Monday, June 18, 2007

The problem with Africa's biggest solar power plant

I was at the inauguration of Africa’s biggest solar plant on the 6th July.

The work of the German companies Stadtwerke Mainz, Juwi and my friend Jutta in completing this plant is impressive. With 250kW it may be small compared to conventional power plants, but huge for solar power. This project broke new ground in Rwanda.

The press was unquestioningly positive.

Unfortunately, I think this project is misguided for a couple of reasons:
  • This is a large grid-connected plant. The future of solar energy in Rwanda is small household systems. This project demonstrates how not to do solar projects in Rwanda. The 250kW contribution to the grid of about 50 000kW is minimal. If the 250kW had instead been installed as 2500 household systems, the impact would have been much larger.
  • The plant was built entirely by German companies with German financing. The amount of technology and skills transfer is minimal.
  • The plant is a donation that makes no commercial sense. It demonstrates the technical possibilities of solar power, but not its economic viability. It is the economic viability that will decide about the future of solar energy in Rwanda.
  • Such non-commercial projects destroy local markets by suppressing prices to artificially low levels. Commercial energy projects in all sectors are being held back by unrealistically low cost expectations in the country.
I hope that future projects in Rwanda are better designed to develop the Rwandan private sector. Only if Rwandans themselves learn how to develop projects and commercial ventures can this country develop out of poverty.


Surya said...

hi Maurice

Which place and region in your view is most suitable for installing a solar plant in africa.actually i am working in european company which is interested in a commercially viable project like this.your any comments would be highly welcomed.
with regards
Pramod Misra

Anonymous said...

Hi maurice

1. where can I get info (technical, financiale, eg. cost per kwatt hour to put it into the power grid)on the detail of this solar power plant in Rwanda?
2. plse provide me contact detail for th european company looking for a commercally viable solar project in Africa as per the comment from pramrod misra

kind regards

Maurice said...

If you want to discuss detailed issues please go to Please make sure to introduce yourself fully.