Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Can EWSA’s road map for energy production be achieved?


The government has set out as national electrification plan to extend power to at least 70 per cent –or over- of the population by 2017.
ROUTINE is the word that describes Emmanuel Uwizeyimana’s everyday life. Every morning after his breakfast, he puts on his overalls and heads to Huye town where he works as a welder.

For the young man, who lives in a village on the outskirts of town, welding has been his livelihood for the last three years.

But, for Uwizeyimana to be sure that he will not return home late in the evening empty handed, he needs electricity to operate his welding tools. And, whenever there is a power blackout, he prays that the issue is fixed as soon as possible.

“As an important necessity, electricity shortage is challenge,” Uwizeyimana says.

But that might seem very difficult to understand. In fact, due to the numerous power cuts that the country has experienced over the recent months –and equally over the past years- the welder is often forced to down his tools for many hours.

“Without electricity, I cannot operate. This means sometimes I lose clients because of power outages or I fail to meet deadlines to supply my clients,” Uwizeyimana notes.

But Uwizeyimana is not the only one feeling the impact of power outages. From welders to factory and industry owners, craftsmen to electronic engineers, all have complained of the electricity cuts which they say affect their activities.

“Whenever there is a power cut, we just stop operating and start counting losses,” laments Ngirinshuti, a flour mill operator.

But officials at the Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) have constantly assured the public that efforts to boost the country’s power generation capacity are underway.

Electricity is one of the key drivers of the national growth in a country which seeks to transform its economy towards building middle income nation.

The country relies on 110 Megawatts serving around 17 per cent of the country, according to Edward Kasumba, the Project Coordinator of the Electricity Access Rollout Programme (EARP).

The government has set out an ambitious national electrification plan to extend power to at least 70 per cent –or over- of the population by 2017, according to officials. It set out an ambitious Rwf3 trillion ($4.7bn)-road map for energy production and accessibility over the next five years.

Government plans to progressively tap 200MW from peat, 310MW from geothermal, 320MW from hydro power, and 300MW from methane gas, among others.

But, as the country continues to experience electricity cuts – and sometimes prolonged power blackouts- many are those who doubt the capacity to achieve the set target.

And indeed, is the EWSA target achievable considering the remaining years to 2017?

But Kasumba is categorical, saying the target, though very ambitious, can be achieved and there is hope.

“The important thing is planning. Today, we know which part of the country needs how much energy and what it will cost us,” he says.

“We are now mobilising funds to implement our projects and at the same time, engaging various actors, including local government, to see what they can contribute towards meeting the set targets.”

Kasumba’s optimistic view is supported by what he calls ‘achievements already registered’ in the generation and supply of electricity.

The Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) targeted to connect at least 16 per cent of the total population to the national electricity grid. And the objective was overshot with 1 per cent, according to Kasumba.

And, within the same line, power generation is set to grow to over 190 Megawatts before July next year thus responding to the growing demand for energy, according to the official.

Speaking during a two-day retreat, which brought together EWSA senior management, board members and officials from the Ministry of Infrastructure in Rubavu District early this month, EWSA Director General Ntare Karitanyi,  expressed optimism over his institution’s capacity to handle the issue of electricity.

Cables theft

To cope with the growing demand for energy, the government started the construction of various power plants countrywide. They include Nyabarongo hydropower plant in Muhanga district, with a capacity to generate 28 Megawatts upon completion and Rusumo power project which will contribute over 80MW. Others include Mukungwa, Ntaruka, Rukarara and Rusizi III hydro-electric plants due to generate over 60 MW

The country is also investing in micro hydropower plants, geothermal drilling, and the exploitation of Lake Kivu methane gas. It is encouraging the use of solar panels, among other initiatives.

But despite efforts to boost access to electricity countrywide, EWSA has blamed ‘irresponsible individuals’ who abuse its infrastructure, thus resulting in power outages and shortages in some parts of the country.

Though they do not rule out other factors, including heavy rains and lightning which sometimes damage electricity installations as well as the lack of enough electricity to serve the whole population, EWSA officials say the theft of electric cables in the country is obstructing their efforts.

Several individuals have of recent been arrested over alleged involvement in vandalising and abuse of electricity infrastructure.

According to Kasumba, the theft of cables and other hardware is a ‘deplorable’ act and a ‘sign of irresponsibility’.

“Infrastructure is of public interest and protecting it should be the responsibility of each and every individual,” Kasumba observes, noting however that measures have been put in place to deal with the individuals abusing the infrastructure.

Way forward

Despite the many challenges affecting efforts to raise the numbers of those with access to electricity, EWSA officials and local leaders still believe the 2017 target is achievable.

According to Kasumba, apart from generating hydropower energy, EWSA is also encouraging the exploitation of solar energy as well as tapping into the sector of biogas, among others, to cope with the growing demand for energy.

Efforts to encourage private investors in the field are also underway.

Kasumba says the target is likely to be attained and even exceeded.

For Habitegeko, it is important to keep investing in electricity generation because it will stimulate investments in rural areas in addition to improving service delivery, be it in public or private institutions.

And, though he recognises that today ‘the demand for energy is by far more than the available resources,” he still has hope that the 2017 target of having at least 70 per cent of the entire population access electricity will be realised.

For the mayor there is no reason to worry. The important thing, as he puts it, “there is a political will and that gives me assurance that we shall achieve the target.”


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