Rwanda will almost double its electrical generating capacity this year, thanks to a unique local source – peat power – that is expected to last for about 30 years. It is part of achieving its ambitious target of achieving universal electricity connectivity by 2024. As of now, 65% of Rwandan households have access to power, either via the grid or via non-grid solutions such as solar or thermal.
Rwanda’s newly-built $350-million Gisagara plant, located in remote southern Rwanda alongside the Akanyaru river, is the second largest in Africa and the largest of its kind in East Africa. When it starts operations this year, it is expected to increase Rwanda’s national electricity generation capacity by 40% – bringing power to about 300,000 people – while reducing expensive fossil and diesel fuel imports by about 40%.
Studies show that Rwandan peat bogs contain up to 155 million tonnes of dry peat over a combined area of 50,000 hectares, says the Rwanda Energy Group. About 77% of those reserves are near Akanyaru and Nyabarongo rivers and the Rwabusoro Plains, the remote areas where the Gisagara plant has been built.
“Rwanda is currently heavily dependent on imported diesel fuel, which makes the existing electricity production very expensive as well as highly polluting,” says Antti Malve, area director for Europe and Africa with Fortum, a Finnish company with particular expertise in peat-based technologies which is providing operations and maintenance for the project.
“When you have to resort to importing energy, it costs a lot. Rwanda has limited natural resources to produce power on its own. Peat is Rwanda’s own large natural resource. This power plant will thus have an important role in the energy strategy of Rwanda. It will also have a positive economic impact on the local community and infrastructure.”
Gisagara is now expected to begin providing 70 megawatts of electricity into the national grid as of October 2021; construction was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, the largest plant was Nyabarongo Hydro Power Plant, which produces 28 megawatts of electricity.
A pilot peat plant, which was the first of its kind in Africa, was developed at Gishoma starting in 2010 to demonstrate the technology. Finished in 2017, it produces 15 MW of power.
The Gisagara plant will produce 80 megawatts of electricity, 70 megawatts of which will be connected to the national grid while the remaining 10 megawatts will be retained for the plant’s daily operations. The project was named the Africa Power Deal of the Year in the Infrastructure Journal Global Awards 2017.
YUMN Ltd. built the Hakan-Quantum plant on a build, operate, own and transfer basis and has signed a 26-year power purchase agreement with the Rwandan government. It was incorporated by Hakan Madencilik A.S, a Turkish coal trading company; Quantum Power, an international power firm; and project developer Themis. Project backers include the Africa Finance Corporation, Finnfund, PTA Bank, Afrexim Bank, Development Bank of Rwanda, and Exim Bank of India.
As well as creating both direct and indirect jobs, including 915 construction jobs, in a remote area, the project’s access road has brought scheduled bus transportation for the first time, helping to bring business and educational opportunities to area residents. The project also will help the local communities with potable water, education and health related issues.
During 2020-2021, solar home systems were installed in 72,202 households in Rwanda, and 178,221 households were connected to the grid. This has meant 65% of Rwandan households now have access to electricity through the grid (47.2%) or off-grid solutions. (17.8%). A new subsidy has been created to enable poor households in off-grid areas to afford solar home systems.
2020/2021: More than 72,000 households were provided with solar home systems. Rwanda Energy Group. Aug. 3, 2021
Rwanda Largest Peat,-To-Power Plant Delayed By COVID-19. KT Press, Jul. 11, 2021
Rwanda: Electricity Production From Gisagara Peat-Fuelled Plant Begins Next Year. AllAfrica, Sep, 2, 2020
Rwanda turns a new leaf in its energy strategy with services from Fortum eNext. Fortum, Jan. 28, 2019