How Africa’s quickest solar power project is lighting up Rwanda

“Arise, shine for your light has come,” reads a sign at the entrance to the very first key solar energy farm in east Africa.

The eight.five megawatt (MW) power plant in Rwanda is made so that, from a bird’s-eye view, it resembles the shape of the African continent. “Right now we’re in Somalia,” jokes Twaha Twagirimana, the plant supervisor, throughout a walkabout of the 17-hectare web site.

The plant is also evidence, not only of renewable energy’s growing affordability, but how nimble it can be. The $ 23.7m (£15.6m) solar field went from contract signing to building to connection in just a year, defying sceptics of Africa’s potential to realise projects quickly.

The setting is magnificent amid Rwanda’s famed green hills, inside view of Lake Mugesera, 60km east of the capital, Kigali. Some 28,360 solar panels sit in neat rows above wild grass exactly where inhabitants incorporate puff adders. Tony Blair and Bono have lately taken the tour.

From dawn till dusk the pc-controlled photovoltaic panels, every single 1.9 sq metres, tilt to track the sun from east to west, improving efficiency by 20% compared to stationary panels. The panels are from China although the inverters and transformers are from Germany.

The plant’s construction has produced 350 neighborhood jobs and increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by six%, powering much more than 15,000 properties. All this is critical in an economy that, 21 years soon after the genocide, is expanding quick and aims to give half its population access to electrical energy by 2017.

Twagirimana, one of five full-time staff on-website, said: “The Rwandan government is in desperate need of power. In 2013 they only had 110 megawatts. They wanted solar to increase capacity.”

The government agreed to a joint bid by Gigawatt International, Norfund and Scatec Solar, backed by Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative. Building started in February 2014 and was finished by July. “It’s the fastest project in Africa.”

Its very first year produced an estimated 15 million kilowatt hours, sending power to a substation 9km away, which has prompted mixed views in nearby communities. Twagirimana, 32, explained: “The neighbours say they want energy direct from right here since they believe it would be less expensive. It’s not accurate. We sell to the utility. Even our constructing gets power from the grid.”

The solar field is linked to a central server in Oslo and can be monitored remotely by means of the web. Twagirimana believes it could be a template for the continent. “We have lots of sun. Some are living in remote areas where there is no energy. Solar will be the way forward for African countries.”

The project is built on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, where 512 young people are offered schooling and extracurricular activities.

The project is built on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, where 512 young folks are offered schooling and extracurricular activities. Photograph: Cyril Ndegeya / AFP for the Guardian

The project is built on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, whose mission is to care for Rwanda’s most vulnerable youngsters orphaned just before and following the genocide. This lease supplies the greatest supply of income to the six-year-old village, at present house to 512 young people who are provided schooling and extracurricular activities.

Jean-Claude Nkulikiyimfura, director of the village, said: “The project is possibly the fastest: in less than a year it was up and going. It’s bringing a lot of visits from any individual interested in project development, and it brings some visibility for us. It’s anything quite unique and we’re proud to be partners in it.”

Some of the village’s young people have received coaching at the solar web site and one worked on the project. Other spin-offs have included a partnership to make solar panels for 250,000 homes. Nkulikiyimfura, 40, added: “Renewable energy is the way to go and we’re actually proud to have it right here. It shows what’s truly feasible when government works with the public and private sectors.”

1 village member, 18-year-old Bella Kabatesi, who lost her parents to illness when she was 4, has employed solar power to design a evening light at a memorial to the village’s late founder. “The huge solar plant is going to aid the people and the country since it’s more affordable than primary electrical power,” she mentioned.

Rwanda has been both criticised for trampling on human rights and praised for its unswerving concentrate on development and receiving issues done. Chaim Motzen, Gigawatt Global’s co-founder and managing director, and a solar sector pioneer in Israel, said: “Rwanda had 110 megawatts on the grid for a population of 12 million men and women Israel has 13,000 megawatts for eight million folks. There was a desperate need for much more energy.

This $  24m project is the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in east Africa that has increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%.

This $ 24m project is the initial utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in east Africa that has elevated Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%. Photograph: Sameer Halai/SunFunder/Gigawatt International

“Rwanda has an superb business environment – no corruption – and that played a part. I also think they had been critical about wanting to move rapidly. We had good partners on the ground. It’s now becoming utilized as a model: you can do power bargains speedily and get items completed. It’s a catalyst for future projects in Rwanda and hopefully not just in Rwanda to inspire other folks to do what we’re performing.”

Solar energy is a essential element in Africa’s future, Motzen believes. “Is it the only resolution? No, simply because solar is intermittent. But will it be a main component of the solution? I believe it will.”

Yosef Abramowitz, president of Gigawatt Worldwide, told a US government delegation and Bono at a internet site go to in August: “We have decoupled GDP development from emissions growth. What you have heard is that we are 6% of a country’s generation capacity without adding any emissions. It is a false decision in Paris [

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