Burundi goes thermal to avert recurrent energy crises

During the second half of the year 2011, Burundi suffered the worst energy crisis characterized by power load shedding during which some suburbs in the east African nation’s capital Bujumbura could spend three of four consecutive days without electricity, thus paralyzing activities of small and medium-sized businesses. To settle that energy crisis, the Burundian government is going to use thermal energy in 2012, awaiting the operationalization of hydro-power dams under construction, the country’s energy minister said.
Lake Rwegura is the biggest water resevoir in Burundi that helps to generate hydro-electicity. Net photo.
Lake Rwegura is the biggest water resevoir in Burundi that helps to generate hydro-electicity. Net photo.

During the second half of the year 2011, Burundi suffered the worst energy crisis characterized by power load shedding during which some suburbs in the east African nation’s capital Bujumbura could spend three of four consecutive days without electricity, thus paralyzing activities of small and medium-sized businesses.

To settle that energy crisis, the Burundian government is going to use thermal energy in 2012, awaiting the operationalization of hydro-power dams under construction, the country’s energy minister said.

Burundi’s Energy Minister Come Manirakiza said the energy crisis in the country finds its root in the fall of the water level in the reservoir at Burundi’s biggest hydro-power dam of Rwegura in the northern province of Kayanza.  The water level awfully dropped during the country’s season extending from May to September.

After a visit to Rwegura hydro-power dam on Sept. 13, the general manager of the state-run REGIDESO Water and Electricity Company realized that the water level in the reservoir had dropped up to ten meters, reducing the capacity of the Rwegura hydro-power dam to generate 18 megawatts as it used to.

REGIDESO General Manager Pascal Ndayishimiye said the fall of the water level in the reservoir was due to climate change, adding that rainwater falls were not sufficient to fill the reservoir. He had also explained the fall of the water level by the expansion of towns which need electricity supplies, forcing the power dam to work permanently and causing the water reserve to drop fast.

One of the alternatives was to divert the River Inamunyiriri in order to pour its waters into the Rwegura reservoir and fill the gap. This resulted into electricity load shedding in all the east African country’s towns including the capital city of Bujumbura, the country’s second biggest town of Gitega, the town of Ngozi and the town of Rumonge.

After the REGIDESO Water and Electricity Company realized that the water level had awfully drooped in the reservoir at Rwegura hydro-power dam, the company reduced the exploitation of the dam which resulted into electricity load shedding. Manirakiza however visited the Rwegura hydro-power dam on Dec. 10 and noticed that the water level in the reservoir had climbed up, stressing that ‘five meters were missing to return to the normal water level.’

“You must have realized that the power load shedding is not as tough as in the previous months. It’s because the water level in the reservoir has increased,” said Manirakiza.

Power load shedding seriously hit the east African nation by the end of September and very few small and medium-sized businesses which use energy in their daily activities could survive in the country’s biggest towns of Bujumbura, Gitega, Ngozi and Rumonge. A few owners of some small and medium-sized businesses managed to buy power generators to replace electricity supplied by the REGIDESO Water and Electricity Company which was supplied irregularly and sometimes chaotically, damaging electrical equipment.

Affected businesspeople included welders, butchers, milk sellers, carpenters, owners of hair-cutting saloon and internet cyber cafes who would only work when there was energy supply from the REGIDESO. Besides, owners of businesses which require the use of electricity hiked the price of their services when using power generators -- for those who could afford them.

One of the most urgent solutions to solve Burundi’s energy crisis is the use of thermal energy, the country’s energy minister told Xinhua. Manirakiza said, “Burundi currently needs at least 15 megawatts to carry out urgent activities which require the use of electricity.” The minister said the country has resorted to using thermal energy to address the shortage of energy. “We’re going to use thermal energy to address the energy shortage, awaiting the operationalization of hydro-power dams under construction and which will back the existing ones,” said Manirakiza.

The minister said he expects that at least 35.5 megawatts from thermal energy will be generated in 2012. He pointed out the United States Pivotech Company which will generate 25 megawatts beginning March 2012 with a contract ending in September 2012 as one of the suppliers of thermal energy. Another project of thermal energy with the capacity of 5.5 megawatts will be under the management of the REGIDESO and is scheduled to be implemented as of March 2012. The minister also said the World Bank has promised to support another project of supplying 5 megawatts as of March 2012.  

Besides Burundi’s projects to construct hydro-power dams on rivers like Jiji and Murembwe in the country’s south, Mpanda in the west and Kayongozi in the east, some development partners of the East African nation like China and Germany have pledged to back the country’s suffering energy sector. The Burundian energy minister said the government is in contact with China to supply 60 megawatts from peat energy. In addition, on Oct. 28, Germany granted 30 million U. S. dollars to back Burundi’s sectors of energy, water and the fight against poverty. The grant is notably to support the interconnection of regional electrical networks. Germany has been traditionally backing Burundi’s sector of water and sanitation as well as the energy sector.

While Burundi’s REGIDESO Water and Electricity Company currently supplies 36 megawatts, the east African nation has several projects including the extraction of nickel which requires at least 270 megawatts.  The exploitation of nickel in the country’s east is expected to start in two years. The east African nation also counts on regional hydro-power dams constructed on the River Ruzizi and whose energy is shared between the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) whose member states include Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Burundi also counts on Rusumo regional hydro-power dam to be constructed in 2012 on the River Akagera. Currently, the Burundian energy minister said, only two percent of Burundians have access to electricity.

Xinhua

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