Government has set an ambitious energy production target to see 563 megawatts (MW) of energy realised by 2017 in order to reduce the country's electricity deficit.
The target may seem far-fetched; however, considering the ongoing developments in the hydropower and alternative energy sources in the country, the government is on track to meet the high energy demands of a rapidly increasing population.
For Rwanda, like any other country in the region, lack of access to adequate power remains an obstacle to achieving development targets.
According to available statistics only 17 per cent of the population in Rwanda has access to electricity.
For the past few years, a lot has been invested in the extraction of methane gas in Lake Kivu and geothermal energy on Mount Karisimbi. While no power has been extracted so far, officials have remained optimistic. Numerous targets were set for the power generation from the lake Kivu methane gas, however, none have been met. Yet, considering that additional financial agreements have been signed and works on site have proceeded, hope is not lost.
Speaking to The New Times last week Vincent Bahingana, a technical advisor at the Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA), said that 563MW target will require an investment capital estimated at $1.8 billion.
According to the energy sector strategic plan and roadmap 2013-2017, the government plans to increase the country's installed capacity from 110.8MW to 563 MW by 2017 mainly from hydro, peat, methane, geothermal and solar.
"The target is achievable because of the promising ongoing projects and those ones in the pipeline. We hope to add 87MW to the national grid by the end of 2014 from 28MW Nyabarongo hydro power plant, Rukarara II hydro power plant (2.2MW), Giciye hydro power plant (4MW), six micro hydro plants with 4MW of Shili 1, Nyabahanga, Nyirabuhombohombo, Mukungwa II, Janja and Gashashi," he explained.
He added that 25MW from Kivuwatt methane project, Gigawatt Global Solar Plant (8.5MW) and Gishoma peat plant (15MW) are among the projects that will enable the country achieve the set target.
According to EWSA, the planned power generation will comprise peat (estimated at 200MW), methane (additional 100MW), hydro (additional 63MW), geothermal (90MW) and solar 18.5MW).
Bahingana said that Rwanda is playing an active role in interconnection projects (mainly 220KV lines) with her neighbours especially Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania to import and export high capacity of energy.
He stated that the target was set based on projected growth in power demand for households, industries and commercial establishments, however, achieving the 2017 electricity target, requires massive investment from the private sector.
Since the beginning of 2013, Rwanda has signed million dollar projects including the $23 million (Rwf15 billion) energy deal with a Dutch firm to develop an 8.5 Megawatts solar power plant, Rwf241 billion agreement with an Indian company, Punj Lloyd to develop 100 MW of peat energy and a $15 million (Rwf9.7billion) with a Swiss firm, Renewable Energy For Accelerated Development (REFAD) to develop a 5 MW hydro power plants in the Southern Province among others.
Last week, the World Bank approved $340 million (about Rwf220 billion) toward financing of the long-awaited 80 MW Rusumo hydropower project that is expected to serve Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.
Last year, in September, the government also signed 120MW peat energy pact with Hakan Mining and Generation Industry and Trade Inc, a Turkish firm to develop and manage a peat extraction and electricity generating plant.
The 220 million Euros plant will be located at South Akanyaru in Gisagara District in the Southern Province. It will be implemented in two phases with the first 80 MW coming by End of 2017 and remaining 40 MW by 2020.
Beyond the signing of finance deals
While there are questions whether Rwanda will realise the power generation targets within the agreed period, officials are determined to meet the goals. Electricity is central to enhancing the country's competitiveness making increased access to power a top priority.
According to Bahingana who is also the advisor to the EWSA Deputy Director General in charge of Energy, some of the recently signed projects were at their initial stages of implementation but it doesn't mean that their operation will not be realised.
To achieve a middle income status, according to EWSA, electricity generation will have to grow by at least 100 MW annually for the next four years to sustain the expected growth across sectors.
According to Rwanda Development Board, 40 to 50 per cent of investment projects become operational within one year.
Solar, peat and geothermal energy potential
The current generation capacity for solar is 280 kilowatt-peak (KWp) which is generated by two on-grid plants of 250KWp located at Mont Jali and a 30KWp at Nelson Mandela Education Centre in Bugesera district, Eastern Province.
Bahingana said that presently there is no generation from peat despite the fact that the plans to extract power from peat are underway.
The total geothermal potential is 320 MW and plans are underway to add 60 MW to the national Grid by 2017. There are four prospects of geothermal in the districts of Nyabihu, Gisenyi, Rubavu, Musanze, Bugarama and Rusizi.
As for the methane project, Kivuwatt ltd, a Rwandan subsidiary of an American company Contour Global is currently extracting methane from Lake Kivu in Karongi District, western province.
"The construction of the power plant was completed however the gas extraction has reached 70 percent completion," said EWSA official.
Phasing out expensive rental diesel powered plants
According to EWSA, major challenges facing Rwanda's energy sector include the imbalance in demand and supply of power, inadequate financing and expensive thermal power.
"The power demand is currently almost equal to the available capacity which leaves hardly any reserve margin. Measures have been undertaken to address the above issues," noted Bahingana.
According to the Energy plan of 2013-2017,EWSA expects to gradually ensure a more sustainable energy mix and phase out expensive rental diesel by 2016 that constitutes 40 per cent of the current electricity capacity.
"With 563MW by 2017 and having phased out rental power, electricity prices are expected to reduce gradually."
Boosting energy generation will not only attract investment to the country, but will also greatly improve the welfare of ordinary Rwandans. The stakes are high, leaving the concerned authorities with no option but to closely follow up on each of the projects, right from signing all through to power generation, giving whatever support may be necessary.