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

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video Empire State Building Highlights Cecil the Lion

People gathered in streets and rooftops in Manhattan to see the image highlights that covered 33 floors of the building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs