Over the past few years, Uganda’s demand for electricity has grown steadily with Umeme, the country’s largest power distributor, investing heavily in the network reliability to meet the demand.
The recent elevation of many towns to city status came with a great opportunity and demand for more power to match the springing industrial and domestic power needs.
Gulu City which has a population of 149,802 is among the new cities with growing energy demands, where Umeme has embarked on several interventions, including the upgrade of a substation and doubling its capacity as well as evacuating new electricity sources to power the city. The genesis of the current supply challenges in the northern region can be attributed to the following:
• The performance of the Tororo –Opuyo transmission line.
• The northern region is fed by the 64-year-old 300-kilometre-long wooden pole line between Lira and Tororo districts, which due to its condition results in poor reliability.
Supply to Gulu from Lira is via a 33kv wooden pole power line that runs through swamps, rendering the pole life very short.
Other lines branch off from the same line, further reducing the reliability of the line.
• Theft and vandalism of network infrastructures (stay wires, pole savers).
• Bush burning activities during the dry spells that destroy poles along the lines.
However, with the collaborative efforts by Umeme and sector players such as the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL), the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL) and the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), a number of interventions are being made to improve the quality of power supply and reliability in the region.
Umeme has upgraded Gulu substation from 5MVA to 10MVA and works were completed in December 2020 to cater for suppressed demand and new upcoming investors. The Gulu feeder has also been upgraded to support the evacuation of the Achwa Hydro Power Plant through the Gulu substation.
The Gulu hospital 11Kv feeder has been upgraded. UEDCL has completed the 33kv double circuit line from Achwa to Gulu, awaiting a transmission line. The refurbishment works on Gulu 33kV and Kitgum 33kV from the Lira main substation being implemented by UEDCL continue in earnest until end of March 2021.
Part of these works involve the replacement of the wooden poles with concrete technology in swamps, conductor upgrade and installation of line protection devices. Umeme has implemented effective vegetation management to limit network interference and the effects of bush burning.
Umeme continues to carry out preventive maintenance works on all its network assets serving the northern region. UETCL has upgraded Tororo – Opuyo - Lira 132kV power line with steel structures. Opuyo-Lira 132kV transmission line has already been transferred to steel structures, boosting reliability.
The reliability and quality of supply in the region will further improve when UETCL completes the replacement of wooden poles with steel structures on the remaining 20-kilometres between Lira and Tororo. Outages on this old line alone contributed approximately 70 per cent of northern outages between 2017 and 2019. The Lira substation capacity has also been upgraded to 40MVA. Construction of the UETCL
132/33kv substation and interconnection with Karuma dam is ongoing. The construction of the UETCL 132kV Lira - Gulu - Nebbi - Arua Transmission Line, and associated substations works is ongoing. Umeme is also investing in equipment that will ensure faults in third party networks do not affect Umeme’s grid.
UETCL is stringing a high-voltage line from Karuma hydro power project to Lira. Once completed, it will mitigate the impact of faults that might happen between Tororo and Lira. Community sensitization drives to inform and educate the population on the dangers and effect of power theft, vandalism and bush-burning are in high gear.
Regardless of the existing challenges, there has been consistent improvement in supply reliability over the years, boosting consumption in the region by 5.8 per cent. Up to 90 per cent of the distribution projects are complete. What remains was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and will be completed in the coming months.
Umeme remains committed to supplying quality and reliable electricity to all its customers across the country.
The author is the manager, public and media relations at Umeme Limited.