Harnessing renewable energy: ACTADE and Engineers Without Boarders partner to provide water and a self-sufficient Cassava Processing Plant to Osukuru United Women Network.

Together with the Engineers without Borders USA we are working towards supplying renewable energy and water to a cassava processing plant for the Osukuru United Women Network in Tororo District.

The ideation for this project started in the beginning of February when our friend Constance Okollet, the chairperson and founder of Osukuru United Women Network (OWN), paid a visit to our offices in Kampala. During our colloquial conversation, Constance pointed out that the processing plant, that was build in 2021 in a joint project of OWN with the Tororo District administration, was still not operational. Though the building and the machinery had been put in place, the promised connection to the power grid and a water borehole were yet to be fulfilled. Moreover, Constance reported that after some back and forth with the district, the officials also admitted that the available funds were insufficient, and that the community would have to pay on their own for the grid connection. This meant a significant financial challenge and OWN was not sure how it could be solved. And not only would the connection be costly, but also the constant power supply through the national grid itself, which means high production cost once the plant is running. Therefore, we talked about a small solar power installation that would fuel the production, cut the cost and make the operation independent from the unreliable power grid.

Unfortunately, neither Constance, OWN nor ACTADE has the technical expertise to make a qualified assessment, not even to mention a design and implementation. So, we wrote an e-mail to the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and to our surprise, they responded immediately and wanted to join our efforts. The EWB is an NGO that aims to provide engineering solutions in developing countries. Their areas of work span from infrastructure such as bridges, over water and irrigation to sustainable energy systems for different application areas. With their headquarters in the USA, the EWB have an East Africa branch in Kampala. On the one hand, EWB work with volunteers like students or retired engineers from the USA that come to East Africa to help with different projects. Moreover, they also have permanent staff from Uganda that take care of more strategic projects and are a bit more independent in the selection of their projects.

Luckily, the OWN project was well suited to fall into the second category and the EWB strategy for eastern Uganda. So after a very encouraging first meeting, EWB and ACTADE decided to engage into a partnership and set-up a memorandum of understanding. Additionally, we agreed on making a joint project plan, including a field trip to Osukuru to assess the situation at the site and gather the necessary technical and socio-economic data.

Accordingly, at the end of March we set out to Osukuru and conducted interviews with the local community, assessed the ground water level, inspected the machinery and factory, talked to local authorities and visited similar factories in the area to learn from their approaches. The first impressions were nothing but positive. We could see that the groundwater reservoirs were large and sufficient to supply the factory and the surrounding households. The machinery was a bit dusty, but intact and there was plenty of space to install solar panels in the required dimensions to supply the production. The authorities were supportive and hopeful that our insights could also be useful for the other factories and communities in the area. We left Osukuru with a lot of handshakes, dances, four new chickens and a lot of motivation to move on with the project to get the factory running as soon as possible.

Back in Kampala, the engineers worked out a detailed design for a hybrid system. This means, that we will not only rely on solar, but also install an additional power source. Due to the high amounts of cassava supply, we expect the factory to run at least 16 hours a day for 7 days a week. Naturally, the sun won’t shine in all of the operational hours, so another power source is necessary. The optimal solution would be to install a biogas production and a generator to use the biogas to produce electricity. The biogas production would be supplied by the waste of the cassava production and dung from livestock that is kept close by. To this end, the production could sustain itself by using the waste. Moreover, additional gas that is not used for power generation can be stored in LPG-bags that can be sold for cooking with gas stoves. This would mean that the waste will generate additional income for the community while at the same time providing an independent power system.

The biggest obstacle right now is the fundraising. The required solar panels are quite expensive and OWN does not have the necessary capital to finance the whole operation upfront. Therefore, we rigorously try to find donors and funding opportunities pick up the pace and make sure that OWN can process their harvest as soon as possible in their own factory. If you know of such an opportunity, do reach out to us through our contact details.