The Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) says the country's target to connect 50 per cent homes to electricity by 2017 is within reach.
In an interview, the Director General of EWSA, Yves Muyange, said they expect to connect 100, 000 households to the national electric grid annually to achieve the country's target.
Access to electricity increased from 6 per cent in 2008 to 16 per cent in 2012.
If the country is to go by the current rate of connections per year, only 28.5 per cent of the population will be connected to electricity by 2017, which is slightly half of the country's target to connect 50 per cent homes to electricity.
This implies that for Rwanda to achieve its vision of connecting half of the entire population with electricity within the next five years, current connection activities must be rapidly tripled to keep the target alive.
Despite the opposing mathematics, the target is still within reach, according to the country's power provider, Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) - which firmly believes that the infrastructure and the resources are in place to ensure that the target is within reach. Excerpts
TNT: Isn't 50 per cent by 2017 an ambitious target considering the current rate of electricity connections?
Muyange: It is a matter of combined resources which are needed-including financial, logistical and technical capacity. We launched the electricity access roll out project in 2010 and when you look at the study and views from different experts, they said we would connect between 60,000 and 70,000 household with electricity in 2012. We however surpassed that and connected 96,000- and we want to keep the same pace by connecting at least 100,000 households every year, which is within our means.
If we do this every year, then the target will be met. It is based on the different capacities we are using, including combined technology in different areas. For example we use transformable technologies such as the single phase as well as the bi-phase and three-phase. These make the connections faster, cheaper and you reach many people.
TNT: The 2017 target was initially lower- what prompted its change?
Muyange: Because the plan was changed from a target of 30 per cent in Vision 2020 to 50 per cent connected to power by 2017, we had to upgrade our capacities.
We ordered for a master plan, which is being developed by SOFRECO, a European and internationally known consultancy firm; which will provide the designs needed to arrive at that number. The bill of quantities and the priority areas such as schools, villages and health centers to connect first are all catered for in the master plan, which they are now finalising soon. We will share it with the stakeholders because it also contains an investment plan and the logistical support we need to help us meet our targets.
The government has been supportive about it and it actually surpassed the contributions in the rural electrification project- so everything is in place to ensure that we go forward.
TNT: In its midterm review of the electricity access programme last year, EWSA reported that it incurred high costs of electricity production; won't this development affect your targets?
Muyange: You know when you are expanding the network at the pace we are doing, it means you are expanding the grid too much. We are overstretching the grid to connect 2000 kilometres per 100,000 households a year.
And in terms of operations and maintenance, the cost goes up again because we are putting substations, power cabins and lines which need to be operational and maintained- this is why the costs of power production last year went high.
We are working on a supply driven strategy by bringing electricity to every person, meaning that when you connect a large number of people, they do not immediately start to consume electricity.
Electricity consumption goes up with time because after getting power, people buy radios, start economic activities such as milling, open barber shops and the like, through which we recover the costs.
Therefore, the maintenance and operation costs were high because 50 per cent of the customers we connected in the last two years are consuming less than 25kilowatts per month, which is indeed low. But in the long run, consumption will increase and the situation will change.
TNT: Is the current infrastructure capable of holding the high rate of power connections you are making?
Muyange: We have new infrastructure but we have also rehabilitated the old infrastructure so as to have a balanced grid. We have some of the state-of-the-art infrastructure such as the Birembo Sub Station with a unique monitoring system. Having the new infrastructure and strengthening the old infrastructure will give us a good foundation.
We have conducted a grid audit which analyses the distribution of electricity straight from its generation all the way to end consumer- this is something we are working on to ensure that we monitor everything that happens in order to reduce the costs.
TNT: How often does Rwanda rely on imported electricity?
Muyange: Imports are less; they come from the shared Rusizi II infrastructure located in DRC, but the substation is in Rwanda. It serves the southern areas of Nyamirambo and Gikondo, but has been having maintenance problems. It is very unreliable therefore we no longer rely on it that much. We sometimes share power on demand basis with Uganda. When they need power to Kisoro we send, when we need power from Katuna they send- but we only do so when we have maintenance activities going.
TNT: How do you look at the regional power pool as a way of increasing electricity rollout in Rwanda?
Muyange: Power pools are the trend internationally and regionally. In Africa we have the South African, and the West African power pools which are already operational.
We are part of the Eastern Power Pool, which is now in the implementation phase after all studies are complete. As for Rwanda, we are going very well and have awarded a contract to do a line between Birembo and Mbarara.
Our regional substation is ready and the contract will be signed before the end of this month. We are also doing an evaluation for the line connecting Rwanda and DRC and another for Rwanda and Burundi. Studies for the transmission line between us and Tanzania are already complete and will be implemented after the social environment study is complete.
Interconnection with the region will help us to prepare for the future because it will ensure that we export power once we have excess production and also be able to import once we fall short.
TNT: Did 2012 go according to plan in terms of the power projects that were planned?
Muyange: There were lots of projects last year such as micro hydro power plants as well as the big projects like the Nyabarongo and Kivuwatt methane project with the capacity to produce 28MW and 25MW respectively.
All these projects are now operational and ready to produce electricity for Rwanda, and that is why 2012 could have been one of the best years in power production.
We were also able to rehabilitate and maintain several infrastructure at the sub stations, replaced all the spoilt polls with good quality polls and so on.
TNT: What are your priority actions in 2013?
Muyange: This year we will have to go through these projects so that they can bring a certain impact in the grid as soon as possible.
Most important we are also launching all the projects we signed last year, such as the 100MW we signed with a Turkish firm and the 15MW peat plant in Gishoma. There are also micro power plants being constructed by private investors, as well as many projects that will produce lower than 200KW which will help us to keep pace in our electricity roll out program.
We are going to begin big rehabilitation projects in old transmission areas like Butare, Musha, Jabana and Rwikwavu. This two year project will upgrade and strengthen our grid to mitigate the power cuts that Rwanda sometimes experiences.