The entire informal education department took a field trip to Rwanda’s first solar plant on June 18th – on Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village property. ASYV hosts the project and leases 42 acres of its 144-acre plot of land to the solar project. This is an initiative that Anne Heyman, founder of ASYV, was passionate about, and she would be proud to see her idea coming to fruition. From the dining hall you can hear the drilling and commotion that takes place just beyond visual recall, but few from the Village understand the solar plant’s intended purpose or have visited the site. Armed with questions, the informal education department made the 10-minute journey to the gates of the solar plant. The site manager of the plant, Ido Herman, a previous Agahozo-Shalom Village Fellow of the 2011 Village Cohort, met us for a walk of the grounds.

We began our tour with a brief safety overview. Mamas giggled as they adorned the bright construction helmets and Village Fellows winced at the reference to the many snakes that have been found on the property. We were then given the statistics of the plant and the goals for the future distribution of energy. The project is an 8.5-megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant and will be the first of its kind in all of East Africa. The hope for the plant is that it will wean people off of their diesel generators and onto a more sustainable form of energy. As it stands today, 50% of Rwanda’s energy usage is from generators. Diesel is an imported commodity, where as Rwanda’s sunny climate is an ideal conductor of natural domestic solar energy. The plant is set to increase Rwanda’s power generation capacity by about 8 percent.

The solar plant currently employs 250 local people and 50 foreigners who work on site. A great majority of these employees are local to the Rwamagana District. While employed by the plant, they are paid nearly double the Rwandan minimum wage, which is 1,000 Rwandan Francs per day, the equivalent of about $1.50 USD. Workers are also provided health insurance, something that is rarely offered by Rwandan employers. The site employs foreign engineers, construction specialists, and energy consultants from all over the world. “When we’re all trying to communicate on a given issue it can quickly become something like the Tower of Babel over here,” says Ido of the international working conditions.

The project began construction in February of 2014 and is on track to open by the end of July of the same year. It is important to note that the electricity that is produced in Rwamagana will serve localized purposes, such as providing more reliable electricity to ASYV as well as other industrial needs. The plant cost about 22 million dollars to produce, including the importation of materials, construction, and land rights. Rwamagana’s solar plant is a pioneer in Rwanda and has already sparked interest in creating more solar fields in other corners of the country from Rwanda’s Energy, Water, and Sanitation Authority (EWSA). This could greatly reduce Rwanda’s dependency on foreign energy and create hundreds of jobs for Rwandan citizens. 

The field trip to the solar plant provided a great opportunity for the Agahozo-Shalom staff to learn about what the future holds for Rwandan development. ASYV Family Mama Catherine assertively asked, “How long will these solar panels last before they need to be replaced?” Ido told us that the panels have a 25-year warranty. “25 years!” said Mama Catherine, “That’s a lifetime, in 25 years I bet countries will be learning these things from us.” One cannot help but feel that Mama Catherine is correct in her assumption. In just 6 months Rwanda will have turned a vacant field into a solar energy plant that is the first of its kind in the region. As ASYV graduates more engineers and scientists, we hope that these growing industries provide even greater opportunities for our students. 

Submitted by Sasha Friedman, 2014 Village Fellow