21 June 2010 – With only five years left, African economies are still grappling with strategies to push for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015. The goals that are oriented around creating employment and incomes, reducing hunger, combating preventable diseases, improving child health and education, arresting environmental degradation and halting discrimination among women, do not include access to modern fuels which is a major input in achieving them. It has been widely agreed that African economies will not make significant strides towards the attainment of MDGs unless considerable efforts to uptake renewable energy in rural areas is increased.

In Uganda, like many other African countries, access to rural energy is still a formidable endeavour. Statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics indicate that only 5 – 10 per cent of the population has access to electricity; in rural areas the number is lower that one per cent. Increasing uptake of rural energy will require that rural communities double consumption of modern fuels channeled towards productive activities. It will further necessitate that 50 per cent of inhabitants in rural areas use modern energy for cooking and lighting by adopting the use of energy savings stoves and solar systems respectively; 75 per cent of schools, clinics and community centres will need to get access to electricity and Motive power to support rural industrialisation.

Access to rural energy will require prioritisation of energy goals through adoption of national strategies largely linked to strategic investments into the sector. The International Energy Agency estimates that it will cost $16 billion per year to electrify 500 million households. Using this estimate, electrifying about 150 million households more in Africa will require investment needs of about $4.8 billion dollars per year. These investments are high for Africa due to infrastructural deficit relative to other developing countries.

To complement the government infrastructural expenditures towards energy access, will be the scaling up of microfinance programmes in rural Africa. Access to modern energy services will be greatly enhanced if the poor have access to microfinance revolving loans to pay for these services.

The benefits of energy will be directly infused within the communities and help accelerate the attainment of the MDGs. Modern energy services will provide a multitude of health, environmental, educational and gender equality benefits but when utilised productively, energy services will also expose the poor to new options for diversifying and increasing incomes.

The move to expand access to energy will also require African governments to structure public-private partnerships. It has been widely recognised that public sector provision of centralised energy is insufficient to meet the growing demands of developing countries, and that private sector involvement is a necessity. The linkages established between government, energy service providers and financial intermediaries will go along way in accelerating rural uptake.

As Africa struggles to better the lives of its people, carefully crafted strategies directed towards increasing access to rural energy will be crucial. Clearly set targets to increase the number of people using renewable energy resource will be the hallmark of these efforts.