RWAMAGANA, Rwanda — Solar Power in Rwanda? This past February marked the launch of the first-ever utility-scale solar energy project in East Africa. The 8.5 megawatt solar panel is located at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, near Rwamagana, Rwanda. Constructed in less than a year, Gigawatt Global’s $23.7 million solar project has increased Rwanda’s energy generation capacity by 6 percent.
Although the number is growing, only about 15 percent of Rwanda’s population has access to electricity — and in the countryside, where the vast majority of the population lives, the proportion is closer to 1-2 percent. Roughly half of Rwanda’s energy currently comes from generators, while the other half comes from expensive diesel fuel. Along with having limited access to electricity, the country is also held back from economic development because of its over-reliance on imported diesel fuel.
As an American-owned Dutch company dedicated to bringing renewable energy to emerging markets, Gigawatt Global saw an opportunity in Rwanda, as the country’s sunny climate provides optimal conditions for conducting solar energy. With funding from several sources across the globe, including U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s Africa Clean Energy Finance grant, the company completed the project in record time in 2014.
As stated in Gigawatt Global’s Socioeconomic Impact Summary for the project, the solar field should greatly reduce the rate of deforestation, as less energy will need to come from burning wood. It was also calculated that the solar field will reduce emission of greenhouse gasses, and should save approximately 8,000 tons of CO2 annually. The project is set to supply energy for 25 years.
Along with being environmentally friendly and increasing electricity generation, the solar field has created local employment and educational opportunities. There are also countless indirect benefits to the Rwandan standard of living. The increased access to electricity is expected to increase school performance for tens of thousands of Rwandan children. It is also estimated that millions of hours of labor are to be saved from biomass fuel collection.
In a public statement in February, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed support for the expansion of electricity generation in Rwanda. He commended Gigawatt Global for its commitment to sustainability, stating that, “With continually decreasing costs, minimal maintenance, and no fuel costs, renewable energy makes more sense now than ever before, especially in remote settings.” He also emphasized the importance of U.S. assistance toward the project, stating that with widespread support, “Projects like Gigawatt Global’s…. underscore that the best path to energy access and economic development is also the sustainable path of clean energy.”
Gigawatt Global is one of approximately 100 private sector parts of President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative, which aims to pool international resources to increase energy access across Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Chaim Motzen, managing director and co-founder of Gigawatt Global, the solar field already serves as proof of the effectiveness of such projects in the area.
“We hope that this solar field serves as a catalyst for many more sustainable energy projects in the region,” he said.
Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, agreed with the sentiment, stating in a press release by Gigawatt Global, “Gigawatt Global in Rwanda is a clear demonstration that solar will be a key part of Africa’s energy solution.”
– Arin Kerstein