Securing access to electricity in rural areas: Assessing the transformational change potential of Uganda’s Geothermal Energy Development Policy


  • Government of Uganda
  • UNEP DTU Partnership


The government of Uganda has envisioned a 30-year strategic plan to transform Uganda into a competitive upper middle income country. A critical step for this development is to meet the energy needs of the Ugandan population in an environmentally sustainable manner, which the government has pledged to fulfil.

In doing so, the government is looking into the potential of its geothermal areas located in remote and rural areas of western Uganda, and where few people are connected to the electricity grid. Recognizing the potential benefits of geothermal energy in providing a clean, reliable and secure source of energy, the government set the ambitious goal of developing geothermal energy up to a planned capacity of 450 MW by 2030 and to 1,500 MW by 2040 to meet the country’s future energy needs.

In 2014, the Geothermal Resources Department was created and is responsible for exploration and development of geothermal resources. It has produced a draft for a Geothermal Energy Development Policy in Uganda with support of the Climate Technology Centre and Network, and is still pending for approval.


  • Assess the potential transformational impacts related to geothermal energy development in Uganda, with a focus on social and environmental considerations.
  • Assess the various drivers of change and main challenges Uganda is facing to enforce a geothermal energy development policy to build capacity and to provide insights on how to overcome current barriers to move forward in the policy design process.
  • Demonstrate how a Planetary Boundaries absolute sustainability approach to transformational impact assessment can be applied and used as a complement to the Transformational Change Assessment Guide.


Following the step-by-step transformational change methodology, an ex-ante assessment was applied to the case of geothermal energy development in Uganda as a pilot in order to provide further clarity on the transformational impacts associated with the implementation of the policy. Based on when the objectives of the policy are intended to be met, 2040 was chosen as the end of the assessment period.

The Transformational Change Assessment Guide was strictly followed to assess processes of change, while the Doughnut methodology was supplementarily used to help assess outcomes of change. Based on the Planetary Boundaries absolute sustainability approach, the Doughnut methodology[1] helps to quantitatively assess – and with a forward-looking vision – the social and environmental impacts of policies on an absolute scale.

In addition, the assessment included a strong participatory approach, including discussions with policy makers and private and public actors involved in geothermal energy development, which helped include local perspectives as part of the qualitative assessment.


The transformation expected to be achieved by a geothermal energy development policy in Uganda is possible, while the extent of change is moderate. Additionally:

  • The results highlight the challenges and barriers leaders of geothermal energy development are facing. While ambitious objectives have been set regarding the development of this new technology and source of energy in the official Uganda Vision 2040, barriers of change remain numerous and significant (hence the likelihood of change being characterized as “possible”).
  • If geothermal energy were to be developed, the extent of the transformation is expected to be moderate, with large mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions compared to other sources of energy used to meet the energy needs (e.g. diesel generators).
  • If implemented, the policy could significantly contribute to achieving the development targets set out in the Uganda Vision 2040 by enhancing the fraction of the population with access to electricity (from 19.0% in 2018 to 56% in 2040) as well as the life expectancy (from 57 years in 2018 to 66 in 2040). Yet, by looking at the baseline values for the years 2010 and 2018 giving insights on the current trend, it seems unlikely that such ambitious targets are to be met by 2040, and the extent to which geothermal energy could be developed remains largely uncertain.

Figure 1: Assessment results for transformational change potential

Lessons learned

The assessment illustrated how an absolute sustainability Planetary Boundaries approach, when adopted ex-ante to evaluate the outcomes of change, could complement the existing version of the ICAT Transformational Change Assessment Guide. The extent of the transformation is therefore scored based on estimated impacts entailed by the policy compared against absolute thresholds defining a truly sustainable state for Uganda. This approach is believed to have strengthened the assessment and the characterization of expected transformational outcomes entailed by a policy, supporting the definition of transformational change.

More information

For more information about the Transformational Change Assessment Guide or any of the ICAT series of Policy Assessment Guides, please contact the ICAT Secretariat.

View the complete case study here



[1] Raworth, K., 2017. A Doughnut for the Anthropocene: Appendix. Heal. Lancet Planet.

Image credit: Joostv