No silver bullet for Africa’s power challenges -Lucia Wamala, Founder/CEO of Bakulu Power, Uganda

In East Africa, more than 200 million people are without electricity. This represents nearly 80% of the region’s population. Therefore, developing local energy resources is top-of-mind for most East African countries, especially as populations continue to grow rapidly, particularly at the urban centres.

According to a document from the US Chamber of Commerce, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda are expected to add between 40,000 MW and 50,000 MW of generation capacity by the year 2030 and the private sector is encouraged to play a role in the financing and provision of services.

These stark facts and figures and the belief that energy is a key driver of development are important motivations for Lucia Wamala, Founder and C.E.O of Bakulu Power, a Uganda-based renewable energy company.

Bakulu Power designs, implements, owns and operates energy infrastructure to power local communities and provide residential and commercial clients with clean, affordable renewable energy systems, tailored to their specific needs. Instances include 3 solar mini-grids on islands off Lake Victoria and a clean cooking fuel (biomass) production plant on a refugee camp in Western Uganda.

Speaking with Outrepreneurs, recently, Lucia revealed what she hopes would be the next big achievement for the energy company.

Lucia Wamala, Founder & CEO, Bakulu Power, Uganda

“Within the next two to five years, we would like to be operational throughout the East African Community (EAC).  Electrification is essential to the success of our trade bloc. In the immediate run, we are focused on our transformative projects at home in Uganda”, She says.

Whether it is a standalone rooftop installation or a hybrid application, the company provides custom, scalable solutions designed to meet a broad spectrum of energy requirements in an array of operating conditions. Its goal is to design and build integrated and highly efficient systems that increase electrification for end users and reduce utility costs.

Aerial view of Lubya sub-county, Uganda, to be electrified by Bakulu Power

Lucia believes providing reliable, cost-effective energy solutions to homes and businesses will ignite industries and foster socioeconomic transformation and sustainable development in these communities.

For Lucia Wamala, it hasn’t been a smooth ride, especially at the beginning.

“It took years to develop the idea and to build a team of professional advisors and founding partners. The initial paperwork can be daunting! We’ve been up and running for two years. Now I understand why people say that it takes 10 years to be an overnight success.”

Chief Technology Officer, Richard Sseruwagi, training island residents to work alongside Bakulu Power team

On Competition, Lucia admits there are actually lots of competitors in her space, but she is quick to see competition as a growth driver.

“Competition forces a company to tighten up and continually improve practices.  It also keeps you creative.  I think what makes my company different is our approach to collaboration. We collaborate with large corporations from all over the world and most importantly with people in the communities. We see every stakeholder as an equal. If one part of the chain breaks, then an entire project can go bust. We also take a holistic approach to development, meaning we go beyond energy needs. Because of our relationships in communities we learn about water needs, education, sanitation and so on. We work with our partners to connect those dots as well.”

Surprisingly, she agrees with Bill Gates’ recent assertion that solar energy may not be the answer to Africa’s power problems.

“The presentation of his statements can be shocking – like, wow! Bill Gates hates solar!  I don’t think that is what he is saying. What I take from his statements is that there is no silver bullet, which is true. Certain situations call for certain technologies. We have a project where we use biomass technology, because in that situation, a refugee camp, it is unlikely that distribution lines for electricity will ever be put up. Bill seems to be a fan of hydro. Hydro is great; we are actually looking into some Pico hydro projects, but again, hydro isn’t going to solve all of our problems. I think rather than talk about the need for ‘an energy miracle,’ why not empower local developers who know what communities need and can actually take breakthrough technologies to market.”

Sociologist, Cabrine Nankanja, leading a community sensitization meeting

Having been named by Forbes as one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs for the year 2017 has changed a lot for Lucia.

“I know people shouldn’t look for outside validation, but you also have to stop and feel the moments of your life. It was a big win for us. A lot of doors are opening and we are walking through them confidently. I’m very happy with our progression. We work smart and hard, so we’ve been able to grow quickly. We have a number of transformative projects in development that will reach thousands of people.”

Among other lessons, Lucia stressed commitment and mental readiness as success factors for any budding entrepreneur. She also advised budding entrepreneurs should strive to manage their emotions, in order to withstand the many ups and downs of entrepreneurship. According to her, “your raison d’être is what will keep you going.”

 

PHOTOS: Lucia Wamala/Bakulu Power & iwin.org (featured image)

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Chiamaka Akuba33 Posts

Chiamaka Akuba is a graduate of Mass Communication of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about emerging markets and entrepreneurship and is actively working with the industry. She loves her conversations challenging and can’t help laughing when you call her ‘Honourable Writer of the Federal Republic'. Chiamaka is a Staff Writer at Outrepreneurs.

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