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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora