Rural Electrification for Socio-Economic Development

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By Eng. Oola Jimmy Noel Sande

Jimmy is currently employed by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development under the Rural Electrification Programme as a Senior Maintenance Engineer. He is a Makerere University graduate holding a Master’s in Power Systems Engineering, a Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering and a Postgraduate Diploma in Project Planning and Management from the Uganda Management Institute. He is a member of the Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers and a Registered Electrical Engineer with the Engineers Registration Board of Uganda.


Access to electricity is important for the socio-economic development of any society as documented in the Sustainable Development Goals, and Uganda’s Vision 2040. Rural electrification is not economical since the costs outweigh the benefits. That is why it is undertaken by the Government which is interested in service delivery, not profits. Successful implementation of rural electrification projects starts from the design and planning stage, procurement, execution and contract management. A good project needs the expertise of a competent contract manager who will apply different skills to ensure that the different stakeholders are managed. Access to electricity, according to the World Bank, is still very low at 42%. The Government of Uganda has implemented a number of projects to increase access to electricity especially for the rural communities. Examples of such government projects are: Energy for Rural Transformation, Uganda Rural Electricity Access Project, Electricity Connections Policy, and the proposed Uganda Energy Access Scale-up Project in partnership with the World Bank. The materials and equipment that are used for the various rural electrification projects should meet the standards to ensure value for money. A successful project starts with a clearly defined technical specification of materials and equipment to be utilised before manufacturing. Tests are conducted on the materials and equipment during manufacture and before use. All projects should undergo commissioning tests before usage and then be monitored for any defects during the Defects Liability Period.

Keywords: Rural Electrification, Contract Management, Stakeholders, Materials Testing


Electricity is a very important factor of production and has been included under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 7. Most developing countries in Arica are below the world average percentage access rate to electricity as illustrated in Figure 1. The Third National Development Plan of Uganda, just like the UN’s SDG also emphasizes the extreme importance of electricity. “The aspiration of Agenda 2030 is to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030” (1, p. 144)

The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) has been undertaking various projects with the aim of increasing access to electricity. “Rural electrification is the cornerstone in poverty alleviation and is widely recognised as the first step of modernisation.” (2, p. 36). Rural electrification projects can either be on-grid or off-grid. On-grid projects include extensions of the existing power lines while off grid is mainly for solar photovoltaic systems where the networks are isolated. “For most of the developing countries in the world, the usual manner for rural electrification has been grid extension.” (2). However, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development is now responsible under the Rural Electrification Programme abbreviated as REP (3). Projects undertaken by the Government of Uganda include Energy for Rural Transformation, Uganda Rural Electricity Access Project and the proposed Uganda Energy Access Scale-up Project. (4).

According to the UBOS Report, 51% of urban households and only 5% of rural households used grid electricity for lighting. In terms of region, 93% of Kampala households and only 1% of households in the Karamoja Sub-region used grid electricity for lighting (5, p. 144). According to the World Bank, Uganda is among the top 20 access-deficit countries.

Figure 1: Electricity access in deficit countries. Source: (6, p. 36)


Nearly all the operations under REA are project-based. “A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” (7, p. 3). After contract signature, contract management which is technically project management takes place. “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”  (7, p. 5)

2.1       Contract Management

A contract is a binding agreement between parties; key elements include an offer made by one party, on acceptance by the other party, the intention to create a legal relation and consideration i.e., the price for the offer (8). A contract manager should have the right qualifications, skills, experience and be able to multitask.  A contract manager should be able to handle a multitude of tasks as illustrated in Figure 2. “Contracting is an integral part of doing business in the public sector with both private partners and other public agencies.” [10]

Figure 2:  A contract manager’s responsibilities.   Source: (9)

2.2       Stakeholder Management

Stakeholders refers to individuals or groups that influence or can be influenced by a project (11). Primary stakeholders have vested interest in how the organization performs while secondary stakeholders can influence the organization both positively and negatively according to Herevi, Coffey & Trigunarsyah (2015) as cited in (12). A contract manager has many stakeholders to deal with at different levels e.g. management, funders, community, politicians, contractor and local leaders. For this to be effective, there is need for engineering ethics while undertaking projects. “An engineer driven by both technical knowledge and considerations of social/political impact will be much more productive in developing long-lasting solutions.” (13). The different types of engineering ethics are illustrated below.

Figure 3: Major types of engineering ethics. Source: (13)

The contract manager works closely with environmentalists and sociologists who are knowledgeable about the environmental and social safeguards of the project. Involvement of the relevant stakeholders reduces conflict, fosters acceptance and increases social absorption in renewable energy schemes (11).


The various projects under REP undergo various stages as outlined in the subsequent sections of this chapter.

3.1       Project Initiation and Planning

This is the initial stage of rural electrification projects whereby the intended beneficiaries and project location are identified. Scoping is done to estimate the project cost and preliminary survey drawings are produced.

This project stage is normally carried out by the Planning and Investment Department who package the project for the prospective funder. After identifying the funder, then the procurement process starts as well as technical specifications of materials and works for the projects.

3.2       Technical Specifications

This is normally done by the User Department which defines the desirable features of the material and equipment to be used. Materials which need proper technical specifications include conductors, poles, overhead accessories, etc. while equipment include switchgear, transformers, etc.

The specifications also show the desired construction of the line. Legal and financial aspects are included in the specifications which form the bidding documents and later the contract for implementation.

3.3       Procurement and Contracting

Procurement is the process of getting a contractor to undertake the project. The contractor will then undertake to acquire the materials and equipment from the different manufacturers.

Project Procurement Management includes the processes necessary to purchase or acquire products, services, or results needed from outside the project team. Project Procurement Management includes the management and control processes required to develop and administer agreements such as contracts, purchase orders, memoranda of agreements (MOAs), or internal service level agreements (SLAs). (14).

3.4       Manufacturing

This is the process of turning raw materials into finished products. It can also be extended to the process of assembling finished products from different manufacturers into a new product by another manufacturer. For instance, copper ore which is a raw material can be turned into copper wire which is a finished product. The copper wire is then used by another manufacturer to make transformer windings. The transformer windings together with other components are later assembled into a complete transformer.

The quality of the manufactured product depends on the technical specifications provided during procurement. It is therefore important to ensure that all the desired parameters and features are carefully included during this stage since some aspects cannot be easily changed after manufacture.

3.5       Testing of Materials and Equipment

This chapter expounds on the different tests that are carried out at the different stages of the Rural Electrification.

3.5.1   During Manufacture

There are three major tests that can be conducted on equipment, namely type tests, routine tests and special tests.

Type tests are carried out in Specialised Laboratories for the prototype before mass production can commence. This can also be a destructive test.

Routine tests are the normal tests carried out during and after manufacturing of the product. These are the same tests that can be carried out during commissioning of the equipment and power lines.

Special tests are those tests not normally done. They can be done to ascertain equipment performance in case the routine tests are not adequate.

3.5.2   Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT)

When the manufacturer has completed the manufacture of the materials and equipment, he normally invites the client to witness routine tests. Some of the tests that were carried out included the FAT for concrete poles as shown in Figure 4 and the FAT for transformers as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 4: FAT for concrete poles
Figure 5: FAT for transformers at ECS, Kawempe

3.6       Delivery and Inspection

After witnessing of the Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT) by the client, the manufacturer proceeds to ship and deliver the materials and equipment. On arrival, the materials and equipment are again inspected to ensure that they are not damaged and are the ones witnessed during FAT. This is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Project materials inspection

3.7       Project Implementation

This is carried out by the Contractor with the Contract Manager supervising the implementation. Implementation of rural electrification projects is carried out throughout the country using different contractors and funders.  Figure 7 shows connections being done to the top of the poles which was one of the works covered under project implementation.

Figure 7: Ongoing works by Haso Engineers

3.8       Project Commissioning

When a power line is ready to be energised, the contractor will inform the client accordingly. Pre-commissioning tests will then be conducted on the line and installed equipment to ensure that there are no major snags (anomalies). Figure 8 shows solar panels that were to be used in the generation process of the electricity. These solar panels were one of the projects ready for commissioning and to undergo the pre-commissioning tests. After the pre-commissioning tests, final commissioning of the line is organised; it is energized ready to serve customers. The following are some of the tests carried out during pre-commissioning and commissioning:

Insulation resistance of transformers

Insulation resistance for the surge arrestors

Earth resistance measurement

No-load voltage measurement

Figure 8: Solar off-grid in Kasese

Project commissioning is the process of assuring that all systems and components of a building or industrial plant are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained according to the operational requirements of the owner or final client. A commissioning process may be applied not only to new projects but also to existing units and systems subject to expansion, renovation or revamping. (15).

After commissioning, the performance of the network is monitored for a period of 12 months referred to as Defects Liability Period (DLP).

3.9       Project Close Out

After the completion of the DLP, there is a joint inspection of the network for compliance and identification of emerging issues before final payment is made. When resolutions of all outstanding snags are made, the contractors’ retention is paid and the project is closed.


Rural electrification contributes to socio- economic transformation of any community where the project has been implemented. The standard of living improves and the electricity will be used for lighting, charging phones, powering household appliances and for business purposes.

The socio-economic impacts of rural electrification can be felt in the health sector, education, households and small businesses as demonstrated from research. “People reported that electrification has had exclusively positive effects on health care. All respondents said that treatments had improved, confirming the assumption that electrically operated medical equipment leads to more comprehensive treatments.”  (16). “Electrification and massive access to electricity generate business opportunities, create value chains, develop economies and local communities.”  (17).

5.0       CONCLUSION

In order for Uganda to meet the target set by Sustainable Development Goal No. 7 of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, rural electrification projects have to continue. Rural electrification can be either by extension of the existing grid or construction of a mini grid. Electricity has more positive socio-economic impacts on society in comparison with the negative effects. Sustainable rural electrification needs a competent contract manager who is able to engage the different stakeholders as well as following all the requirements of the project lifecycle.

A good rural electrification project starts with proper technical specifications, manufacturing of materials & equipment, testing of materials & equipment, project implementation by the contractor, commissioning and handover of the project to the operator for final operation and maintenance.


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