How rural electrification is changing lives in Rwanda

When Mbonimana relocated from Bweyeye sector in Rusizi District to search for work in the capital city of Kigali, his home area was nothing but an ordinary trading center with few economic activities to boast of.

Today there is an air of excitement at Mbonimana’s workshop as the sound of welding engages ears to deafening levels. It is a new experience to many a resident of Bweyeye trading center. 

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Electrified Bweyeye sector. / Joseph Mudingu

As he rushes to complete his work on a metallic door, Mbonimana Jean Pierre can’t hide his excitement. He has other contracts to work on and his clientele is getting bigger. 

The welder is father of four who hails from one of the most remote areas in Rwanda located on the other side of Nyungwe forest. 

Given the distance to reach the area, development activities have been slow compared to other regions of Rwanda.

As his sector got connected to the national electricity grid, the welder in him, this time around, took the opposite trend of urban-rural migration.

Mbonimana relocated to his home village from Kigali last month where he says there was a lot of competition for work and the cost of living was too high.

“I came back home because my home sector of Bweyeye had been connected to electricity. With my skills, I knew that I would be able to set up a lucrative welding business with less competition and at a less cost,” he explains.

In 2013, President Paul Kagame visited the area and promised the residents with access to electricity.

Since then, a project to electrify Bweyeye sector was initiated through Rwanda Energy Group under the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA); thanks to the African Development Bank support under the Scaling up Energy Access Project in the Energy Access Roll-Out Program.

On 24th July 2017, Bweyeye center was connected to the national electricity network and for the first time in the center’s history, 394 households immediately got connected to and started using the grid electricity. Schools, the health center and administrative offices including the sector, police office and SACCO were also connected.

The government of Rwanda has ensured and continues to work towards access to safe, reliable and cost effective energy as essential bedrock to achieving the levels of growth defined in the National Strategy for Transformation.

Previously, Mbonimana was earning wages of not more than 40,000frw per month from his employer and it was not enough to get by considering the cost of living.

“At times I would make less than Rwf40,000 a month, because I got paid according to the work done and because of the competition; it was hard to get enough work. But after starting my own workshop back here, things have really changed and though I have just started, I earn over Rwf60,000 with less costs and I believe I will be earning over Rwf150, 000 per month in the not so distant future,” says Mbonimana.

Energy is a critical productive sector input that can catalyze broader economic growth and contribute significantly to the achievement of the country’s ambitious socioeconomic transformation agenda.

Change has since come swiftly to the land of a thousand hills and over the last 7 years, Government has expended more efforts in the energy sector towards diversified and balanced power production and supply to meet the national targets. As a result, electricity generation capacity has increased almost three-fold from 76MW in 2010 to 208.36MW in July 2017.

In October 2017 the Minister of Infrastructure, Hon. James Musoni oversaw the signing of performance contracts between Rwanda Energy Group (REG) with the Ministry of Infrastructure along with other heads of agencies affiliated to the Ministry at the headquarters.

The government’s general target is to connect all Rwandan households by 2024, with activities that will involve improvement of the distribution network to ensure efficiency.

Meeting the connection targets will involve increasing the generation capacity and eventual access to grid and off grid electricity, as well as expanding and strengthening the transmission network.

There were some key achievements in the energy sector in the fiscal year 2016/2017 where the focus on power generationwas to have a balanced power supply and production. 

The generation capacity increased by 15MW after commissioning of Gishoma Peat to Power Plant (15MW) which led to the current total installed capacity of 208.36MW from 193.36MW.

In rural electrification, additional 107,603 households were connected to the national grid while 142,903 households connected to off grid networks in partnership with private sector players. The overall percentage of household connections was 34.5% by the end of June 2017.

According to Hon. James Musoni, the Fiscal year 2017/18, electricity access will increase to 42.5% from the current 34.5%.

The government will put much emphasis on network strengthening to ensure power stability and reliability with major supporting activities to involve construction of transmission lines and network expanded and strengthened. Planned and ongoing projects to be implemented include the construction of various transmission lines; 220KV lines (237 Km), 110KV lines (141.2Km), as well as 30KV line (60.6 KM).

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A cobbler working in Bweyeye trading center. / Joseph Mudingu

Various projects to increase the generation capacity that are still ongoing include the Hakan Peat to Power project expected to produce 80 MW, the 80 MW Rusumo (shared equally between 3 countries) Hydropower project, the 50 MW Symbion Methane Gas Power plant, the 147 MW Rusizi III Hydropower plant project (shared equally between 3 countries), 30 MW LFO Plants installation in Birembo, Mukungwa and Kigali Special Economic Zone, exploration of geothermal resources as well as the construction of 8 small power plants.

Other activities and projects include feasibility studies, rehabilitation of Rwabuye Fuel Storage and awareness campaigns on Biogas, improved cook stoves and LPG gas for energy efficiency.

200 kilometers of old and overloaded MV and LV lines will be rehabilitated and strengthened while a new HV transmission line Jabana-Mont Kigali-Gahanga and its associated substations will be constructed.

EUCL expects to increase the annual revenue from Rwf93 billion earned last year to Rwf102.5 billion.

To achieve this target, reactive power compensators will be installed to reduce power losses while the Kigali distribution network will also be reinforced to meet the demand.

After the electrification of Bweyeye sector, many small businesses like saloons, video libraries, bars and photocopying services sprung up in the trading center and it is evident that many more are yet to be established.

Nsabimana’s hopes and prospects are not far from being translated into reality given that MINIFRA has expended efforts and resources to ensure that 96,648 new households will be connected to the grid and 98,977 off-grid connections will be done by 2018.