Karuma Hydropower Plant to Guarantee Uganda’s Steady Progress, Thanks to Chinese Investments

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By Herbert Kamoga
According to The World Bank, one billion people, mostly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, live their daily lives without electricity. This represents a fundamental barrier to progress for a sizable proportion of the world’s population, and has impacts on a wide range of development indicators, including health, education, food security, gender equality, livelihoods, and poverty reduction.

The number of people gaining access to electricity has been accelerating since 2010 to around 118 million each year, but these efforts will need to accelerate if the world is going to meet Sustainable Development Goal 7, ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.

In 1995, the government of Uganda planned to construct a hydropower station at the site of the Karuma Falls. The feasibility study report was made available in October 2006. In July 2011, it was discovered that the maximum capacity of the project was 600 megawatts.

The government of Uganda is now undertaking the construction of the largest hydroelectricity dam at Karuma, a run-of-the-river project is being built on the River Nile downstream of Lake Kyoga in Kyandongo district, 270km from Kampala. Construction of the plant commenced in December 2013.

The USD 1.7 billion project is largely funded by Export and Import (EXIM) Bank of China and implemented by China’s Sino Hydro Power Company. China EXIM Bank extended a loan equal to 85% of the project cost, while the remaining 15% is financed by the Government of Uganda.

The plant is divided into six major components namely a dam section, power intake unit, powerhouse, transformer cavern, surge chamber, pressure shafts, cable shaft and two tail-race tunnels for returning water circulating through the turbines back to the river.

The Installed Capacity of Uganda’s electricity generation increased to 1,177MW in March 2019, following the commissioning of the Isimba Hydro Power Plant (HPP) that added 183 MW to the national grid. With the commissioning of Karuma power plant expected in June 2022, hydropower generation in Uganda will soon stand at 1,868MW which guarantees Uganda’s development.

Over the last 59 years, Uganda has made significant development progress. Since the mid 1980’s, the economy has moved from recovery to growth. A number of economic policies and programs have been successfully implemented leading to a boost in economic growth. Since 2002, the economy grew consistently at an average of 6.4 percent and has since built sufficient momentum for takeoff.

Uganda Vision 2040 provides development paths and strategies to operationalize Uganda’s Vision statement which is “A Transformed Ugandan Society from a Peasant to a Modern and Prosperous Country within 30 years” as approved by Cabinet in 2007. It aims at transforming Uganda from a predominantly peasant and low income country to a competitive upper middle income country.

The strategies include;
To generate affordable electricity, the Government will develop all the hydro power potential which is estimated at 4500MW along the various rivers. This will include small, mini and large hydro power plants. In addition, the government will put in place mitigation measures, especially protection of water catchments, to ensure that the water resources are sufficient to produce the power.

Uganda’s Vision 2040 indicates that Energy and in particular electricity is a driver of socio economic transformation of a nation. Countries like Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea that have attained faster growth have used modern energy to drive industrialization and service sectors. This necessitated generation and development of sufficient sources of energy to drive those economies. For Uganda to shift from a peasantry to an industrialized and largely urban society, it must be propelled by electricity as a form of modern energy.

To achieve the targets of this Vision, Uganda will develop and generate modern energy to drive the industry and services sectors. It is estimated that Uganda will require 41,738 MW by 2040 thus increasing its electricity per capita consumption to 3,668 kWh. Furthermore the access to the national grid must significantly increase to 80 per cent.

According to the Minister for Energy and Mineral development, Ruth Nankabirwa, Karuma Hydro power Dam will improve access and availability of electricity to the rural and urban areas, especially to economic zones and other productive areas.
“Upon completion, this plant will contribute greatly to the country’s total installed capacity and therefore we have to ensure we connect more Ugandans to the national grid,” Nankabirwa said.

Adding that “they have been complaining that they have been seeing wires passing by them and that they are the ones hosting the plant but they are not being connected, I just want to assure them that they will be connected that provision has been out in place”

Nankabirwa while inspecting the progress of the works at the power station assured the country that the work is 98.8% complete.

She explained that the major ongoing works at the power station entail embedment concrete for the tracks of the maintenance crane and concrete for the pavement layer atop the dam block.

Achievements realized include the unit 5 ring gate oil pressure unit that was commissioned. The unit 5 shaft seal water system was also commissioned. In addition, the unit 6 ring gate hydro static tests were completed.

The power will be evacuated from six step-up transformers to the national grid through three major transmission lines. These are the 400kV Karuma-Kawanda line (248km), 400kV Karuma- Olwiyo (55km) and 132kV Karuma-Lira line (75km).

Nankabirwa said the project will also improve electricity access, lower transmission losses, increase power efficiency, reliability, stability and quality of supply countrywide. It is also expected to evacuate power from upcoming solar fields and other power plants.

Kamoga Herbert, is a journalist and a research fellow at, Development Watch Centre think tank.



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