In Tiribogo, a small village outside Kampala, biomass gasification has become the solution. Agricultural residue is converted into electricity. The local plant supplies electricity to 130 households, and is one of many decentralised power plants in the country.
- We feed the reactor with maize cobs, that produce gas when burned. The gas is then filtered before it is converted into electricity in the engine, says Raymond Lumansi. He is an engineer and one of the FK participants from Uganda who have been to India on exchange to learn from Husk Power Systems.
Lighting and development in rural villages
The vision of the Indian power company is to contribute to the process of bringing electrical power to rural and remote areas. They see rural electrification as a tool for development in areas that are often neglected by authorities. Electric power enables economic development and decentralised electricity generation and distribution can be well managed by the locals using local resources, which means the villages become self-sufficient.
- I have seen so much improvement in Tiribogo, says Shira Mukiibi, Incubator Manager at Makerere University in Kampala. – The first time I visited the village there were mostly mud houses in this area. With light and power new possibilities emerge, as secure illuminated storage for agricultural products, local trade, studying and work in the evening.
The village of Tiribogo consists mainly of maize farmers. One farmer has given part of his property to the gasification plant, because he sees the benefits for his community.
Biomass power systems may use any kind of loose biomass. In India they use mostly rice husk, but in Tiribogo they use maize cobs, a waste product from the maize crop. – We get the cobs for free from the farmers, but we have to provide transport, says Raymond.
Knowledge across borders
The machine that transform biomass to electricity is imported from India. With the power system came Anil Kumar, an Indian engineer brought in through the FK exchange project “Sustainable renewable energy businesses from India to East Africa” between Makerere University in Uganda and Husk Power Systems (HPS) Pvt. Ltd India. At the same time Victor Magisha moved from Uganda to India for a year to work for Husk Power Systems.
– The first round of exchange of employees gave a foundation for the project, says Incubator manager Shira. She emphasize the importance of transfer of knowledge to supervise and run the local power plant and make them self-sustainable with employees from the village.
- The workers in the village do not need a technical background, only mechanical knowledge, says Raymond. He and the other FK participants who have worked at Husk Power Systems in India have conducted training, workshops and seminars on how biogas systems work and how to maintain the engines. So far the Renewable Energy Business Incubator in Uganda has 4 biomass power plants in different parts of the country, supplying households and machines for agriculture processing, such as maize mills.
- Of course the operation is not without challenges, says Raymond. During the dry season they need water supplies to fill the pond at the power station as it needs water to run. And when it rains heavily they cannot run the plant since there is no roof and water will get in the system along with the maize cobs. They hope to build a roof over the plant and to construct an automatic solution for refill of maize cob, which today has to be carried up the ladder and filled manually in the funnel at the top of the reactor.
Waste product used for cooking
The waste product of the gasification is bio-char, that is a raw material for making charcoal briquettes, a clean cooking fuel. Which means the families do not have to collect fire wood to prepare a meal. The ripples and positive effects of the power system are many and Shira is eager to continue the project. The government is getting interested in the technology, because they see it works, she says.
Around the power plant we observe newly built brick houses and visit a woman with her own café, serving cold drinks, which would be impossible without electricity and her new investment: a refrigerator. Before the installation of the power plant she worked in the fields, now she has created a meeting place for the locals and earn a living. As we leave Tiribogo and head off to busy Kampala we are convinced that electricity has spurred growth, better living conditions and strengthening of the local community.