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Rwanda’s Rapid Electrification

By: Elenah Kimaru

Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Between 2009 and 2019, the country’s real GDP grew an average of 7% every year, with the World Bank projecting an average of 7.5-8% annual growth in the medium term. The IMF projects that Rwanda will be the 5th fastest growing economy in the world in 2020.

Most of the economic activity feeding Rwanda’s current success would have been impossible to carry out fifteen years ago, when less than 5% of Rwandans had access to electricity: In 2005, 75% of the country’s urban population and 98.7% of the rural population lacked electricity access.

Since then, Rwanda’s power generation capacity has experienced rapid growth. As of December 2019, 53% of Rwandan households enjoyed electricity access. Rwanda’s electrification enabled economic growth across the board. Between 2005 and 2019, the services, manufacturing, and industrial sectors more than doubled in size, and a bustling high-tech industry emerged in the country which boasts such success as the Mara phone – the first “Made in Africa” smartphone.

Rwanda’s electrification is the consequence of the government, the private sector, and non-profit organizations working together to obtain the best results in the most efficient manner. The government of Rwanda has set a strategic priority of universal electrification by 2024 in its National Electrification Plan and has partnered with private companies to develop the country’s electricity generation capacity. As of 2018, over half (52%) of the energy capacity was privately owned, with financing often coming from third parties such as the World Bank and USAID.

As of 2019, the bulk (47%) of Rwanda’s total installed capacity to generate electricity came from hydropower generated from Rwanda’s many rivers, with diesel (26%), peat (7%), solar (5%), methane (12%), and imports (2%) make up the rest. Today, 39% of households are connected directly to the national grid, and 14% use off-grid solutions.

Spillway of a mini-hydropower station located in Rwanda.

Since more than three-quarters of Rwanda’s population lives in rural areas, the road to universal electrification includes making off-grid solutions available to Rwandans in more remote regions. To reach 100% electrification by 2024, the government intends to connect the majority (52%) of Rwandans to the national grid and provide electricity to the remaining 48% through off-grid solutions.

Over a billion USD in public investments as well as substantial institutional reforms that allowed the private sector to play a key role in building power plants and innovating off-grid solutions have brought Rwanda’s energy capacity to where it is today. Reaching the goal of 100% electrification by 2024 will require continued public investment and private sector cooperation.

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