Off-grid solutions key to achieving universal access to energy - Ignite chief


Cohen exchanges documents with Emmanuel Kamanzi, the EDCL chief, in Kigali. / Courtesy

Government plans to increase off-grid power generation to 22MW by 2018, up from 8.75MW presently. To realise the objective, government attracted a number of renewable energy firms, including solar power providers. In fact it signed an agreement with Ignite Power in 2014 under which the firm is expected to connect 250,000 households to off-grid power.

The company targets to invest $50 million (about Rwf37 billion) in off-grid power over the next five years, and the deal also provides a framework for large-scale deployment of solar systems particularly rural communities in Rwanda.

Yariv Cohen, the director of Ignite Power, says embracing off-grid energy solutions is key for Rwanda to achieve its energy goals and ensure sustainable development.

Cohen, who was in the country to oversee the connection of 560 homes in Nyagatare District, Eastern Province last week, says the country will be able to create smart villages, reduce poverty and fast-track inclusive growth through off-grid solutions.

He noted transparency and a conducive business environment are crucial to attract more investors into the energy sector, particularly off-grid solutions. In an exclusive interview with Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze, Cohen said Rwanda’s approach toward ensuring universal access to electricity is unique and could provide key lessons.

You signed an agreement with government two years ago where you are expected to connect 250,000 households. How many homes have you connected so far?

First of all, it is important to understand that Ignite Power signed the memorandum of understanding with government in September 2014, but implementation of the agreement was effected in January 2016, while the nationwide roll-out plan was approved in May 2016.

Therefore, Ignite Power commenced full roll-out in June 2016. We have since trained and deployed over 600 equipment installers, who have connected up to 250 systems per day.

Ignite has so far installed over 24,355 solar home systems benefiting over 80,000 households.

This is ahead of target… We’ve so far shipped 35,000 systems, of which 15,000 have been installed since June last year. Our target is to have 30,000 new household connections every quarter.

With a few solar power distributors in the market, Ignite Power comes in with a unique model that focuses on client financing, ensuring we work with local distributors and entrepreneurs.

Rwanda aims at connecting 70% of the population to electricity by 2018. How do you see off grid solutions contributing to this goal?

It is important for people to understand that the country is on the right track to achieving this target.

However, to ensure a fast and robust answer to Rwanda’s energy needs, it is imperative to embrace off grid solutions. This must be supplemented with unique and flexible approaches like our Pay-As-You-Go model that has made it easy for customers to own solar home systems and pay in installments.

Such models will help to address the needs of many rural households in Rwanda. Today, we can have homes with off-grid solutions where families have access to electricity and lead decent lives.

What should Rwanda do to attract more investments into off-grid solutions?

The country has already taken huge strides in the off-grid sector. However, it is important to ensure a conducive business environment. This will help attract more investors in the sector, particularly public-private partnership, to boost the country’s capacity to realise its energy ambitions.