Uganda’s Solar Boom: Radio interference from PV systems – Lessons to Learn

Uganda’s embrace of solar power is a story of progress. From mini-grids illuminating rural communities to large-scale installations like the one at Kololo (By Nexus Green), solar energy is transforming the landscape. However, a recent report from Japan sheds light on a potential concern – radio wave interference from solar PV systems. (as reported in the PV Magazine)

Japan’s Cautionary Tale:

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications documented 44 cases since 2021 where solar systems disrupted critical communication. The culprit? Unwanted radio wave emissions. These emissions interfered with defense facilities, emergency responder radios, and even local government communication systems used for disaster response. The situation became so serious that the ministry warned of removing problematic systems.

Learning for Uganda’s Solar Developers:

Uganda’s solar sector can benefit from Japan’s experience:

  • Potential for Interference: Large-scale installations near sensitive locations like Kololo, a central hub for national security functions, could pose a risk. Kololo’s robust communication infrastructure is vital, and solar systems need to be designed with that in mind.

  • Mitigation Strategies: Japan’s report highlights solutions like noise filters to minimize interference. Ugandan developers should prioritize incorporating these measures during planning and installation.

  • Policy and Standards: The Japanese government plans to integrate international standards for radio wave emissions. Uganda can establish similar regulations to ensure responsible solar growth.

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Uganda’s Solar Success Stories:

  • Mini-grids: Projects like the Productive Use and Efficiency in Energy (PUEE) mini-grids are expanding access to clean energy in rural areas.

  • Large-scale Installations: The Bufulubi Solar Plant joins a growing list, alongside the 10 MWp Access Solar Plant, the 10 MWp Tororo Solar North Plant, and the 20 MWp Kabulasoke Solar Plant. These projects demonstrate Uganda’s commitment to solar power.

The Road Ahead:

By learning from Japan, Uganda can ensure its solar revolution is bright and clear, free from radio interference. Here’s how:

  • Compliance with Ugandan Regulations: Investigating existing Ugandan regulations related to solar installations and radio frequency compliance is crucial.

  • The Role of UCC: The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) likely plays a key role in ensuring radio frequency compliance. Understanding their role and collaborating with them strengthens the solar sector.

  • Regulatory Framework: Develop and enforce regulations similar to those suggested by Japan, ensuring all solar projects comply with international standards to prevent radio wave emissions.

  • Collaboration with Authorities: Work closely with national security agencies and communication authorities to identify and address any interference issues promptly

  • Public Awareness and Training: Educate solar developers and installers on best practices for minimizing EMI, including the use of appropriate materials and construction techniques.

Policy Implications

Uganda May lack specific policies addressing EMI from solar installations. Establishing a comprehensive policy framework is essential to support the growth of the solar sector while safeguarding critical communication and security systems. Key policy considerations should include:

  • Standards and Guidelines: Adopting IEC standards for solar installations to manage EMI effectively.
  • Incentives for Compliance: Providing incentives for developers who implement noise filters and other EMI mitigation measures.
  • Periodic Reviews and Updates: Regularly reviewing and updating policies to reflect technological advancements and emerging challenges in the solar sector.

The Role of Key Stakeholders:

  • USEA (Uganda Society for Engineering Education): USEA can play a vital role in educating and training future generations of engineers on best practices for solar installations, including mitigating radio wave interference. This ensures a skilled workforce equipped to navigate these considerations.

  • NREP (National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy): NREP, if applicable, can be reviewed to ensure it incorporates provisions that address radio wave interference from solar PV systems. Strong policy frameworks promote responsible development.

  • UNREEA (UN Environment Programme for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency): UNREEA’s technical expertise can be invaluable in supporting Uganda in establishing best practices and international standards for solar installations, minimizing radio wave interference risks.

  • Development Partners (GIZ etc.): Development partners like GIZ can provide financial and technical assistance to Ugandan authorities and developers. This assistance can include developing guidelines, conducting training workshops, and facilitating the adoption of best practices to mitigate radio wave interference.

Open Dialogue and Best Practices:

Open communication and implementing best practices are key. By fostering dialogue and implementing mitigation strategies, Uganda’s solar sector can thrive while minimizing potential risks. This ensures Ugandans enjoy the benefits of clean energy without compromising critical communication infrastructure.

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