The central East African land-locked country of Rwanda has one of the most ambitious renewable energy plans of any African country--indeed, of any country in the world. By the end of this year, it wants to ramp up renewable energy to account for 9o% of electricity generation. However, currently, more than 85% of the country's i million population have no access to the national electricity grid. Those that do are centred in the capital Kigali. That is one of the lowest percentages in Africa--only exceeded by neighbouring Burundi, Chad, and Liberia.
USAID's Africa Infrastructure Programme (AIP) says Rwanda can expand the small and medium enterprise sector, promote development of clean energy, increase electricity penetration, and avoid generation of up to 500,000 tons of [CO.sub.2] while creating tens of thousands of jobs through the expansion of the economy.
It states: "The AIP is reviewing all forms of renewable generation to expand the current system and reach the unserved population. Rwanda has hundreds of potential micro-hydro sites that could double the country's generating capacity and expand electrification rates to 35% of the population in 10 years."
"ALP is conducting a comprehensive assessment of the necessary tariff structure for micro-hydro, solar, geothermal, and wind sources and providing assistance in applying the structure to the power purchase agreements with the first group of micro-hydro projects."
"This renewable energy feed-in tariff framework will encourage private-sector investment in the sector to expand generation capacity." While nobody is suggesting that renewable energy systems are a silver bullet for all of Africa's energy challenge, Rwanda seems convinced that a low carbon strategy is appropriate for the country.
It is as if the Rwandan government has taken to heart the words of the 2004 Nobel Laureate, the late Wangari Maathai, of Kenya, who commented: "Africa can leapfrog the polluting and carbon-intensive development model that is the legacy of most Western countries."
Maathai was also on record as saying that Africans should show global leadership on an issue that is critical to the future of the planet. For Rwanda, which has posted impressive economic growth, averaging 8.5% in the five years to 2010, adding energy security derived from renewable energy systems to the list of reasons that the country has become an investment magnet--including the ease of doing business, a strong rule of law and a vibrant ICT sector--would transform the economic climate.
Currently, Rwanda's main energy source is biomass, especially timber fuel from the fast-growing eucalyptus tree. Yet the government says that Rwanda has over 1,000MW of electricity-generating potential, from geothermal, methane gas, peat deposits, biogas, regional hydro, small-scale hydro and solar photovoltaic arrays.
As a government paper, Green Growth and Climate Resilience, published at the end of last year noted: "Rwanda has chosen to embark on a low carbon development pathway. To do this, it needs to reduce its dependence on oil, which has the benefits of supporting energy security, reducing vulnerability to oil price spikes, channeling finances into the local economy, creating jobs, promoting economic development and reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions."
"Rwanda is in the fortunate position of having a renewable low carbon energy resource mix which is the foundation for a low carbon economy. Although diesel is currently used for 39% of electricity production, this can be phased out and replaced with geothermal, hydro and solar which are all clean energy sources."
One unconventional source of energy is Lake Kivu's proven methane reserves. At a depth of hundreds of metres below the surface, the bottom of the lake has unexploited energy to meet Rwanda's needs for 200 years. …