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Can local resources power Rwanda?

March 20, 2009

Africa is the least electrified continent on the planet and getting power into the homes of millions of people who don’t have electricity is an enormous challenge.

Rwanda is Africa’s most densely populated country and 9 out of 10 people there don’t have electricity. The government is now tapping its own natural resources such as the methane deposits under Lake Kivu to try to meet the country’s growing energy

The lake holds huge reserves of methane, a gas produced by the fermentation of sediments at the bottom of the lake.

Methane is combustible and can be used to produce electricity. But in high concentrations it can also be dangerous.

Alex Kabuto, chief technician at the methane extraction plant at the lake, says the amount of gas under the lake is increasing and it is good idea to extract it to reduce the risk of explosion.

“So the best way for us to do is to extract the gas, use it for energy and electricity it’s good for the country, and at the same time control the lake,” he told Reuters Africa Journal.

Rwanda’s first methane extraction rig opened only last year, after 5 years of building work. Lake Kivu’s methane reserves could satisfy Rwanda’s energy needs for the next 200 years.

And Rwanda desperately needs more energy. So far most of the country’s electricity has come from hydropower. But water levels are declining and 90 percent of Rwanda’s population aren’t even on the electricity grid yet.    

But the majority of homes without electricity are in the rural areas and in spite of the methane extraction it will take years to get the grid out to all the houses.

So in the meantime Rwanda is trying to get electricity to the people by focusing on renewable energy. Villagers in Rukore, 30 km north of Kigali, are adapting to biogas, a new technology introduced a few months ago.

Jean Claude Uwizeye, a government biogas technician, explains: “Cow dung is the main material we are using here in Rwanda because we found that many households have cows in their homes. Two to three cows are enough to produce gas for cooking
and lighting in their rural households.”

Biogas also helps protect the environment by giving rural residents an alternative to cutting down trees for firewood.

So far more than 300 biogas plants have been built around the country — but there are 9 million Rwandans who don’t have electricity. 

In a time of global warming and diminishing resources, powering up the millions of homes that are still in the dark is a major challenge.

But is it realistic for Rwanda to rely on its own natural resources, such as methane or biogas, to bring electricity into all its homes?


Dear Marie,

May I be so bold as to answer the question you pose in a different manner? I think President Kagame’s biggest deficit re his plans is Human Capital. As we enter the Knowledge Economy, the most valuable capital is set to be intellectual capital. By embracing the idea of no work permits for Africans, he will be like a magnet to African talent and it is his speed of thought in this regard that is truly worthy of note.

Aly-Khan Satchu


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