Kagame: New methane plant brings hope to addressing energy challenges


President Kagame, the Chief Executive of ContourGlobal Joseph Brant (L) and Minister James Musoni (2nd R) are given a tour of KivuWatt Methane Gas Power Plant on Lake Kivu in Karongi District yesterday. (Village Urugwiro)

President Paul Kagame yesterday inaugurated the Kivu-Watt Gas Power Plant located in the Western Province’s Karongi District, describing it as a sign of what is possible for efforts to address energy challenges in the country.

The new 26-MW power plant, fired by methane gas from Lake Kivu, was built by American energy firm ContourGlobal, which the Rwandan government gave a 25-year concession to produce 100 megawatts from Lake Kivu.

The first phase of the project, which aimed to produce 25 MW, was initially delayed raising concerns from government officials working to meet the country’s energy production targets.

But as the pilot phase was being launched yesterday, President Kagame thanked different stakeholders for not giving up and finally achieving something that gives hope Rwanda’s energy challenges can be addressed.

“It’s only one step but very important, positive step. It is an indication of what is possible in trying to address these (energy) challenges,” he said of the successful work on the pilot project.

He made it clear that what Rwandans need is electricity and encouraged anyone with the capabilities to provide it to come and help in that area.

President Kagame invited neighbouring countries,notably Democratic Republic of Congo, to join hands in scaling up methane gas extraction and work towards joint regional production and distribution of electricity.

“If you wish to join hands to scale up and produce as much electricity as possible that is going to serve Rwanda and DRC, you are most welcome,” Kagame said, addressing DRC officials.

DRC was represented at the launch of Kivu-Watt pilot project by Emmanuel Kayumba Banza Mwana, Director of Cabinet at the Congolese Ministry of Hydrocarbons.

Other representatives included Kenya Cabinet Secretary of Energy and Petroleum, Charles Keter; African Development Bank Country Representative, Mr. Negatu Makonnen and US Ambassador to Rwanda, Erica Barks Ruggles.

KivuWatt is owned and operated by US energy corporation ContourGlobal, which has 25-year gas concession and power purchase agreements with the Government of Rwanda to extract up to 100 MW of electricity from Lake Kivu’s methane gas, a project to be implemented in two phases.

Built at the tune of more than $200 million (more than Rwf156 billion), the first phase of the project, 26 MW, has been funded through a concessional loan by the African Development Bank (AfDB), Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF), Netherlands Development Finance Company and the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries.

Phase two of the project, 75 MW, will be completed by the year 2020 with work expected to start early next year, officials at ContourGlobal said in a release yesterday.

The first phase of the project is powering three gas generators to produce 26 MW of electricity that is transferred to the national grid. The next phase of the project will deploy nine additional generators and produce 75 MW, bringing the project to completion with the total capacity of over 100 MW.

Joseph Brandt, President and Chief Executive Officer of ContourGlobal, indicated that his company’s work on the KivuWatt project was motivated by President Kagame’s dream to leverage methane gas in Lake Kivu to solve challenge of electiricity.

“In 2008 we entered into a partnership with the Government of Rwanda to transform the menace of Lake Kivu’s unique gas deposits into the source of something good for the people of Rwanda. The hard fought KivuWatt project has realised the lake’s potential envisioned by President Paul Kagame. We are proud to have catalyzed his vision into a substantial operating project that is mitigating the threat of environment catastrophe while providing clean, reliable electricity to Rwanda,” Brandt said.

ContourGlobal’s Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, Karl Schnadt, was happy that the company was able to overcome many technical challenges while trying to realize the project.

“We have successfully brought into operation this unique project and overcome the many challenges posed by this unprecedented attempt at large-scale gas extraction on the lake. Our design and technology are performing even better than expected and we are pleased to announce today that the gas extraction facility will support at least an additional 8 MW of power generation. We are undertaking the works to transform this unexpected gas into electricity for Rwanda’s grid by year-end,” he said.

The KivuWatt Methane Gas Plant on Lake Kivu. (Courtesy)

Kivu-Watt’s 26 MW, which brought Rwanda’s current energy generation capacity to 190 according to Rwanda Energy Group officials, edges Rwanda closer to the government’s target of reaching installed electricity generation capacity of 563 MW in the country by the year 2018.

Under the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS2), the government planned to increase the number of households connected to electricity in the country from around 24 per cent today to 70 per cent by the year 2018.

Extraction of methane gas from Lake Kivu has a double benefit; reducing the risk of a possible catastrophic outburst of the gas and solving the issue of energy shortages in Rwanda. Experts say that at least 700 MW of electricity can be generated from the methane gas in the lake over a period of 45 years.

About the project

KivuWatt is the only gas/water extraction energy plant operating in the world.

Phase 1 was completed in October 2015, and fully commissioned in Dec 2015. In accordance with the government of Rwanda concession and power purchase agreement, Rwanda Energy Group is the sole customer for KivuWatt's electricity production, currently 26.2MW.

Phase 2 is currently under negotiation and would add 3 barges and 75MW of productions, according to KivuWatt.

According to expert findings, converting methane into electricity also reduces the concentration of dissolved biogas trapped at the bottom of Lake Kivu, thereby reducing the risk of toxic release of large quantities of gas in the future.

The gas extraction platform is located on Lake Kivu 15km from Kibuye, where the depth is 365m.

Methane was first discovered in Lake Kivu in 1936, and has been used for small-scale power generation since 1943. The boilers of Bralirwa's Rubavu brewery were powered by lake methane already in 1963.

But until now there was no technology for producing large quantities of electricity affordably from dissolved methane.

ContourGlobal owns 62 power plants with combined 4,000MW capacity in 20 countries, mostly in Europe. In Africa, ContourGlobal has facilities in Senegal, Nigeria, and Togo, in addition to Rwanda.