East African plant is completed in less than a year – creating jobs and setting the country on the path to providing half its population with electricity by 2017
“Arise, shine for your light has come,” reads a sign at the entrance to the first major solar power farm in east Africa.
The 8.5 megawatt (MW) power plant in Rwanda is designed so that, from a bird’s-eye view, it resembles the shape of the African continent. “Right now we’re in Somalia,” jokes Twaha Twagirimana, the plant supervisor, during a walkabout of the 17-hectare site.
The plant is also evidence, not only of renewable energy’s increasing affordability, but how nimble it can be. The $23.7m (£15.6m) solar field went from contract signing to construction to connection in just a year, defying sceptics of Africa’s ability to realise projects fast.
The setting is magnificent amid Rwanda’s famed green hills, within view of Lake Mugesera, 60km east of the capital, Kigali. Some 28,360 solar panels sit in neat rows above wild grass where inhabitants include puff adders. Tony Blair and Bono have recently taken the tour.
From dawn till dusk the computer-controlled photovoltaic panels, each 1.9 sq metres, tilt to track the sun from east to west, improving efficiency by 20% compared to stationary panels. The panels are from China while the inverters and transformers are from Germany.
The plant’s construction has created 350 local jobs and increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%, powering more than 15,000 homes. All this is crucial in an economy that, 21 years after the genocide, is expanding fast and aims to give half its population access to electricity by 2017. […]