Blog: An Interview with Lucia Bukulumpagi-Wamala
By Humphrey Olugbue
This transcript is part of a series of Top Voice interviews brought to you by IBR Group International on the topic of sustainability. To learn more about our Top Voice in Sustainability interviews or to discover how you can contribute, please contact us directly.
Q1: As a Cambridge University alumni, what was it about the power industry that attracted you to the business end of renewable energy and infrastructure?
My desire to help my people. I've always wanted to do something back home. It's funny now that I look back at it: I went from wanting to be Miss Uganda to now building the largest utility company in the EAC. It's been a long journey from aspiring beauty pageant contestant to owner of a power company. Not to be cliché but having a child changed me. I never paid any attention to infrastructure before. I grew up in Canada where the power flickers every now and then during a thunderstorm or a freak blackout during a winter storm. Nothing disruptive. Unfortunately, this is not the case back home. Whenever I would brainstorm on a business idea I would factor in unreliable electricity and then one day I was like: whoa, that's it! It was that naïve.
Q2: In Bill Gates' view as he explains in his new book on climate change, the industry needs to have a better understanding of the political process behind the business of renewable energy in order to get things done more expediently. Are you satisfied with the level of engagement taking place between business and government?
I'm actually very satisfied. The regulatory process in Uganda is quite different than how it is in the rest of SS Africa. For large projects like hydro it makes a lot of sense but for smaller projects like ours not quite so much. What impresses me is that our regulators ask for our opinions. We've been fortunate to have the ear of the big regulator and put forth our humble opinions. They've even assembled a working group with us industry players. It is fantastic to see a mutual respect. I mean, we have a shared goal after all.
Q3: With the COP26 conference coming up in a few months, what areas of policy stand out as an area which you would like seen addressed more comprehensively?
Minerals. Electric vehicles and renewable technologies are great all but the materials don't appear out of nowhere. Many of the mineral-rich countries are the same ones that are under the biggest threat from the effects of climate change. Oil-rich countries are, well, rich countries. I would love to see policies that ensure that countries like DRC or Guinea can reap the benefits of their resources; that their resources won't just be shipped out for the transition other countries while leaving them behind
Q4: If you were to select one enthralling career highlight to describe the rewarding experiences you have had as a CEO during your career, what would it be?
All of my highlights are centered on relationships. I struggled with imposter syndrome for a long time until I realized that my job as CEO is largely to build relationships. Our line of work is incredibly complicated and requires diversity of thought. Every week I feel like I find/create a new piece of the puzzle. Because of this it's kind of like a real time highlight reel. I'm super excited about a project we are working on now with two fantastic pediatricians from Canada. I stumbled upon Dr. Michael Hawkes from the University of Alberta on twitter. When I read about his solar oxygen systems, I cold called his office immediately. I was blown away when I learned that he and Dr. Abdullah Saleh, of Innovative Canadians for Change, have installed systems in over 20 hospitals in Uganda. They (now we) work closely with a local nurse, John Kanyonyozi, who is a total star. I came to Canada as a refugee so the connection between the two countries is something that I've always dreamed of. Together we are installing a system in Buvuma Main Island at the health center IV. Oxygen can only be administered at health centers level IV. The communities which we serve do not have this level of health center, so they are transferred to Buvuma Main Island. This project is what excites me because it's about the real work. Bakulu Power won't earn from selling electricity to this health center. We are a conduit. The communities we serve will benefit and that's what matters to me.
Q5: What are some of your thoughts and opinions towards the regulation which helps support the financing and investment in green infrastructure across the UK and in Africa?
I think the UK has some great programs. For example, Infranco is awesome. They've invested in a project in Uganda that is similar to ours. I think it's great that they enter the investment as a co-developer and work side by side with local companies.
Q6: Last year, Equinor and SSE were awarded the contract to develop the Dogger Bank Wind Farm, which will eventually become the world's largest of its kind when it is complete. How important will wind technology be between now and 2030?
Dogger Bank is unique. It is a mega project that could set a really cool precedent. However, it does not appear to be easily replicated. I believe that there is a place for wind. It is not quite applicable for what we do - building mini-grids. But it has a place. We need as many technologies as we can get and to use them where they are suitable.
Q7: Prominent critics point to the fact that onshore wind technology is visual pollution which contaminates the beautiful perception of natural landscapes. Critics also state that the logistics process for developing a farm creates an exceptionally large carbon footprint. What would you say is the biggest criticism of wind technology and why?
Those are the big ones! But to kind of push back on the first criticism: there is an incredible organization called Land Art Generator that works with architects, utilities, artists and cities to create generation sites that are also art. Check them out! They have done amazing work.
Q8: How can the millennial generation who may have interests in supporting green power get involved in your organization's community initiatives either online or across Africa?
Send me your resumes! We have a holistic approach to development, we do more than electrification. Our team is diverse in terms of academic disciplines. And I'm huge on the diversity of thought. Send me an email. DM me on social.