With rural electrification at less than 7%, means more than 93% of Ugandans rely on biomass energy.
Wood fuel is the predominant source of energy for cooking in rural areas and heat in the industrial sector, which consumes more than 30% of commercial fuel wood.
Charcoal production and consumption is a crucial part of the economy supplying most of the people in urban areas with cooking fuel.
Research shows that charcoal production consumes more than 20% of the wood supply. Uganda currently consumes 42 million tonnes of wood and more than 95% of the wood supply is for energy consumption.
The commercial wood sector employs more than 20,000 people, generates revenue and reduces Uganda’s import bill by more than $150million per year-since the biggest percentage of Ugandans use domestic biomass instead of the imported petroleum products.
Wood is also said to supply five times the value of electricity and petroleum, and research shows that wood would still accounts for more than 75% of total energy consumption even if the entire hydro potential was utilized.
But the 2013 world energy resources survey says that the supply of sustainable biomass will be a challenge in the coming decades because of the need to address climate change.
Given the country’s high dependency on this form of energy, there is growing fear that biomass resources are being depleted at a higher rate than production.
Onesmus Muhwezi, the energy team leader at the United Nations Development programme (UNDP) country office says Uganda is already in a wood biomass deficit as the rate of restocking isn’t matching the growing demand.
John Tumuhimbise, from the ministry of energy and mineral development attributes the rapid growth in demand to population growth, urbanization, economic growth and high standards of living.
It should be recalled that biomass is a renewable energy only if its exploitation and use is done in a sustainable manner. Tumuhimbise says Uganda’s biomass supply wouldn’t be threatened if it engaged in the production of more biomass resources.
He explains that Uganda has a comparative advantage because of its location in the tropic and proximity to the equator, good soils and favorable environment. But government had until recently neglected this crucial source of energy in preference for the commercial sources.
The ministry of energy and mineral development this week launched a biomass energy strategy to ensure sustainable biomass supply and efficient use of the biomass resource.
Godfrey Ndawula, the Assistant commissioner for renewable energy ministry of energy notes that that Uganda would gain a lot from Biomass if it were fully appreciated.
He says that besides contributing more than 93% of the energy consumed in the country, biomass can also be used for power generation and running engines.
Muhwezi also says that biomass energy is critical in the development of Uganda and that there is an urgent need to find appropriate technologies to promote efficiency.
Research shows that wood is used inefficiently while charcoal production is by traditional methods which have a very low efficiency of between 8-12% recovery.
Muhwezi says that government must acknowledge that biomass will continue to be the main source of energy in Uganda since even people with access to electricity use charcoal for cooking.
He has commended government’s efforts to devise means of utilizing biomass efficiently and also to invest in the production of more biomass resources to mitigate the obvious impact on the environment and climate change.
James Banabe, the energy sources commissioner is confident the strategy will ensure that biomass is used in a sustainable manner by creating a balance between demand and supply.
The strategy also promotes the use of energy saving charcoal stoves and calls for concentration on non-woody biomass to ease the pressure on trees.
The world energy resources survey says that presently, forestry, agriculture and municipal residues are the main feed stocks for the generation of electricity and heat from biomass.
The survey further says that there is significant potential to expand biomass use by tapping large volumes of unused residues and waste. The survey also calls for the expanded use of conventional crops for energy.
Uganda has 1650MW biomass potential and it currently accounts for more than 90% of total energy consumed. Biomass supplies more than 50EJ (Electrical Joules) globally per year with actual potential of 200-500EJ per year. Global demand for wood is projected to be in the range of 600-1000EJ by 2050