David Mann from Uganda Martyrs University offers his thoughts on the importance of the SAMSET research at this crucial juncture in Uganda’s urban development.
As other bloggers have already pointed out, energy is indeed at the heart of development and human welfare around the world. Ugandans are migrating from the countryside to towns and cities in search of the services and opportunities that these urban areas provide. Ideally, there are clinics, schools, and shops, and there is running water, entertainment, and perhaps most importantly, employment. But almost all of these urban promises require energy in one form or another and keeping up with the pace of development (at affordable prices) has proved difficult for both the electrical grid and the petrol station.
It is important to bear in mind that wood and charcoal still represent roughly 90 per cent of the total energy consumed in the country. However, as Ugandan cities grow and develop, the fuels used in transportation, industry, refrigeration, lighting and entertainment become more diverse; we see gasoline, paraffin, diesel, and electricity increasing their share of the energy mix. Efforts by government, private enterprise and development organizations to bring photovoltaic technology to households have met with some success and advocates for the preservation of biodiversity and forest cover aim at reducing charcoal use through the introduction of efficient stoves and alternative means of water purification. There are also major internationally financed projects aimed at increasing electrification (currently 8 per cent of population), hydroelectric production, and the efficiency of household appliances.
The recent discovery of oil reserves in the west of the country is likely to change the resource equation and enlarge the government coffers to finance infrastructure development. The debates about the impact this discovery will have on energy usage and urban economies will be enriched with the findings of new research such as that supported under the SAMSET project.
Much of the ongoing research is either looking at the national energy policies or the purchasing decisions of individual households. SAMSET takes the unique approach of attempting to study energy production and usage at the scale of the municipality – a boundary within which thousands of people make daily decisions affecting energy, but also where a government might be able to better influence those decisions through regulation, promotion, and procurement. The team here at Uganda Martyrs University is eager to work with academics, policy makers and community leaders to better understand the drivers of energy consumption as well as the potential solutions using the tools of urban planning, civil engineering, architecture, and others. This will not be an easy task as the problems are indeed quite “wicked”, but considering the early stage of development of many secondary towns in Uganda (most with population over 100, 000), setting up implementable systems and policies is very likely to have an excellent Sustainable Energy payback.