Rwanda: Govt Seeks New Technologies to Make Biogas Affordable

15 December 2022

The government of Rwanda is considering the introduction of sustainable and affordable technologies to produce biogas for cooking, The New Times has learnt.

The move comes amidst the high rate of non-operating biogas plants which cast doubt on the sustainability of the biogas program which started in 2007.

Biogas is a clean, environmentally-friendly, and renewable energy obtained from biodegradable organic material such as kitchen, animal, and human waste.

As Rwanda seeks to reduce its dependence on the use of biomass from 79.9 per cent in 2018 to 42 per cent by 2024, biogas was identified as one of the sources of clean cooking technologies that are still relevant.

However, the auditor general report which was released in 2022 noted that out of 9,610 constructed biogas plants, 5,157 (representing 54 per cent of total constructed biogas plants) were not operating (compared to 4,309 representing 53 per cent in 2020) mainly due to lack of capacity to maintain biogas plants.

This left beneficiaries with no option but to use firewood or charcoal as fuel.

The problems were mainly attributed to the failure to repair and maintain the plants by beneficiaries, technical construction defects, and improper feeding [of cows which lead to low dung production].

Biogas digesters need cow dung to power their operations but an assessment by members of parliament found that the biogas project was not successful pointing out that it was executed without a comprehensive study.

It was considered that one or two cows were enough for the operation of one biogas digester, yet it should base more on the amount of cow dung which is determined by how much feed a cow consumes.

The New Times has established that the ministry of infrastructure is carrying out a study that will inform sustainable and affordable biogas technology.

"Currently, the Ministry is carrying out an evaluation study that shall come out with recommendations on feasible technologies that can fit Rwanda's context. The study is still going on.

The study started by analysing the existing technologies in the country and what can be done to make them more productive," the Manager for clean cooking and biogas use at Energy Development Corporation Ltd (EDCL), told The New Times.

Call for civil society and private sector role

A conference that took place from December 13 to December 14 in Kigali concluded that there is a need for enhancing the capacity of CSOs and the private sector to play a meaningful role in the realisation of renewable energy access for Sub-Saharan Africa.

In a statement, the World Resources Institute, the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), and the African Coalition for Sustainable Energy & Access (ACSEA) committed to mobilise key stakeholders, notably CSOs and private actors working in the energy access, as well as the climate change space, to build their technical expertise to better understand and engage with the energy access planning and financing space.

One of the key areas to be focused on is the critical role of the productive use of renewable energy in promoting increased access to, and consumption of clean energy, as well as enhancing rural economic growth and development.

Elyse Umugwaneza, Managing Director of Women in Sustainable Energy (WISE) told The New Times the company is working on affordable technology by transforming soft waste into Biogas for cooking in rural areas.

"We are working on a biogas project using soft waste but we are still at the testing level since we have samples. Our biogas will be affordable because we make it from soft waste from landfills which is cheap compared to getting cow dung.

We predicted that the price of biogas we are making will be Rwf1, 060, a decrease from about Rwf1,400. We could put the product on market in July next year," she said.

An Israeli firm, HomeBiogas, will soon start supplying biogas systems to farmers in Eastern Province that will be used to turn farm waste into renewable energy.

Faustin Vuningoma, the Coordinator of Rwanda Climate Change and Development Network (RCCDN) told The New Times that there is a need for more investments to scale up renewable energy so that it becomes affordable when used in cooking.

"Electricity should be increased and made affordable to the extent that it can even be used for cooking. If households have already access to electricity in Rwanda, it is time that this energy can also be used for cooking," he said.

Despite the need for renewable energy for cooking, studies have shown that seven in ten people living in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity leading to slow down in achieving development goals.

"Civil society organisations should play major roles in bringing about more advocacy and capacity building in regard to access to sustainable and accessible renewable energy," he said.

He said that the private sector should invest more in renewable energy, adding that civil society can carry out studies and advocacy to guide investments in the right direction.

"As civil society raises funds, these should also promote renewable energy. Africa needs $11 billion to scale up renewable energy. Governments should subsidize the cost to access renewable energy," he noted.

According to Charles Mwangi, the Head of Programmes and Research at the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, poor access to energy in rural areas is slowing down development growth in Africa.

The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance is a consortium of more than 1000 organisations from 51 African countries aimed to address climate and environmental challenges facing humanity and the planet.

Mwangi said that there is a need for access to affordable and reliable energy for community facilities including schools and health/clinics, which will be central to the delivery of needed services, thus affecting positively the well-being of the underserved populations in rural areas as well as other places

"The energy demand in Africa has been increasing at an annual rate of around 3 per cent, the highest among all continents, but energy supply continues to lag significantly," said Benson Ireri, an expert from World Resources Institute.

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