What Rwanda can learn from Japan's waste-to-energy initiative

The government set an ambitious target of increasing power generation to 563MW by 2018 to be able to connect over 70 per cent of the households to electricity. Rwanda’s current installed power generation capacity is about 190MW. So, how can government fast-track the realisation of this objective?
Trucks deliver garbage at the Nerima Incineration plant. (Peterson Tumwebaze)
Trucks deliver garbage at the Nerima Incineration plant. (Peterson Tumwebaze)

The government set an ambitious target of increasing power generation to 563MW by 2018 to be able to connect over 70 per cent of the households to electricity. Rwanda’s current installed power generation capacity is about 190MW. So, how can government fast-track the realisation of this objective? 

The answer could come from the East, where Japan is turning waste into a multi-billion dollar energy businesses under its Tokyo model. According to Japanese experts, Rwanda could borrow a leaf from this initiative, whereby it recycles and incinerates its vast urban waste to produce clean energy. This would also support the country green growth strategy.

Incineration, often referred to as thermal treatment, is a process that involves the combustion of organic substances in waste materials to produce energy.

This process is one of the secrets most advanced economies, like Japan, have used to overcome power challenges. 

Koji Imata, Tokyo’s Nerima Incineration Plant Clean Authority manager, says this initiative could help a country like Rwanda to be able to meet its energy demands in the short-term. In an interview with Business Times in Tokyo, Imata said as Rwanda inches toward a middle income economy, the demand of power will increase, creating supply challenges. 

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Imata (right), flanked by other officials from Nerima Incineration plant, addresses African journalists after a guided tour of the waste recycling facility. (Peterson Tumwebaze.)

He says besides producing power, the innovation protects the environment, adding that that’s why it has been embraced by 23 cities in Tokyo. Imata adds that as countries grow, they also become polluters in the long-run. This is why it is critical to adopt clean energy production schemes, like the Tokyo model, he says. He notes that it only required the city authority to develop and introduce incineration technologies, as well as improve efficiency in collection and transport of the waste.

“Incineration would, in this case, be the best and most efficient way since it creates additional profits from power sales,” argues Imata. He says they produce up to 1.1 billion KWh of electricity, 571MW of which is sold 159,000 households and industries in Tokyo. This is more than what Rwanda is targeting to generate in two years.

Rwanda’s hydro-power generation capacity accounts for 97.37MW, thermal power adds 51.7MW, methane 3.6MW, while 8.75MW is produced from solar energy. Other efforts to increase power supply include importing 30MW from Kenya – expected before the end of the year – and another 400MW from Ethiopia by 2018.

However, the country’s target to generate more power could be realised sooner than later through use of innovate technologies, including harnessing urban waste as a potential source of energy, according to Shiratori Nobuyoshi, the in-charge of international co-operation for waste management in Tokyo. He, however, advises that for this to become successful, government must emphasise strong public-private sector partnerships.

He cited the collaboration between 23 cities of Tokyo, the clean authority and private businesses to provide various innovative options to manage municipal waste. He says it was through this partnership that the concept of waste incineration was born. 

“Rwanda could be struggling with various difficulties regarding municipal solid management. We will be glad to be your partners and share with you our Tokyo model, which has helped us make some progress in promoting green economy,” Nobuyoshi says.

In August last year, the City of Kigali announced it would soon start producing power from waste material at Nduba Dump Site in Gasabo District. The city authorities said then that they had already got some investors interested in recycling non-solid waste at the dump site to produce energy. 

Some of the investors had pledged to produce 7MW of power from the waste at Ndumba alone. At least 300 tonnes of waste generated in the City of Kigali is collected per day.

Dairokuno Kosaku, the vice-president for International collaboration and a professor of political Science and economics at the University of Meiji, Japan, says cities and countries that want to adopt the Tokyo model of waste-to-energy initiative need good garbage management concepts, including the 3Rs - reducing, reusing and recycling.

This approach makes city residents and the general public central components to ease implementation.

Rwanda’s waste-to-energy initiatives 

The government unveiled a new investment code last year that seeks to attract more investors into the country. Early this year, government and Ignite Power, a Mauritian firm engaged in large-scale production of clean energy solutions in Africa, signed an agreement, where Ignite Power will invest $50 million (about Rwf37 billion) into off-grid power generation in the next five years. 

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Most residents in Japan depend on waste incinerated energy. (Peterson Tumwebaze)

Jean-Bosco Mugiraneza, the chief executive of Rwanda Energy Group, said at the signing of the deal that a lot of investment is required in off-grid energy access to meet the country’s energy targets. 

“The number of households with off-grid connection is currently at less than one per cent. This will need to increase to around 530,000 households by 2017/18, or 22 per cent,” Mugiraneza said.

Such efforts could support those of local rubbish collectors and the city authorities, which last year unveiled a project, where they will buy rubbish from small-scale collectors and individuals. 

The project under the smart village programme, the garbage collectors - Company for Protection of Environment Development (COPED) - buys every kilogramme of rubbish delivered at its different centres across the city at Rwf50. 

The programme that is supported by the City of Kigali seeks to empower city dwellers dealing in rubbish collection, while protecting the environment through waste recycling. The initiative presently operates in Gasabo and Nyarungege districts and targeted 500 collectors across the city.

“The project will help in the establishment of integrated clean waste market systems capable of improving the livelihoods of all players along the value chain. It also seeks to turn garbage into organic fertilisers, thus reducing the import bill for synthetic fertilisers,” Paulin Buregeya, the COPED chief executive officer, told reporters at the launch.

According to the State of Environment and Outlook 2013 report by Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA), the threat of poor waste disposal has risen due to increased levels of urbanisation. The report indicates that only 25 per cent of solid waste generated in Kigali is properly deposed of at Nduba landfill. With the city’s population expected to hit three million people by 2020, from current 1.35 million, it is imperative to adopt more innovative ways of waste disposal and use. 

Leon Benimana Iwacu, an expert on garbage recycling in Nyarugenge District, recently noted that increasing electronic waste in the city poses huge challenges to such efforts. However, according to Buregeya, giving incentives to rubbish collectors provides a sustainable solution.

 

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