Responsible investment in Uganda matters not only for East Africa but for the world

Guy Lawrence, the Director of renewable energy firm Solarcentury, explains why Uganda's first Conservation and Tourism Investment Forum was such a milestone

Guy Lawrence
Friday 20 October 2017 09:06 BST

Why did Africa’s first Conservation and Tourism Investment Forum, which was organised by The Giants Club and hosted by the Ugandan Government, matter? For me it is because it creates the opportunity to build large-scale solar power plants funded by conservation investors.

These power plants would feed into the national grid and enter into long-term power purchase agreements with the Ugandan power utility Umeme. If successful, the proceeds would then be focused on conservation activities in the country.

We already know how we would provide this conservation support. Powering Africa | Recharging Conservation (PA|RC) is an initiative supported by The Nature Conservancy to create a sustainable source of revenue for conservation in Africa, and helps meet the continent’s renewable energy generation goals. Here at Solarcentury, it is an initiative we work closely with and support.

The Giants Club, founded by the conservation organisation Space for Giants and supported by the Independent, did a great job at the Uganda event of bringing together businesses, conservationists and the Ugandan officials they will need to work with.

For me as a potential investor it enabled an opportunity to create a lasting solution that will benefit Uganda’s effort to maintain its biodiversity and conserve its wildlife, while generating clean energy for its citizens.

By investing in renewable energy power plants, not only will investors generate satisfactory returns but importantly, a significant revenue stream would be channelled for conservation efforts across Uganda’s national parks and reserves, and community and private conservancies.

The move would also assist the government to realise its vision of an economy powered by renewable energy, as well as providing energy access to the population.

Solarcentury, which commenced its operations two decades ago, has over 1GW Solar PV built and operational in four continents (Africa, Europe, South America and North America). With a permanent office in Nairobi, it will provide development investment and leadership, engineering, procurement, construction services, as well as operations and maintenance services for the PA|RC projects in Africa.

PA|RC sets a gold standard for investments in greenfield or developed power plants. This ensures that, among other impact-focused positive engagements, power plant siting and revenue sharing is carried out transparently so that nature and local communities are positively impacted.

Protected Areas, like those in Uganda, are important biodiverse landcapes. But at present they struggle for funding each year. They depend on grants, tourism revenues, and government finance, which are either short-term and unpredictable in nature, or create a strain on the central government.

By establishing solar projects to support conservation sites, we will generate reliable long term funding to protect millions of acres of critical habitat and safeguard endangered species.

Also, by generating revenue for community conservancies, PA|RC will support front-line conservationists and community projects such as schools, health clinics, drinking water projects, and more.

The model is already taking shape in Kenya. Through PA|RC we are already developing two 10 megawatt (MW) solar plants. The clean electricity produced by them will be injected to the grid, and a significant portion (estimated at $1 million) of revenue generated through the sale of power, will flow from the solar plants to Tsavo West National Park and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy for conservation activities over a 20-year period.

The solar plants, by offsetting fossil fuels, combined with the landscapes that they go some way to protecting, effectively act as carbon sinks.

We now look forward to exploring, with the help of the Giants Club, how such a project can be replicated in Uganda.

My hope is that such a project will be able to serve as a blueprint for developing renewable energy plants throughout Africa for the benefit of conservation, while at the same time combating the effects of climate change. This is only the beginning.

Guy Lawrence is the Director of Solarcentury in East Africa. Solarcentury is a global Engineering, Procurement and Construction company with an office in Kenya specialising in the design & installation of solar PV panels for businesses, solar parks & isolated grids

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