While most nights Kigali city is a 'sea of light', many parts of Rwanda, especially remote locations, remain dark. But the government is determined to end this in five years time with a plan to produce at least 1,000 MW of electricity by 2017. This, it's anticipated, will leave 70% of the population connected.
Recently, when the Prime Minister appeared in Parliament to brief legislators of this ambitious objective, he told them the feat will cost Rwanda a staggering US$ 4.7billion, almost three entire national budgets. Dr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi told legislators that even though the cost was high, the investment's results will be worth the efforts as huge stocks energy are tipped to reduce the cost of electricity significantly which will in turn bolster industrial growth and general economic development.
Currently, Rwanda has one of the highest unit prices of electricity with only 16% of the population having access to electricity, and current installed national production capacity reportedly being 110MW.
In reaction to the Premier's progress report, the legislators expressed a need to pace up efforts to beat the deadline.
About 40% of Rwanda's electricity is generated from thermal energy from the Jabana plant which is very expensive to run. It was what you would call 'an emergency' response by government in 2008 when industrial growth sharply increased the demand of power necessitating for an urgent source of additional supplies. "It was cheaper to construct and that's why government was advised to take the option," said the plant's supervisor in a recent interview with The Rwanda Focus.
But the supervisor adds that while the thermal plant was easier to build, running it is an expensive affair. According to him, Jabana plant has three engines with each requiring at least 1,400 liters of heavy fuel per hour to run to produce only 20 mega watts of electricity. A liter of heavy fuel, which the country has to import, costs minimum Frw 900 while lighter fuel (diesel) which is normally used to clean up the engines, is more expensive.
Yet EWSA can't afford to switch off a single engine at any time as the impact would vex many Rwandans. "Shutting down just one engine would leave at least two districts without power," says Jabana's supervisor.
For the month of November, Jabana consumed over 95,000 litres of fuel to keep the lights on.
1.2 million conncections
The expensive cost of running Jabana gives an idea of how urgent and vital the government's efforts are to boost electricity production through less expensive sources.
According to the country's Electricity Development Strategy 2011-2017, electricity connections are projected to increase from 200,000 to around 1.2 million by 2017, which will be equivalent to 50% of access.
Top on the government's priorities are schools, health centers, government offices at sector level, all of which it is said will be fully connected by 2017either to the national grid or through reliable off-grid systems.
The electricity consumption projections suggest that domestic demand is expected to account for 60% of peak demand, while cross-border mining projects are expected to represent 20% with sub regional electricity markets consuming the remaining 20%.
The country's current energy stock of 110 mega watts will be boosted by new production of at least 50.5 MW by the end of 2013.
To generate part of the 1000 MW ultimate production, hydro sources (energy from water) will contribute 320 MW, methane gas on Lake Kivu will generate 300 MW, geothermal will add 310 MW while peat energy will produce around 200MW.
About 90km from Kigali, in the remote district of Ngororero, works of constructing a dam on the Nyabarongo River are under way with half of the work completed. Once completed in April 2014, this US$ 97.7 million project will have the capacity to produce up to 28 MW of hydropower.
There's also the Rusizi III hydropower project on the Rusizi River being developed by Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. With the feasibility study concluded, the project will commence in 2013 at an estimated cost of US$ 565 million, where upon conclusion its planned 145 MW will be shared equally by three countries.
The US$ 400 million Rusumo Falls hydro project, an undertaking by Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania will also start in 2013 and is expected to generate around 90 MW for the three countries to share equally.
There are other smaller projects such as the Ntaruka A in Nyaruguru district whose works will start towards the end of 2013 to cost €10 million for 2 MW, Nyabarongo II hydro project in Gankeke district in Northern Rwanda where US$ 150 million will be invested to produce between 12-17 MW.
There's also another 'bundle of projects' at 20 different sites in the country whose combined effort will generate 9 MW at an estimated cost of between US$ 25 and US$ 30 million.
Lake Kivu contains about 300 billion Cu of methane and 60 billion Cu of gas and in a year the lake generates between 120 and 250 million Cu methane and Rwanda sees a ripe source of energy with experts saying the lake has potential to generate 700 MW of electricity over the next 55 years.
If all these major projects succeed, Rwanda will win the race against darkness in time.