Electrification of Social Institutions with Solar Photovoltaic -Lessons Learned from Uganda

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Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Programme (PREEP) is electrifying social institutions (health centres, boarding schools, vocational training centres, orphanages, local government offices) with solar PV systems with co-financing from the Dutch-German Energy Partnership and the EU since 2007. Since most social institutions in rural Uganda are short of funding, the project extends a subsidy of up to 80% to the institutions. Institutions meeting the criteria described below are required to make a financial contribution of at least 20% before the procurement process starts. In the case of public health centres, the project deals with the district health office of the respective district and electrifies up to 18 institutions in one go, hence reducing transaction costs. Other institutions are dealt with on a one-by-one basis. In the period January 2007 to March 2011 approx. 75 social institutions have been electrified with solar PV systems.


Overview Activity Responsible

Activity Responsible

Application for Support

Screening (Criteria met?)
Site Survey
Design and Costing of Solar System
Agreement on Final Design and Financial Contribution
Signing of MoU
Transfer of Financial Contribution

Procurement of Solar System

PREEEP sends tender request and tender docs incl. PN and estimated contract value to GIZ office (Philoh); procurement procedure depends on value
• Up to 12,500 EUR (or more): prequalified firms
• Up to 50,000 EUR: tender with shortlist of approx. 10 firms
• Above: public tender (need to draft tender advert, organise pre-tender meeting - optional)
GIZ office organised tender (sends out tender docs or publishes advert)
a) PREEEP (technical evaluation - threshold 60%)
b) GIZ office financial evaluation (only those that have passed technical evaluation, checked by PREEEP
GIZ office sends notification of intention to award contract
Contractor submits performance bond and advance payment guarantee if advance payment is required
PREEEP prepares contract (using template)
GIZ offices calls contractor for signing of contract
PREEEP meets contractor (agree on workplan and payment schedule)

Installation - Completion Report
Solar Company
Inspection of installation – inspection report / to do list
In most cases the contractor has to rectify snags and PREEEP reinspects
Handover - Sign Uebergabeprotokoll
Impact Assessment

Identification of Beneficiary Institutions

In some cases the project identifies proactively institutions meeting the criteria described in 2.3 (e.g. if the contract wishes to work in a particular geographic area). In other cases, institutions apply to the project or the project partner. Completion of solar installations often triggers further applications from nearby institutions. Potential applicants who visit the project offices are given a hand-out summarising the criteria and process and are invited to submit a formal application with basic information about the institution (e.g. exact location, contact details, number of students, distance from the nearest low voltage electricity line etc.).

Selection Criteria

To qualify for support from the project, a number of conditions need to be fulfilled. These are listed below:

• The institution should be located in Northern Uganda or another district where PREEEP is already active

• The expected benefit should be substantial. This is usually the case for institutions operating also in evening hours / at night, such as boarding schools and bigger health centres and in institutions who have the potential to use electrical appliances such as office equipment and computer labs.

• The institution should be located not less than 5 km from the nearest low voltage electricity line and should also not be in an area earmarked for grid extension in the next 5-10 years. If the grid is nearby and the costs for grid connection are low, PREEEP can also support grid connection.

• The institution should be able and willing to contribute at least 20 % of the equipment and installation cost of the proposed system and subsequent operation and maintenance incl. replacement of batteries.

• Bigger institutions are preferred.

Site Survey

If the above-mentioned criteria are met, project staff conducts a site survey using a standardised form. This includes a documentation of electricity requirements and a sketch of the premises with measurements and distances between buildings. The buildings considered are all buildings of the institution incl. buildings for staff accommodation.

Design and Costing

Based on the findings of this survey the programme designs the system and calculates the estimated costs based on experience from previous installations. The technical design is done using an excel-based tool which automatically suggests certain parameters such as capacity of the PV array based on the respective load schedule.

Agreement on Final Design and Financial Contribution

The estimated costs and the required financial contribution are then presented to the applicant. If required contribution exceeds the institution’s ability to pay, the beneficiary is encouraged to select priority buildings / loads such as the administration block, classrooms and dormitories.

Signing of MoU

As soon as the institution is ready/able to pay its contribution, GIZ prepares an MoU that includes GIZ and the beneficiary then sign an MoU specifying the respective responsibilities (e.g. the beneficiary’s responsibility to ensure proper operation and maintenance as well as protection against theft). This MoU also mentions the amounts to be contributed by both partners, the payment schedule and GIZ’s bank details. If the beneficiary doesn’t pay within a certain time frame, the MoU becomes null and void.


Once GIZ has received the financial contribution in full, the procurement process is started. Due to the high price of solar equipment in Uganda, GIZ headquarters usually insist on procurement of certain components through HQ. The remaining components and the installation service is procured locally. The tender documents specify among others minimum requirements for user training. Smaller systems are procured from pre-qualified companies using a simplified procedure. In some cases, GIZ includes certain appliances in the tender for the solar systems. This can include DC fridges and energy efficient computers from Inveneo (up to one computer per institution).


GIZ conducts follow-up visits to the benefitting institutions up to 2-3 years after installation. This is to document technical performance of the systems as well as information on impacts. In case of technical problems after expiry of the warranty period, the beneficiaries are informed about the nature of the problem and are advised to use local firms / technicians for repairs.

Impact assessment

If possible, impact assessment should be conducted with a significant sample size and a control group of comparable institutions without electricity. It should be noted that the assessment team should include a trained solar technician to confirm the reason for reports about technical problems. Otherwise the results of the study can be distorted.

Results and Impacts

Since the start of this sub-activity within the programme in 2006, a total number of 75 institutions have been electrified with solar PV, of which 55 are health centres (mainly small rural health centres with no or limited in-patient facilities). The remaining institutions are schools (mostly secondary boarding schools), orphanages, vocational institutions and youth centres. In the current programme phase (since June 2008) 42 solar PV systems have been installed in rural health centres and schools. The average size of solar PV system installed is 630 Wp. The systems range from 160 Wp to 2,580 Wp. The earlier systems installed at health centres were standardized in terms of size (one system for lighting, one for cooling, if applicable one for staff quarters). Since 2008 the individual energy needs of each health centre are assessed and systems designed accordingly. Since then, system size has increased in comparison to the earlier systems. The installed systems are majorily AC systems. However, until 2009 the project opted for DC systems in staff quarters and health centers that only needed electricity for lighting. The DC option has proven to be, albeit more efficient and cheaper, less convenient and effective. DC bulbs are more expensive than AC bulbs and only available from specialised dealers. Health centres are hence less likely to replace blown DC bulbs than the cheaper AC bulbs. Furthermore, some health centres work with small appliances such as electric microscopes that do not consume a lot of energy and can only be used with AC power. In the staff quarters, DC systems have proven ineffective, because users do not make use of their DC sockets because they do not know where to buy the right adapters for radios and phone charging (some radios also don’t have the right outlets). Therefore since mid 2009 only AC systems are installed in health centres and their adjacent staff quarters. However, overusage is more frequent on AC systems than on DC ones. The typical connected appliances range from light bulbs (CFLs from 5-14 W depending on purpose – security light, general room lighting, medical spot light), energy efficient computers and printers, DC refrigerators to small medical equipment such as electric microscopes. Because GIZ requires a 20 % contribution by the district government responsible for the Health Centres, the size and number of connected appliances also depends on the district’s budget and willingness to spend money. The average cost for equipment and installation rank at 11 EUR per Wattpeak (30,000 Uganda Shillings).


The use of solar PV at HCs enhances the delivery of medical services through the provision of quality light for use during treatment of night time emergencies, emergency deliveries and for security purposes at the HC and staff quarters. The solar fridges also facilitate the service of instant immunization of children at HC that previously did not have fridges. If well maintained, solar fridges have lower maintenance costs and are more reliable than gas-powered fridges, since they don’t rely on the proper functioning of the system for supply of gas to remote areas. Whereas health centres continue to use traditional sources of energy (kerosene for waste burning and charcoal for sterilisation/cooking), solar electricity reduces expenditures on energy sources for lighting and gas (replaced by solar fridges). HC II without staff quarters mainly operate during the day hence under-utilize the installed lighting systems which are mainly used for security lights. Although the availability of solar is not a decisive factor for the deployment of health staff, it is likely to increase motivation and morale of health staff whose living standards are improved by access to cheaper and quality light. Solar has facilitated communication and notably work related communication between health workers in far off locations, through the provision of electricity for phone charging, thereby enhancing efficiency of medical service delivery. Lighting is not perceived as a major problem by the staff and patients of small HC as these centres mainly treat outpatients during daytime. The main problems perceived by staff are lack of staff quarters, safe drinking water and inadequate staffing. Most patients do not have problems with services provided by HCs. Others feel that the lack of safe drinking water is a problem and that the health centres are understaffed. Hence, availability of solar power is not a key determinant in the choice of patients visiting small health centres (HC II). 92 % of patients are indifferent about the availability of electric light at the HC II, they rather go to the health facility nearest to their place. Solar PV reduces the use of traditional lighting sources but has no impact on use of fuel for waste burning and sterilization. Solar PV systems are generally well functional. According to the programme’s impact assessment, 78 % have not had faults, 22 % did report problems, mainly blown out bulbs (75 %) and non-functionality of some switches and sockets. However, half of the solar fridges in the sample were not functioning, mostly due to irregularities with the compressor-control unit. The type of solar fridges should hence be selected carefully, and they should be transported in an upright position. Nonetheless, the main weaknesses of solar PV systems can be linked to possible misuse such as system overload, which decreases the battery life.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

To enhance impact, installation of PV systems should prioritize institutions that operate at night and/or those with staff quarters, because they are more likely to effectively use systems. These tend to be bigger and are more expensive to electrify. Solar fridges should be part of the system package for health centres as they increase the impact. However, the type of fridges to be installed should be selected carefully. Only durable and easy to repair fridges should be installed (products known on the local market for which spare parts are available). Solar fridges are more reliable than gas fridges and less costly to maintain. The district as owner of the health centres and the school administration have to budget for operation and maintenance costs. Apart from regular replacement of blown out bulbs, the batteries have to be replaced every 4-7 years (depending on usage). Battery replacement is a major reinvestment that the institution has to be prepared for. Awareness and education about battery replacement is a crucial part in electrifying institutions. The programme is planning to work with financial institutions to create a savings scheme for the respective institutions. User training has to be conducted thoroughly and in detail. The durability and lifetime of a solar PV system depends heavily on how it is used. Follow-up visits have shown that some systems are overused, esp. in staff quarters. An in-depth user training with appropriate material that can stay with the health centre can help raising awareness about the system’s potential and limits. Staff changes occur rather frequently during a solar PV system’s lifetime. It is necessary that the old staff properly trains his/her successor in the usage of the solar system, but this doesn’t always happen. Durable awareness/user training material as well as self-explanatory information about the load schedule at a central point can be helpful (e.g. load sticker attached to the wall next to the charge controller). Theft of solar system components (e.g. modules) is a major problem in some areas. Therefore it is necessary to analyze the security situation around the institution during the initial assessment. The modules should preferably be mounted on the roof and protected against theft, e.g. with self-sealing screws. In some cases, the building of a fence or the appointment of additional security personnel might become necessary. The project should advise the beneficiaries on these issues. If the institution wants to use computers or other appliances that require significant amounts of power, they should buy energy efficient ones from the start (e.g. laptops). If they want to use inefficient appliances, the system has to be much bigger and is therefore significantly more expensive for both parties. The institutions should be advised about energy efficient appliances. However, with staff changes it is difficult to maintain the knowledge on proper usage of the solar system within the institution. Follow-up visits are therefore important in order to monitor performance of the installed systems, impacts and to re-educate the beneficiaries about proper usage and maintenance.

Further Information