By: Habimana Jean Damascene, Graduate Teaching Assistant at Carnegie Mellon University Africa
At glance, renewable energy can be strategically defined as any sustainable and clean energy source. As with many other sub–Saharan African countries, Rwanda has a considerable level of useful renewable energy sources including biomass, solar, hydropower, and geothermal energy which is still under deep investigations. On this occasion we will develop an understanding of the status of renewable energy use in Rwanda, a landlocked country of 26 338 km2, situated in East-Central Africa with a population of around 13 million people and 238.36 MW of total power generation capacity. Among other development strategies, the country has targeted 100% electrification by 2024 with 70% on-grid and 30% off-grid. As of March 2022, the cumulative connectivity rate is 69.80% of Rwandan households including 49.23% connected to the national grid and 20.57% accessing through off-grid systems (mainly solar).
Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda is transitioning from using non-renewable to renewable energy sources. A 2021 report by the Rwanda Ministry of Infrastructure reported that 62.3% of total power generated were delivered from renewable energy source. The same review had reported only 53% in 2018 .
As the above graph indicates, oil is the most used fuel in Rwanda for power generation (accounting for over 50% in 2020). Hydropower accounts for more than 40% of the total electricity generated in Rwanda and thus is the most used renewable energy source currently and is projected to remain so in the future. Solar energy contribution in the electricity mix increased from 0% in 2013 to nearly 13% in 2016 before it smoothly stabilized at around 5% from 2018 to 2020. Other renewables like biomass account for around 2% of the total electricity generated. Wind depicted 0% usage because Rwanda is situated in a low-speed wind region. Nuclear energy source is still under investigation and is expected to severely be used in medical sector. Below we will elaborate on each type of renewable energy source available in Rwanda.
The hydropower generation accounts 123.4MW equivalent to 51.2% of the total power generation (REG, 2022). More than 37 hydropower plants are interconnected to the national grid and inject around 120 MW to the grid. Some of generation facilities are owned by Independent Power Producers and others are publicly owned. In addition to this, 11 micro-plants are distributed across the country and offer off-grid services. They were developed by the government and handed over to the private sector to increase their participation in the energy market.
With an average irradiation of 4.99 kWh/m2/day, Rwanda has a high potential for solar energy deployment. Currently solar energy is used by both on-grid and off-grid utilities aggregating to a total of 5% of the energy injected to the grid. Major grid-connected solar power plants include an 8.3 MW project within the Agahozo Youth village in the Eastern province built in collaboration with Global Gigawatt along with a 3.3 MW plant in Nasho, designed and built primarily to support irrigation and lighting for the local community. There is also Jali power plant located in Gasabo and producing 0.25 MW.
Rwanda has several off grid solar companies, such as Arc Power Ltd., Bboxx, MySol and SoEnergy which sell electricity to the population via either a small distribution line or an isolated single-family dropout package composed of a PV module, control unit and customised loads. Arc Power ltd which is based in Eastern province, operates two collocated sites by generating electricity from a solar farm and then use recycling and repurposing shipping containers to house inverters, batteries, and control modules. They transport power through a three-phase distribution line to end-users who are required to buy and use company approved loads. Other companies like Bboxx ship and sell PV modules, control units, and various loads in a single package. Their customers are encouraged to pay in instalments to reduce the upfront cost. Companies like Mysol and SoEnergy have the same business model but not as popular or as deeply entrenched to significantly impact the population like Bboxx.
Rwanda, like many other sub-Saharan African countries, has high dependence on agricultural and cattle raising activities especially in rural settings. Consequently, more than 90% of the population find it affordable to use biomass like food leftovers, crop residue, animal dung and other scrap material for cooking and lighting. To curb CO2 emissions and deforestation, Rwanda is partnering with Homebiogas to execute a second pilot project targeting people living in Kigali . Additional effort is being engaged with the Government of Luxembourg to recycle the waste collected around Kigali and convert it into electricity to be fed into the existing grid and to produce other valuable products like aerobic compost to fertilise crops . Peat is another biomass resource in Rwanda. Peat is a spongy material resulting from incomplete decomposition of organic matter and is available in wetlands. Rwanda has up to 155 million tonnes of peat covering a combined area of 50,000 hectares. Rwanda relies on Peat for around 7% of the total power generation capacity. The two main projects that comprise this include Gishoma, a 15 MW peat plant commissioned in 2017 and Hakan, an 80 MW peat plant which is still under construction and currently operates at 40% of its capacity
Through different research studies conducted by Rwanda Energy Group-Energy Development Corporation limited (REG-EDCL) Rwanda has identified four geothermal potential prospects, Karisimbi, Gisenyi, Bugarama and Kinigi. So far, only two exploration wells have been drilled in Karimbi to 3,015 and 1,367 m depth, respectively. The temperature in the two wells were consistent to the normal continental geothermal gradient thus, concluding there are no geothermal reservoirs under the drilled wells. However there are ongoing investigations in the two remaining sites .
Discussion about Rwanda’s plans regarding renewable energy
In its strategic plan of 2017-2024, REG has targeted to increase the share of renewable energy in power generation and use diesel plants as standby reserves from 2020 onwards. The reinforced Energy Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) published in 2018 by MININFRA, highlighted the need to increase power generation to meet the ever-growing demand while ensuring cost competition. It also targeted power system targets including; 15% reserve margin, less than 15% of transmission and distribution losses, lower than 92 hours of yearly outage, 100% electricity access and most importantly achieving 52% and 60% renewable share in energy generation mix by 2024 and 2030 respectively . A 2019 IRENA report confirmed the attainability of those targets with a strong recommendation to enable major shift in generation planning from hydropower to solar PV, which will quickly bring electricity to the population especially in rural areas where 83% of the country’s population live with electricity access of 23% (World Bank,2020). This will however require the shift of long-term plans from centralised generation and grid extension to encouraging private power investors who can build solar plants connected to battery storage and solar home systems enhanced with emerging digital technology like smart meters, sensors and intelligent business model like pay-as-you-go. Another key recommendation made by IRENA regards the enabling of grid-connected decentralised energy resources like PV which can not only give returns to prosumers but also improve reliability of national grid and provide ancillary services. The same report recommends to tie the power supply to the productive end-uses like local manufacturing, modern agriculture and many more to ensure improved socio-economic benefits of energy access .
In this article, we have developed an understand of the types, applications, and strategic plans for renewable energy in Rwanda. A report from IRENA recommended to shift from hydropower to decentralized solar photovoltaics (PV) to quickly eradicate energy poverty particularly in rural settings. The country has high solar irradiance, and this attracts both local and international Independent Power Producers to invest in solar home systems, mini-grids, and utility-scale plants. Several reports by the REG have emphasized the importance of increasing power generation from renewable energy sources to support economic development and meet the growing demand.
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