Pico-hydropower brings electricity to people in Rwanda

July 2017

News

The AWAC pico-hydropower project seeks to generate a solution to rural electrification locally. The Pico Hydro Sector Support Project funded by the Wallony Agency for Air and Climate does this by empowering Rwandan artisans with skills to build simple turbines that can produce electricity to power rural households.

Meet Modest Polepole, a local artisan, based in Kigali’s Gakinjiro market, and an electrical technician by trade. He and other artisans have undergone two sessions of training from JLA experts from Belgium on assembling and mounting turbines to generate electricity.

“We are no longer just artisans, the knowledge we have can help bring electricity to many, even EDCL acknowledges this,” he said in an interview.

Polepole is a veteran in the pico-hydro scene. After receiving vocational training in electrical engineering, he began installing converters in health centres and schools. It was then that he realised that the rural population was underserved by the national electric grid. While doing some research he visited Congo and learnt from fellow artisans. Armed with the information, he returned to Rwanda and put word out that he could build turbines.

“In Congo I saw some technology I could replicate. When I returned I collected some mechanical parts of old generators and recycled them in the turbine, that way it did not cost too much.”

The 39 year-old father of three installed his first turbine in the year 2000. Back then the residents of Musange sector, Nyamagabe District put money together, with Banque Populaire and a nearby secondary school and paid him 3,000,000Rwf to make and install a 12kW capacity turbine in a nearby river. His second was in nearby Kaduha sector where the hospital ordered a turbine to supply 80kW of power. He went on to build dams and install turbines in Rutsiro and other districts, but due to the quality of the materials, the turbines never lasted more than a year without breaking down.

In 2010, the Ministry of Infrastructure invited Polepole and four other electric technicians to a training on theory of turbine manufacture. International organizations like The German Development Agency (GIZ), the Belgian Development Agency (BTC) and Energy for Impact, formerly GVep also came on board. It wasn’t until 2014 that the technicians got practical exposure to modern pico-hydro technology – through SNV’s AWAC Wallonie funded project.

“This was not like other trainings. We travelled to Mukungu sector, Karongi District, where we were introduced to GPS mapping. We were shown how to identify a pico-hydro site, measure topography, depth of the water and velocity, as well as modern construction techniques for reservoir dams. The greatest addition was the control unit which will distribute power while increasing safety,” Polepole said at his workshop in Gakinjiro. “We can now make turbines that last up to 30 years using the right materials.”

Spurred on by the SNV AWAC trainers, Polepole and 10 other electrical technicians formed a company – EAPICO Hydro-developers ltd - after the training and have an office in Kigali. The company came with perks.

“Our Belgian trainers left us a toolkit that is useful in our business. We have fabricated two turbines and a control unit,” Polepole said, hinting that the company already has an order for a 50kW turbine in Rutsiro.

AWAC project manager, Jean-Claude Uwizeye says the final phase of the technicians’ training will be in September 2017 when the two turbines will be installed.

“The project has signed an MoU with IPRC for further training and equipped the technicians with tools and knowledge. So far, there is demand from the market,” Mr Uwizeye said, adding that five instructors from IPRC had also been trained in the spirit of SNV’s approach to implement projects at scale.

Through providing technical training and coaching to small hydro energy enterprises, the Pico Hydro Sector Support Project aspires to strengthen the Pico-Hydro sector in Rwanda. Besides trainings the project has supported local turbine manufacturing and the establishment of pico-hydro association of Hydro entrepreneurs in Rwanda. As a climax of the training, the technicians will install/rehabilitate a pilot pico-site that will support access to electricity to a small village with about 300 households.

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Polepole shows a machine used to fabricate turbines
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Technicians pose for a photo with SNV staff and their trainers after training