Just as I started enjoying the benefits of solar power, a thief snatched my solar panel from the garden. A sad loss, but maybe I should see it as a positive sign that even thieves nowadays understand the value of green energy.
As Uganda is experiencing the worst power shortage in half a decade, traders go an extra mile to find alternative energy solutions. City dwellers without a plan B are left in the dark for 12, 24 or even 36 hours in a row. Some towns upcountry have even spent an entire week without seeing electricity, leading to sporadic power-protests.
In a small town in Karamoja, a remote area inhabited by cattle keepers, I came across a house that had just been burnt down. The owner had left a burning candle unattended, during one of the long black-outs. Next to candles or paraffin lamps, generators are a popular source of electricity. But with fuel prices at record highs (a dollar and a half per litre is common in Kampala) it means that is only within reach of a very small group of people.
Few things are for free in Africa, but sunshine is one of them. The demand for solar power across the continent is growing rapidly; one can observe by simply walking along ‘Main Street’ in a random upcountry town in Africa. Several shops in Lira, northern Uganda, have solar panels on sale.
The days when only NGO’s or the super rich could afford a solar panel, just because it looked good, are definitely history. The ‘solar-NGO’s,’ non-governmental organizations that promoted solar energy despite the fact that it was expensive, are being overtaken by business. “If you invest in a solar system, it roughly takes two years before you have saved that same amount of money because you don’t have to buy paraffin for a lamp or candles anymore,” says Ronald Schuurhuizen of the Solar Now company. Early this year he transformed his solar NGO into a commercial business, with sales doubling each month in the past half a year.
Ronald advised me on where to get a new solar panel (he sells only large panels while I need a small one) and warned me never to leave it unprotected in the garden again. “If you have a very small solar panel, you might even place it inside the house in front of the window,” Ronald advises. “Larger systems are tightly attached to the roof. Of the 500 systems we have sold, there was only one serious attempt to remove the panel. It failed.”