Experience in icy Greenland pays off in sunny Uganda.

Solar-powering up a community for improved living conditions – and profit.

When the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) realised that the forests on the shores of Lake George in the southern Ugandan district of Kasese were being depleted by villagers in search of wood to burn, they turned to a Danish think-tank to help them find a solution.

Access²Innovation found the perfect partner in SystemTeknik, an Aalborg-based company that ironically had many years of experience of providing off-grid energy to parts of the Danish territory of Greenland.

SystemTeknik regional manager Prabhakar Tunuguntla shows the distribution board for the mini-grid to a group of African journalists at the company’s headquarters in Aalborg, Denmark.

Ironic only in that Greeland is cold and Africa is hot. The principles of providing off-grid energy in remote locations are the same, and SystemTeknik set about finding solutions that would work in Uganda.

The first and most obvious form of providing electricity in this instance was found to be solar power.

A set of community surveys were done in a fishing village on the banks of Lake George, establishing from villagers what power was required. In some cases just two lights were requested, other households wanted lights, power points and facilities for the charging of mobile phones.

A range of monthly fees were then agreed on, with villagers having to show their commitment to the project by building a bricks-and-mortar building to house the battery bank that will be fed by the solar panels.

If villagers want to upgrade, the system will allow for some growth and there is scope for other types of power to be added to the mini-grid.

A very straight-forward hydro-electric power turbine has been developed that can simply be placed in the middle of a river to generate power. Wind power is something the Danes are particularly expert at, so the potential to add a wind turbine to the grid is great.

And then there is biogas: vegetable matter and the waste of humans and animals can be converted to energy.

Kerosene, diesel and wood will soon be things of the past for these Ugandan villagers. The potential to expand the system beyond the village to power schools and hospitals in the area is also being explored.

For more information: www.systemteknik.dk

John Young was a guest of International Media Support on a study tour of Denmark, funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.