News / Science & Technology

Uganda's Newest Utility: Pay-as-you-go Solar Power

Michael Mugerwa uses his solar system to charge phones in Kiwumu, Uganda, Feb. 28, 2014. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
Michael Mugerwa uses his solar system to charge phones in Kiwumu, Uganda, Feb. 28, 2014. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
In Uganda, telecom provider MTN and a company called Fenix are gearing up this year for a nationwide rollout of pre-paid electricity, similar to pre-paid airtime, but using solar kits. Uganda has one of the lowest electrification rates in Africa - a continent where some 600 million people are off the power grid.

​The village of Kiwumu lies less than 32 kilometers from the Ugandan capital, Kampala. But the bright lights of the city seem worlds away. Like the vast majority of Uganda, Kiwumu is off the electrical grid, and teacher Michael Mugerwa does not expect things to change any time soon.

"I'm not dreaming of having grid power here in the next 15 years, because power distribution is influenced by government, and government seems to have preference elsewhere. So it's not easy to get grid in these residential communities," he said.

In Kiwumu, says Mugerwa, almost everyone gets their light from kerosene, burned in little tin pots with wicks.

"That's what they use in the whole village here. If you use it for, say, two hours, you get a lot of smoke in your nose," he said.

Plus, he says, kerosene pots just do not provide that much light. So four months ago Mugerwa bought a solar home system with four lights. Now it has become much easier for his students to read and study, he says.

"With this lighting of solar energy the whole room is receiving plenty of light, and as a result many students have moved from their home places. They always come to my place to do evening revision," he said.

Mugerwa's system is called ReadyPay. The company that sells it, Fenix, has teamed up with the telecom provider MTN to create systems that customers can pay off in small installments. A $16 down payment buys several lights and a phone charger, which customers then pay 40 cents a day to use. They can buy anything from a day to a month's worth of light at a time.

Fenix's Chris Bagnall explains that this flexibility means people only have to buy the amount of light they can afford.

"If they have school fees coming in, or they've had an unexpected cost coming in, they can lower their payments. Whereas if they have more income coming in, for example it's harvest time, they can make a larger payment," he said.

Michael Mugerwa’s students come to his house to study using his solar light, Kiwumu, Uganda, Feb. 28, 2014. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)Michael Mugerwa’s students come to his house to study using his solar light, Kiwumu, Uganda, Feb. 28, 2014. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
x
Michael Mugerwa’s students come to his house to study using his solar light, Kiwumu, Uganda, Feb. 28, 2014. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
Michael Mugerwa’s students come to his house to study using his solar light, Kiwumu, Uganda, Feb. 28, 2014. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
Uganda's rate of rural electrification is low - just seven percent. Medard Muganzi of the Rural Electrification Agency, explains that because the population is so spread out, expanding the power grid outside major towns is expensive.

"The costs per connection for the grid is an average of between $2,000 [to] $3,000. In other countries you find these costs can be as low as $700 [or] $800. You're talking about three times, four times the actual cost of distribution because people are just scattered," Muganzi said.

This is why solar systems like ReadyPay are a key part of the national electrification plan, he says. They can provide power in hard-to-reach areas, and in the long run, he says, they are cheaper than the grid for most Ugandans.
 
"Domestic uses for typical households of ours where the requirement is basically lighting, phone charging, playing small radios - I think solar would be the best option for such a household. It is a utility, but a utility of solar installations, said Muganzi.

Fenix is planning to roll out the ReadyPay across the country within the next few months. In Kiwumu, teacher Mugerwa, for one, is convinced systems like these are cheap enough that families will be lining up to buy them.

"1,000 shillings per day is very little money compared to other utilities. And if I can use it in a family of seven members, then when you divide it becomes very little money," he said.

In the meantime he has opened a small phone-charging business with his solar system, and his wife has bought her very first cell phone. Once you have power, he says, it is hard to go back.

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid