This week, we were delighted to speak to Lucia Bakulumpagi-Wamala, CEO of Bakulu Power, and one of the speakers at our upcoming Spotlight Seminar on the Future of Renewable Energy in Africa. Lucia spoke eloquently about the lack of reliable data on energy use on the continent, the biomass production plant that Bakulu Power is establishing in Western Uganda, and explained how fin tech is enhancing access to energy.
1) What are the key challenges in energy on the African continent at the moment?
From a developer’s perspective, the biggest challenge is weak data. We know that over 600 million people in Africa lack access to electricity, but the issue is much deeper than electricity vs no electricity. Energy is intertwined with several socioeconomic issues, which must also be considered. This is a multidimensional challenge.
At Bakulu Power, we do not believe in doing things in a silo. We recently conducted an extensive socio-economic load demand survey in Buvuma district, which led us to take a holistic, integrated approach to development. In order to address our energy challenges, we need multi-sectorial participation and rich data, and then, together, we can create new policies and financial instruments to get the job done.
2) Could you please tell us about the biomass production plant that Bakulu Power is creating on a refugee camp in Western Uganda?
I’ve been a refugee myself so creating a project to support other refugees touches me in a personal way. Our engineering team has several years of experience with biomass technologies and designed an incredible system! Our production plant aims to reduce pressure on forests, mitigate climate change and maintain biodiversity. We also hope to reduce the exposure of women and children to potential harm from firewood collecting activity, and alleviate poverty by creating employment opportunities for women, who are the primary users of cooking fuel, and youth. With support from the Tony Elumelu Foundation and the Office of the Prime Minister, we will start our pilot plant in 2018.
3) What are some of the most exciting scientific and technological innovations that are enhancing access to energy on the continent?
It’s exciting to see how financial technology innovations and mobile networks are enhancing access to energy! We’ve seen companies like MobiSol and Solar Now make good use of prepaid systems and mobile money. However, financial services are relatively scarce in rural Africa. Early on in the stages of developing our mini-grids in Buvuma, we realised that we would have to bridge the gap ourselves. Since there were no formal banks in the area to process our electricity payments, we decided to develop our own app, Bakulu Pay, which will integrate mainly mobile money. Bakulu Pay will be used to pay for electricity, water, sanitation services and clean cooking fuel and improved cook stoves.
4) What advice would you give to young Africans who wish to become energy entrepreneurs?
I strongly encourage young Africans to enter the energy industry. Only seven countries in Sub-Saharan Africa— South Africa, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon—have electricity access rates exceeding 50 percent. We have a lot of work to do!
First of all, I would advise people to get out there and network! Attend the industry events and training sessions that are within reach. Trade associations are a great resource for both; and most have special rates for students and small companies.
What’s more, you need to seek out people who have skills that complement yours, not the same skills. You want to build a diverse team and create an environment of candour.
Finally, you need to avoid cognitive fixedness and look for a mentor. It’s hard to get to a place that you’ve never seen.
5) How does Bakulu Power provide cost-effective and reliable energy solutions to homes and businesses?
We work very closely with our clients to assess their needs and design custom tailored systems. As far as possible, we source materials locally and, thankfully, the price of solar has been falling for some time now. The big thing is the cost of diesel and charcoal, that’s what people are using for energy. Renewables are way cheaper.
What excites me is that our company can help create jobs for people in Uganda. We also want to help people save money, which they can then reinvest in their businesses and create even more jobs. Last, we’re passionate about saving our beautiful environment.