Uganda’s natural gas resources as an alternative energy source
By Steven Enach
Globally, energy is one of the key drivers of economic growth and development. Overcoming energy poverty is one of world’s great challenges. All the countries in the East African Region (EAR) are not producing sufficient energy to meet their current needs. No country achieves socio-economic development without its population having access to clean energy.
Currently, the energy mix in the region includes hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, solar, biomass and fossil fuels. Only about 10% of the EAR is electrified with about 90% utilizing biomass as a primary source of energy.
Goal seven (07) of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. However, the 2021 SDG report indicates that 759 million people in the world, of which 75% are in Sub-Sahara Africa, lacked access to energy. The report further indicates that a third of the world’s population depends on dangerous and inefficient cooking systems.
In Uganda, biomass is still the most important source of energy for most of the population. About 89% of the total primary energy consumption is generated through biomass, which can be separated into firewood (78.6%), charcoal (5.6%) and crop residues (4.7%). Electricity is contributing only 1.4% to the national energy balance while oil products, which are mainly used for vehicles and thermal power plants, account for the remaining 9.6%. Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) currents contributes less than 1% to the total primary energy consumption.
The discovery of commercially viable oil and gas deposits in Uganda presents a great opportunity to further improve the state of the energy sector in the region, and Uganda in particular. Plans are underway to put in place the necessary infrastructure to exploit and commercialize the discovered resources.
The treatment of oil during production will generate associated gas that will be firstly utilised to satisfy the internal requirements (that is; heating, blanketing, power requirements, etc.) for the normal oil production activities as a priority. Government required the Upstream licensees (that is; Total Energies E&P Uganda & CNOOC Uganda) to carry out studies to determine the optimal utilisation of any excess associated gas realised after meeting the internal requirements. The studies recommended LPG recovery from excess associated gas. The recovered LPG will be used to meet local and regional demand.
Also, as per the ongoing engineering design studies, the Refinery Project in Hoima is projected to produce LPG in its product slate. In total, the three projects (Tilenga Project area, Kingfisher Development area and the Refinery) are projected to produce about 330, 000 ton/year of LPG at peak.
LPG is a highly versatile energy source and can be used in a wide range of applications such as water and space heating, cooking as well as an alternative transport fuel.
Production and utilisation of LPG has a number of benefits for Uganda and the region. These include; direct health benefits from substantially reducing exposure to household air pollution from burning of solid biomass fuels. Biomass smoke contains health-damaging substances, of which small soot particles of less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10), are among the most dangerous, as they penetrate deep into the lungs and are a factor in the development of acute lower respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancers and other illnesses.
Substituting biomass fuel with LPG which, is classified by World Health Organization (WHO) as a clean fuel will go a long way in solving health related problems caused by biomass and other polluting fuels.
A reduction in emissions of other climate active pollutants such as methane, black carbon and organic carbon released by inefficient solid fuel stoves, with the first two species contributing to global warming in the near-term. LPG is a valuable fuel as it has almost no sulfur content, which results in cleaner burning. About half of the LPG used is consumed for heating and cooking and essentially is used in place of natural gas.
Less pressure on forests, from which wood fuel including charcoal is harvested contributing to the loss of forests. Depending on biomass as a primary source of energy continuously reduces carbon sinks and causes global warming. Deforestation due to the unsustainable use of firewood and charcoal can lead to soil erosion, desertification, and, in hilly areas, landslides. Therefore, substituting firewood with LPG reduces deforestation and can also improve agricultural productivity. This is because in addition to dangers of deforestation, in poor countries, agricultural residues are often used as low-grade cooking fuel rather than natural soil fertilizer.
A reduction in labour time in fuel collection and cooking where there is dependence on solid fuels especially firewood and opening up opportunities for greater engagement with education and development activities.
LPG presents an opportunity for households to access modern clean burning energy which is vital to achieving a range of social and economic goals relating to poverty, health, education, equality and environmental sustainability.
With Uganda’s nascent oil and gas industry transitioning to the development phase, realsiastion of an alternative source of energy will go a long way in alleviating energy poverty that is one of the biggest chronic problems faced by Africa.
The Author is the Manager Refining, Gas Processing and Utilisation at the PAU