By Joseph Mudingu, The New Times
In line with the Rwanda’s economic development targets, the country is projecting a 100% access to electricity by 2024 as it is a crosscutting driver of economic growth.
Given that the grid expansion will take time to reach all households, the energy sector strategic plan stipulates the use of off-grid solutions, including solar home systems and mini-grids as a viable alternative to grid connections.
Off-grid electricity access is now viewed internationally as an important tool in the drive to increase global electricity access. Off-grid incorporates mini-grids and solar home systems fitted to individual houses.
Rwanda Energy Group (REG) has developed a specific national electrification plan mapping all areas to be electrified and technologies to be used, either on-grid or off-grid. It is expected that 48% of all households will have their electricity needs met by off-grid solutions by 2024 while 52% remaining will be connected to the grid.
Encouraging demand for off-grid electricity services while also ensuring that the private sector will be able to immediately serve such demand with affordable products will rapidly increase the uptake of solar systems. The Government of Rwanda thanks to the support from Development Partners, has been catalyzing the off-grid market growth to the extent envisioned.
In July 2017, the Government of Rwanda signed a $ 48.94 Million funding agreement with the World Bank to be used in the off-grid electrification. The fund was channeled through Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) under the Renewable Energy Fund (REF) which objective is to help overcome financial barriers to scaling up the deployment of standalone solar home systems and renewable energy mini-grids in Rwanda.
The fund allows qualified savings and credit co-operatives (SACCOs) and commercial banks to open local currency lines of credit to provide affordable loans to their customers – both households and small businesses, for solar systems purchases.
The Acting Director of Primary & Social Energies Development, Ms. Uwera Rutagarama said that a nation-wide campaign is being conducted in all off-grid areas to ensure that citizens understand the need to buy and use solar home systems. These systems are easy to install, there is just a need to change the mindsets of those thinking that access is only on-grid. So far, a total of 24 private companies have signed partnership agreements with REG through its Energy Development Subsidiary Company.
Beneficiaries share their appreciation
Residing in Ntarama sector in Bugesera district, Bizimana Jean Paul is a happily married father of two children. He says that the village where he comes from had no hope of ever getting electricity. His children struggled to do their homework at home because they had no source of lighting and he was always skeptical about using candles for fear of burning his house.
“Our children would go to bed as early as 7pm and this always affected their performance at school. As soon as it got dark, all activities would seize not only at home but in the whole village until we acquired a prepaid solar system.” Bizimana says. Mutimukeye Innocent lives in Musenyi sector and has been using solar home system for 3 years. He also started a barber shop using solar powered hair clippers.
‘‘At the beginning I paid 31,000 FRW to get this solar system and now I pay 21,000 every month up to the day I will have paid the whole cost. I was given a solar panel, battery, TV set, telephone, radio and 3 lamps. All this will serve me for at least 20 years as per my agreement with the provider. Since I got this system up to today, it’s working perfectly” he said.
Mutimukeye says that the business he has started thanks to the solar system has enabled him to provide for his family of 3 children and also get the monthly due payment to Mobisol.
Munganyika Jackline is a single mother of three children and a resident of Ntarama sector in Bugesera district. Like many village mates, she cannot hide her joy when asked how the new off grid connections in their village has changed their living conditions.
Before being connected to the off grid, the sector was among the most underserved areas when it comes to electricity. Villagers still relied heavily on diesel and kerosene for fuel, a costly investment for many who earn less than 1$ per day.
According to Munganyika, it’s hardly 5 months since she received her solar kit from Ignite Power a major solar power company in Rwanda that provides affordable and sustainable energy access to the rural poor.
“Things changed when we received the solar kits and we said bye-bye to darkness which was our main problem. You had to do everything that require light before dark and that meant cooking and cleaning. We were always in fear of darkness and using kerosene lamps which give limited light” says Muganyika
As of today, about 51% of Rwandan households have access to electricity, including 37% connected to the grid while 14% are using off-grid technologies. The country’s total installed power capacity is around 221 megawatts while a number of power plants are under construction and are expected to add more than 300 additional megawatts by 2024.