East Africa: A new hub for Renewable Energy Technologies

East African countries have a huge potential to harness their abundant renewable energy resources to meet varied energy needs. Currently, most of the renewable energy technologies or technology components are imported. There is a pressing need, therefore, to build on local manufacturing of technology components to generate employment, development, and increase self-reliance in these countries on indigenous technologies. Moreover, local manufacturing is expected to bring about a definite cost advantage. In addition, local manufacturing of RETs will also reduce dependence on fossil fuel for various sectors and promote sustainable development.

It is in this context, that TERI undertook a pre-feasibility study, which aimed to assess the potential of local manufacturing of technology components of two renewable energy technology applications namely, biomass gasifier for heating applications and solar photovoltaic technology in various sectoral applications.

The two East African countries selected for the study were Uganda and Ethiopia. Uganda was selected due to its biomass resources. More than 90% of Uganda?s energy consumption for cooking, water heating in rural, urban households, commercial buildings and institutions comes from biomass (firewood, charcoal, crop residues). Ethiopia was selected on account of its solar potential.

The entire exercise comprised a range of activities, stakeholder consultations (e.g. with ministries and industry bodies/associations) to assess possibilities of local manufacturing of systems, visits to units across different regions including analysis of a wide range of data.

Insofar as local manufacturing of biomass gasifiers in Uganda is concerned, assessment of the sheet metal fabrication industries in Uganda clearly indicates that the local industries have sufficient infrastructure required for fabrication of biomass gasifier for heating applications. While the technology and knowledge transfer could occur under the South-South Cooperation framework; there is an urgent need for skill set upgradation in specific areas. Fortunately, Uganda has training institutes which are working towards training local youth in welding, machining, and metal sheet fabrication. These programmes offered by vocational institutions can easily be upgraded into specialised training courses in collaboration with institutions from organizations from other developing countries like India; and through exchange programmes. Indeed, the study recommends that Government interventions in creating linkages between R&D institutes could help provide the necessary foundation for speedy adoption and adaptation. Besides, institutes promoting entrepreneurship need strengthening and proactive policies have to be designed for the exchange of human resources through South-South Cooperation.

In the second segment of the study, which focussed on solar photovoltaic applications in Ethiopia, it was learnt that kerosene is the main source of lighting followed by firewood. Most of these kerosene requirements are met through imports. Other than this, dry cells are used as an energy source. Additionally, imported generator sets of low capacity are sold to off grid markets.

The PV market in Ethiopia is at a growing stage and there is a huge demandfor PV systems for communication, lighting, entertainment, and vaccine refrigeration. What started as a requirement from NGOs for solar home systems (SHS) during 1990s to early 2000s, it has now grown for both the business and household community. Currently a major part of the SHS demand stems from the telecom sector. Additionally, both household and commercial sectors are also witnessing rapid growth and most of this is for lighting, TV set powering, and mobile phone charging. This is further augmented by the increase in requirements for SHS from government, NGOs, and church organisations.

Although there are about 15 solar equipment dealers and traders in the country, ready stock is seldom kept and imports are very expensive. Also, due to inconsistent supply chain many of these imported solar PV components are not of uniform quality, thus making for a strong case to build upon local technical know-how.

The study found that it is possible to start solar PV manufacturing by way of local assembling of small capacity solar modules and lanterns in the short to medium term. Also, existing battery manufacturing units can be strengthened. In the very short term, within the span of one year, assembly of solar lanterns through collaboration with manufacturers from South Asia can be established.

One of the key observations was that local manufacturing/assembling has to be done through local capacity and skill development facilitated through knowledge transfer and capacity building at different levels, along with special focus on quality control aspects. Furthermore, incentives like tax holidays, credits, and soft loans can also help in the development of solar PV systems in Ethiopia.
Sponsor: United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
Duration: 7 months
Key Stakeholder(s)/Beneficiaries: People of Uganda and Ethiopia

Assessment of the sheet metal fabrication industries in Uganda clearly indicates that the local small industries have sufficient machinery required for fabrication of biomass gasifier for heat applications. The prerequisites to promote these applications in a big way in the country include:

  • Technology transfer to potential manufacturers.
  • Strengthening the existing sheet metal fabrication sector in the areas of manufacture of biomass gasifier systems, quality control and operation & maintenance of the same.
  • Identification of potential industrial sectors clusters for technology promotion and adaptation.
  • Awareness creation among the stakeholder and capacity/skill upgradation of manufactures and technicians.

The opportunities that exist in the solar PV sector in Ethiopia pertain to setting up of solar module assembly line, solar lanterns assembly line, and strengthening the existing battery manufacture unit for production of solar battery in the short to medium term. Besides, the key enablers for the PV market growth will be:

  • Easy availability of solar PV systems (through local manufacturing)
  • Enhanced business opportunity for local dealers (focussing on rural market)
  • Adequate training of service providers (through south-South cooperation) and
  • Prompt service (through creation of service network involving the trained persons).
  • Identify and map components for solar photovoltaic applications in Ethiopia and biomass gasifiers for heating applications in Uganda, for local manufacturing.
  • Prioritise these components over short, medium and long term, and prepare ground for a subsequent large-scale effort.
  • Assess scope for strengthening capacity of the manufacturing sector for local production.
  • To assess the competitiveness of the locally produced technology components and systems.
  • Assess competitiveness of locally produced technology components and systems.
  • Provide indicative and directional estimate of costs and benefits of manufacturing complete systems/components.
  • Identify relevant initiatives including measures facilitating South-South Cooperation that could contribute towards local, small, and medium scale manufacturing base development of renewable energy technology and balance of system components.
Posted on: 26 March 2012  |   Project status: Completed