Exclusive interview with Miriam Schroeder, Country Project Manager, Energising Development (EnDev), Rwanda.
Let’s start with some background on EnDev and the work that you do, specifically in Rwanda?
EnDev Rwanda supports the private sector to deliver sustainable off-grid energy access in Rwanda. Our program is part of the global program “Energising Development” (EnDev), which is implemented by GIZ [the German cooperation] in 24 countries. EnDev promotes sustainable access to modern energy services that meet the needs of the poor – long lasting, affordable, and appreciated by users. Worldwide we’ve provided access to energy to 14 million people.
In Rwanda, we run three different components together with our partner REG: one on-grid micro hydro and two on off-grid electrification.
Since 2006, we have supported the private sector with the design and development of micro hydro power plants as well as having provided viability gap financing in the form of grants. Since 2014, we, REG, and our partnering bank Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB) provide technical support and results-based grant financing to companies that sell solar lamps and solar home systems and build and operate village grids.
We have 3.4 million EUR available to support the sale of solar systems reaching up to 176,000 households. We have another 1.89 million EUR available to provide electricity access to 3,750 households connected through village grids. Taken together, these two components can contribute more than 38% of target achievement for the government’s off-grid electrification target.
What technologies do you focus on?
For our on-grid micro hydro power plants, we cooperate with projects sites of up to 1 MW: in Rwandese terrain these use mostly cross-flow turbines. For our mini-grid promotion program, we invite all developers which either plan their own generation of up to 100 kW (hydro, PV or PV-diesel hybrids), or plan to purchase electricity from a third party, and sell it to customers in a village grid.
This means that our mini-grid program is also open towards developers who act as a Small Power Distributor in accordance with the RURA Simplified License Regulation for Isolated Grids. For our solar promotion program, we invite companies that import and sell solar lanterns and solar home systems with a Lighting Global Certification.
What in your view are the main challenges currently for infrastructure and development in this country?
RDB offers a one-stop centre for investors and REG also has an investment unit. These units are great to have and usually leave a good impression with foreign companies. Going even further, however, there is a need for open data. Many companies ask us for an overview of projects in Rwanda, which projects are ongoing, what are the potential sites, where will the grid extension go. Publically available is only a hydro power atlas which is by now outdated.
Rwanda is a dynamic country with many projects starting up, so we had to develop our own overview of potential and ongoing projects, for both the micro-hydropower and off-grid sectors. However, we believe that a Rwandese public institution is better positioned to maintain such an overview and the data should be freely available online. Since about a year we have seen an increased interest in mini-grids in Rwanda. As there are plenty of regional and international companies interested in this investment opportunity, we also need to make sure that the data is ready and that we get a reliable grid extension plan from EARP.
Only if project developers are ensured that they can operate a mini-grid for at least 5 years, will they go through the hassle of setting it up and will they be able to present a bankable business plan for financing. Furthermore, the investment process should be clear and coordinated between the different parties involved, so that investors know what steps there are to follow, and which institutions they have to contact when and for what.
RURA’s simplified licencing on isolated grids is a great first step to set up the policy framework for mini-grids. The next step for RURA is to implement the regulation, especially aspects such as issuing licenses, if needed mediating between EUCL and private developers in the case of Small Power Distributors, and enforce procedures for cases in which the grid reaches a mini-grid. In spite of the challenges that the energy sector might face, we are confident that the Rwandese institutions involved (Ministry of Infrastructure, RDB, RURA, EDCL) will work together to find coordinated solutions.
What is the good news? Is Rwanda a good investment destination?
Rwanda is definitely a very attractive place to invest; political targets are clear and the general policy framework is good. Foreign companies appreciate the performance-orientation of their Rwandese counterparts. The before-mentioned examples of the RDB one-stop shop and the RURA regulation are two examples of good news for investors.
What is Rwanda like to live and work in?
Kigali is a great place to live in – especially for young families. As an expat I appreciate the security situation, the multi-lingual environment, and the openness towards foreigners. I know of many examples of consultants or interns that come to Rwanda for a short term assignment and end up living and working here for long because they like the country very much.
What advice would you give prospective investors?
Use the iPAD conference to get in touch with promising Rwandese partners. Also use the opportunity to approach policy makers and lobby for your case. Even if you have a very innovative project idea for which regulation does not yet exist, Rwandese institutions tend to be open towards your idea if you can provide good evidence and arguments. Once you have a successful pilot project on-going, chances are good for a roll-out, also on a regional scale.