US investors eye renewable energy sector

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SVM coordinator Peter Means explains how the project will operate during the interview in Kigali last week. (Teddy Kamanzi)

American investors and development researchers have expressed interest in Rwanda’s renewable energy sector, with plans already understand way to establish a solar power project under the ‘Smart Village Micro-grid’ model.

The Smart Village Microgrid (SVM) project is a holistic approach that helps power off grid rural communities and drive development, according to Peter T. Means from Colorado State University’s Energy Institute in the US and the project coordinator.

Means said the project will be multidisciplinary in nature with aspects of agro-processing, capacity building, and environmental conservation, among others, to ensure sustainable development of rural communities.

“The smart micro-grid technology will harness and manage renewable energy to optimise rural electrification, reduce carbon emissions ensure reliable power supply and build standardised infrastructure across the country to transform rural agricultural villages,” Means said.

Daniel Zimmerle, an assistant research professor at Colorado State University’s Energy Institute, said tailor-made SVM technology will be developed and tested in the institution’s smart village lab and deployed to rural villages abroad, with Rwanda hosting the first pilot project (if they get government approvals).

Zimmerle said they want to collaborate with the University of Rwanda so that Rwandan students can go and work at the SVM lab in the US and then replicate the technology back home. “You can have perfect systems, but if you don’t have trained people to run them they fail.

That’s why we want to work with University of Rwanda or any other institutions to build local capacity to handle all the operations related to the project.” He added that they would also work with suppliers to ensure the rural people can afford cost of installation and equipment.

He said though the SVM technology is not yet in Africa, it is already operational in Alaska State, in the US.

“Initial studies are ongoing in Rwanda to bring the technology here, subject to government approval. When it is approved, we are confident it will change the lives of rural Rwandans who are not connected on the national power grid…people spend a lot of money on phone charging or kerosene. This project will stimulate productive activities like agro-processing which will increase the value of local products,” Zimmerle said.

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NIRDA boss Dr Joseph Mungarulire at an earlier interview. (Teddy Kamanzi)

Means said 85 per cent of the people interviewed during the ongoing studies in Muhanga have said they already have an idea of the kind of business they would set up in case they get power. This, he noted, is a huge indicator that such a project can go a long way in enhancing the socio-economic development of rural communities. 

The SVM project is being coordinated by the infrastructure ministry and the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA).

Dr Joseph Mungarulire, the NIRDA chief executive,  said the US team will present the project to government tomorrow as they seek approval to continue to the next phase of the programme.

They have already held talks with University of Rwanda on the possibility of cooperation and exchange programme.