As the country grapples with inadequate power generation and supply, especially for industrial use, a switch in technology could help save the much-needed power for manufacturers.
This is not all, companies which usually spend millions of francs a year on electricity bills or replacing spoilt electric bulbs, can be able to reduce the bills by over 80 per cent if they adapt the new technology; LED lamps. LED lamp is a light-emitting diode (LED) product that is assembled into a lamp (or light bulb) for use in lighting fixtures.
Therefore, with many industries, government hospitals, office buildings and schools having to light their bulbs for an average of 12 to 24 hours, it is necessary to adapt LED lamps to save electricity and conserve the environment at the same time.
The ordinary bulb that has lit up our homes since the 1800s is being phased out.
The prime replacement for the incandescent light bulb has for long been thought to be the higher-efficiency compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), commonly known as energy saving bulbs. That is why the government through the Energy Water and Sanitation Authority in 2010 imported 400,000 CFL bulbs. But they also have their own problems, primarily the inclusion of toxic mercury in the design.
When they blow up, CFLs emit a very hazardous mercury vapour into the closed air environment of one's home or work place, which stays indefinitely.
Breathing in the mercury vapour or getting the mercury into any open sores or cuts on one's body would be dangerous to their health.
"Besides being mercury poison time-bombs, these bulbs are not more energy efficient. The cost to the environment in their manufacture is also dreadful," said Mary John, the chief executive officer of Sahasra Electronics Rwanda Limited.
That's where LED bulbs and tubes come in handy. Besides being an environmental-friendly technology, they are highly energy efficient.
Stated simply, a LED bulb produces light when electrons move around within its semi-conductor structure. Basically, instead of emitting light from a vacuum as is the case with incandescent bulbs or a gas as in CFL bulbs, a LED light emits light from a piece of solid matter referred to as a driver.
According to Mary, though LED bulbs are expensive, they have low energy consumption of between 50 to 85 per cent due to low wattage, while delivering the same amount of lumens, have extremely long life of 50,000 hours compared to conventional lights at between 2,000 and 10,000 hours. They are also designed to withstand voltage fluctuation of 90-265V to ensure the LED light does not fuse or get damaged, have low maintenance and replacement costs, turn on instantly, with almost no heat generation and do not contain ultra-violet or infrared radiation and do not break, which is an advantage to food industries. They have low early failure rate, do not contain toxic substances like mercury, arsenic and lead and are aesthetically designed to suit any ambience, as well as an easy retro fit.
"The initial cost for the lamps is high, but the payback period is short and the maintenance costs are low, considering the little power used," explained the Sahasra Electronics boss.
"Rwanda has installed capacity of about 110MW of power, out of this approximately 40 to 60 per cent is used for lighting. Assuming that 40 per cent of the power is used for lighting, by switching to LED lamps the country can save at least 65 per cent of the energy used for lighting.
This translates to 28.6MW of power that can potentially be saved immediately. This does put account the replacement and maintenance into bills associated with conventional lights."
Mary said with 28.6MW saved, complaints of shortages by industrialists would cease and more rural areas will be connected to the national power grid.
According to research by Sahasra Electronics, a company spends Rwf19m a year in total lighting expenses. However, if the same firm replaced the bulbs with LEDs, it would spend Rwf22.8m during the first year of conversion to LEDs and only Rwf3m in the subsequent years, representing a payback period of one year and three months.
"These lights are environmental-friendly compared to the bulbs we use today. Though there is still a problem of affordability, the Government is working with the Rwanda Housing Authority, the City of Kigali and district authorities to ensure that all government buildings, street lights, homes have LED lighting," said Ntare Karitanyi, the director general of the Energy and Water Sanitation Authority.
Rwanda is expected to produce its own LED lighting come March next year with the Sahasra Electronics production plant in the Kigali Special Economic Zone nearing completion.
The Government is optimistic that the plant, which will employ about 200 local electronic engineering graduates, will be handy in the drive of conserving electricity and the environment.
Karitanyi said feasibility studies were being carried out to see whether the bulbs would be subsidised to make them affordable to ordinary Rwandans.
A small LED bulb costs Rwf9,800, but the benefits are immense in the long-run.