units) as implemented by Umeme Limited. The investment is expected to further increase in the near future, with the onset of Private Participation into the Transmission segment; and the commissioning of over 30 Generation projects that are currently Popular Stories in the pipeline,” Dr. Wasagali said.

“Because of the conducive environment afforded to the sector, Uganda’s Electricity Regulatory Framework has been recognized by the African Development Bank as the Best on the Continent of Africa, for the fourth time in a row. We do NOT take this for granted,” she added

Wasagali further said that it is in line with one of ERA’s Core Focus Areas—Acceleration of Access to Electricity and Demand Growth, as spelt out in the Authority’s Five-Year Strategic Plan that runs from the Financial Year 2020/21 to 2024/25.

Dr. Sarah Wasagali Kanaabi , ERA Board Chairperson speaking at the commissioning of the pilot project

She also lauded the Minister of Energy for the support which has in turn created a conducive and enabling environment that has attracted both local and foreign direct investment into the Electricity

“We are privileged that the government has lined up over 30 power generation projects that are in the pipeline. This will help us address the challenge of unstable power supply in our effort to ensure that all Ugandans shift to smart cooking so as to conserve our environment,” Wasagali added.

While launching the project, Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development lauded ERA for this initiative.

“This is part of our efforts of transforming Ugandans reliance to cooking from Biomass from the current over 95% to electricity and we are exploring all avenues to ensure that our people live Biomass like we expect Gas from Petroleum, lowering of electricity tarrifs and other projects,” she said.

Nankabirwa revealed that her ministry was advancing provisions in the electricity Amendment Bill which seeks to increase ERA’s budget from 0.3 to at least 0.7% as government is banking on this top-performing agency to push governments drive to increase electricity consumption from 100Kwhr to 570KWh.

Energy Minister Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa the Minister of Energy commissioning the Biomass To Power pilot project at Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit, Mulago Hospital complex, funded by ERA & UNDP Uganda

“Right now, I have to attend a cabinet meeting where we are going to discuss the Agago Dam construction. This dam will add 840MW of power to the national grid. This shows how government is committed to this Biomass to electricity cooking project well aware that it will bring down the cutting down of trees as enshrined in the country’s Vision 2040,” Nankabirwa said.

The minister revealed that according to the government’s NDP III, the target is to reduce biomass cooking from the current 88% to 50% while at the same time increasing clean cooking from 15% to at least 50%.

And to eliminate potential bottlenecks in this programme, government wants to ensure the Local manufacture of most electricity extension implements such as copper cables, transformers among others.

“Kilembe Mines is now up for the taking by any potential investor through a public-private partnership arrangement because we are sure that once power extension equipment is produced locally, then it will expedite our drive to attain clean cooking for all Ugandans by reducing the cost of power: Nankabirwa added.

The minister reiterated her Ministry’s support towards ERA which she said is doing a tremendous job in electricity regulations.

MULAGO ED COMMENDS

Dr. Rosemary Byanyima, the Mulago hospital Managing Director revealed that apart from improving the cooking at the premium health facility, the clean cooking project also offers several other benefits

“The modern kitchens and cooking units which ERA built for us at Mwanamugimu are specially designed to save electricity. The saucepans donated to us regulate the heat to ensure that the food gets ready quickly and without getting burnt. We are happy that this new cooking experience will motivate our staff (cooks) and also help the hospital save a Lot of money white conserving the environment at the same time,” Byanyima said.

Byanyima revealed that government has been providing a hefty budget for firewood to the hospital but they are now happy that with the specially reduced cooking tariff, this budget will decrease considerably, with the money saved being committed to other priority areas of the hospital. We have many cooking needs at the hospital because many patients require special nutritional care. These include the diabetic, hypertensive patients among others,” she said

Dr. Esther Babirekere, a pediatrician at Mwanamugimu nutrition unit thanked ERA for thinking about the children’s unit as one of the critical organisation’s to benefit from the clean cooking project

“Ours is indeed a food-driven unit because we use food to treat our patients (children). However, this food must be cooked and specially mixed to form different therapies— so cooking is one of our core activities here,” she said.

Dr Babirekere noted that because of their constant cooking needs, they have been using charcoal thus putting them among the culprits contributing to environmental degradation in the country.

“We are now privileged to learn that we have goodhearted people (like ERA) who have been there thinking about helping us to improve our processes. This will help us reduce our cost of doing business as well: she said.

UNDP LAUDS ERA, GOVERNMENT

Sheila Ngatia, the Deputy UNDP Resident Representative said it was birthed after ERA – which was voted by the World Bank as the best energy regulator in Africa for the fourth straight year – beat a host of competitors to emerge the entity with the best proposal on how to reduce deforestation and pollution in November 2020.
“We want to thank ERA for championing the transition from biomass to electricity cooking. We are confident that this is a catalytic pilot project which will guide the implementation of other initiatives such as the importation and usage of quality cooking gear in this country. UNDP pledges to continue supporting this programme because of its great ability to improve environmental conservation,” Ngatia said.

ABOUT THE BIOMASS TO ELECTRICITY COOKING PROJECT

The biomass to electricity cooking project is rooted in the UN Sustainable Development Goal (500) No. 7 of Ensuring access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all on a national Level, it is enshrined within the National Development Plan INDP) III objective of making electricity affordable to all Ugandans.

It is jointly funded by the UNDP which donated Shs324m towards converting the kitchens at the Mwanamugimu Centre from biomass-driven ones to modern electricity cooking areas and the Government of Uganda.

Through ERA, GoU contributed UGX 94m which was entirely spent on electricity extension equipment such as poles, transformers, conductors and metering units which were duly connected by UMEME.

Other subsidiary players include Hamlet, the contractors who built the modern kitchens as well as Umeme Uganda Ltd which did the power extensions.

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