In Rwanda, having a reliable energy supply is one of the basic requirements for economic development and poverty reduction in its Vision 2020 target.
Through understanding that sustainable development cannot be established without an equally ambitious increase in energy demand, a bid was passed in August that called for various energy contractors, to compete for a tender.
Nuru Lights for Life, a social enterprise, whose focus is the rural market, was part of the eight participants during the bid.
They developed a peddle generator that charges Nuru pod lights that have the ability to light an entire household.
The pedal generator is the first of its kind and was co created and designed in Rural Rwanda.
After one and a half years of market research in rural Rwanda’s Bugesera District, the lighting needs of residents living in Mayange Sector were put into consideration.
“When I spoke and told people about my project vision for lighting through the use of a pedal generator, they burst out and laughed hilariously. I went on to explain, and they began to see the practicality of the pedal generator,” said Julio C. De Souza, the Manging Director of Nuru Lights for Life East Africa, based in Kigali.
Though still in the pipeline of the National Tender Board; De Souza said, the winner of the tender will be endorsed to supply light to the remotest households in Rwanda.
Nuru, is a Swahili word that means ‘a light shinning in the darkness.’
With the same focus, they reach towards helping the most number of people through development skills in order to meet their lighting needs.
Nuru Lights is only part of the bigger picture of eradicating poverty by the year 2020.
Through a partnership with UNDP, a group of 10 entrepreneurs in Bugesera district were selected and trained in basic accounting and marketing skills. They were given 5000 Nuru lights which were sold at Rwf 3000 to customers, half of them were given solar panels while the rest got pedal generators.
Henri Esseqqat, the UNDP Energy Program Officer under the Environment Unit said that, electricity and lighting has the power to equip people’s lives so that they can break out of the vicious cycle of poverty.
“Renewable energy has no end to it,” Esseqqat said, adding that, “Technology is there; it’s not a problem of technology-- people are going to the moon; but market distribution of technology is the problem here.”
According to the Minister of State in charge of Energy and Water, Dr. Albert Butare, the mission of Rwanda’s energy sector is to create conditions for the provision of safe, reliable, efficient, cost-effective and environmentally appropriate energy services to households and to all economic sectors on a sustainable basis.
“It’s not a question of either or, we need to encourage all these initiatives as part of the efforts that supplement rural electrification and the extension of the national electricity grid,” Butare said.
Minister Butare said that, all stakeholders, ranging from the central and local governments to private companies and development partners, have committed themselves to contributing to the cause of Rwanda’s rural electrification.
Currently, Butare said, “about 10 percent of the country is electrified with 4 percent being in rural areas.”
This leaves an enormous 90 percent of the country without electricity. However, a grid extension is underway. Through the Electricity Access Rollout Programme, by 2012, Butare said, “access to energy will be increased to 350,000 households as compared to the current 112,000 households.”
This is meant to mostly cover rural populations.
In a small shop in Mayange sector, 42 year- old Jean de Dieu Hakuzimana, is cycling his pedal generator. Hakuzimana is the owner of the shop and earns a living selling basic household commodities ranging from hat range from are bars of soap to candy.
The generator is another source of income that supplements his earnings.
Through a Micro Finance Institution, Urwego Opportunity Bank he was able to sign a loan contract that enabled him to kick-start selling 45 Nuru lights.
Daily, Hakizimana opens his shop and starts work at 6:00 a.m and closes late in the evening at 8:00 pm.
It’s a sunny Tuesday and Hakuzimana is peddling to charge the lights that he accumulated from customers over the weekend. Blinking lights on the motor indicate that the batteries are half way charged.
The generator is designed in such a way that a peddler can sit on a low make-shift wooden chair attached to a metallic motor. Peddling pads that enable the entrepreneur to cycle with his feet are similar to those of a bicycle. Using the principle of a dynamo, energy is generated within the small motor, which in turn charges the five lights that are well fitted in series.
“Customers bring their lights for charging and the number varies between 5 to 15 units depending on a day,” he said, adding that there is no day he has failed to get a single customer that needs their Nuru lights charged.
A thin film of sweat is visible on his forehead; he wipes it off with a handkerchief and continues to peddle. Hakuzimana says that he still has 10 more minutes to gain a full charge. He continues peddling faster this time.
Solar Vs peddling
Julienne Nyenyeri is a 32 year old solar entrepreneur who lives in Kamugenzi village, in Manyange sector, several kilometers away from Hakuzimana’s shop. She has brought some Nuru pod lights for charging at the shop.
Unlike Hakuzimana, she uses a small solar panel to charge the pod lights. Nyenyeri does not find difficulty operating her solar panel, but she said it takes longer to charge light units on a bad weather day.
“I spend a whole day charging a few lights, and sometimes the charge never gets full,” she said, adding that, “Solar charging is not like using a generator, which only takes 20 minutes to get the job done.”
De Souza said, “the pedal generator was economically and exponentially more efficient than using the solar panel.”
The generator charges at a 1:600 ratio as compared to 1:1 ratio for solar. The market survey showed that the pedal operators did much better than the solar operators because they earned money faster.
Consequently, the organization has decided to drop the solar panels for the generator.
The generator fully charges five units of Nuru lights after 20 minutes of peddling. At a fee of Rwf100, Hakuzimana said that, “I am able to make profits because I have paid back my loan of Rwf 69,000 for the 45 lights to Urwego.”
Nuru Lights for life worked through the WMCC Cooperative in Mayange that helps the entrepreneurs to pay back their loans to the bank. Entrepreneurs used door to door marketing strategies to sell off the lights but the demand for the lights is still high.
“Nuru is planning to scale up with 3000 units in Kigali by the end of the year,” said De Souza.
Hakizimana also cited that, the current unavailability of the lights does not help much because those without them are still using kerosene.
Worldwide, approximately 1.8 billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.4 billion people use wood fuels for cooking. The poor spend roughly $20 billion per year for ad-hoc solutions, such as kerosene lamps, candles, charcoal, firewood, dung fires, and batteries, just to meet basic energy needs, the World Development Report 1998/99 observed.
In rural Rwanda also kerosene lanterns and firewood are the most common forms of lighting.
In Tetero, another village about 20 minutes away from Nyamata by road transport, Vestine Mugirasoni, 33, has recovered from burns—a result of a kerosene accident that occurred seven years ago. On that fateful night, her two year-old daughters, Rebecca was asleep when the beddings caught fire.
“I heard her screaming, and rushed to the room, only to find that fire was burning around the lamp, her face was already burning and I tried to pull her away, but the curtains had already caught fire and burnt her face,” Mugirasoni said, “that’s how my hand also got burnt.”
Rebecca Nyiiyavyumuntu, is nine years old and the scars on her face have healed. She goes to school in her village.
Seated next to her mother, Rebecca smiles beautifully and says, “Sometimes, I use the light for reading.”
Her mother is not eager to use kerosene anymore; with the single Nuru pod light that the family owns, they can light up their sitting room to host visitors in the evenings, and get around the rooms without the risk of getting burnt.
The head of the home, Peter Rusanga, 52, said, “It’s cheap, and we use it at least for three hours every day.”
At the end of every week, Rusanga, charges the light at Godance Muryombere’s home-- yet another entrepreneur in Tetero village.
Rusanga said that the Rwf100 he pays for charging is nothing compared to the Rwf900 we used for kerosene every week.
Muyombere at 42 years old operates the peddle generator with the help of her sons and husband. She said charging the Nuru pod lights alone as a business is not enough to survive and feed her family-- she is a Community medical worker, telephone vendor and runs a mini bar. However, she appreciates the way she is taking part in the development of her village.
“When I see Rusanga’s family not using kerosene, it makes me happy because I know other families today do not want to go through their experience,” Muyombere said.
Like Hakuzimana at his shop, she waits to accumulate at least five Nuru pod lights before peddling. She perceives the new innovation as something good for her community and waits for a time when more families will own a pod light in order to do away with the unhealthy kerosene lamps.
UNDP’s Esseqqat pointed out the need to do away with kerosene as a source of lighting.
“The fumes from burning these fuels affect people’s health; they use the lights to read, their eyes are also affected, and some get burns, eventually, they will need medication and treatment, which they can’t afford—it’s a bad cycle of poverty that is hard to break,” Esseqqat said.
Being part of the bigger picture of development, Nuru Light is matching along the vision and mission of Rwanda’s energy development.