The developing nation of Rwanda – through the vision of a Jerusalem-based team led by American-Israeli Yosef Abramowitz – may soon become home to an 8.5- megawatt solar oasis capable of providing 8 percent of the country’s energy supply.
Although Abramowitz’s Energiya Global and the Rwandan government are still working on signing a final agreement, the company provided a progress report on the project on Tuesday morning at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. If the agreement is finalized, the country’s first solar field will be located at the Agahozo- Shalom Youth Village, a boarding school for genocide orphans east of Kigali, the country’s capital.
The company hopes not only to bring a new and clean source of energy to Rwanda but also to catalyze industrial growth, create jobs and generate revenue for healthcare and education.
“We are very grateful that you can make the choice to invest in us as well as with us,” Kagame said.
Abramowitz launched Energiya Global as its president and co-founder with the hope of bringing solar energy to the developing world. President and co-founder of the Arava Power Company as well, Abramowitz and his partners were responsible for the construction of Israel’s first grid-connected, medium-sized solar field, which came online at Kibbutz Ketura in June 2011. New Jersey businessman David Rosenblatt and Ketura resident Ed Hofland cofounded both companies with Abramowitz, and were joined by Ira Green and company chairman Howie Rodenstein in establishing Energiya.
“We feel that we are brothers and sisters with the Rwandan people, because we have also come from darkness into light,” Abramowitz said.
The 8.5-MW project would encompass about 16 of the youth village’s 60 hectares and would provide approximately 8% of the country’s energy, explained Chaim Motzen, vice president and Africa regional director at Energiya Global.
“There’s a great solar resource in Rwanda,” he said.
The business climate of Rwanda is one of the best in all of Africa, and the government is eager to reduce its dependency on diesel fuel, Motzen stressed. Rwanda has about 100 MW of electricity for its 11 million people, which is derived from approximately 55% hydroelectric sources, 40% diesel and 5% methane gas.
After Energiya and the government of Rwanda signed a memorandum of understanding, the company submitted its feasibility study to the government at the end of 2012, and final negotiations toward signing a deal are now taking place.
“We hope that we will break ground and begin construction before Christmas,” Motzen said.
Once the solar field is operating, it will support the country’s economic growth, provide power to public institutions such as hospitals, reduce operating costs for businesses and create thousands of jobs, he explained. The site will also become an educational hub, attracting students from the village and from the region to come learn about solar energy production.
The facility will also have a positive environmental effect on both a national and local scale, reducing the need for women to burn wood in their homes – an act that makes their air 20 times more polluted than that of Beijing, Motzen said.
“The project will be a reliable source of income for the orphanage,” and a portion of the profits will be shared with the village, he added. “We hope that this is a replicable model.”
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is the ideal host site for the country’s first solar field, according to Anne Heyman, the Jewish South African-American attorney and philanthropist who founded the village in December 2008.
The massive Rwandan genocide in 1994 led to a situation in which there was “no systemic solution to the orphan problem,” Heyman explained.
By establishing the youth village, she said she aimed to transplant the Israeli way of coping with traumatized youth to Rwanda, noting that “we share a common history in so many ways.”
This past January, the village was proud to send off its first graduating high-school class, with 99% of the students passing the Rwandan national exams, she said.
“These are kids that came from the worst of the worst,” Heyman continued, stressing that now, they aim to give back to their country. “These are kids who are able to communicate, to think creatively.”
Heyman explained that Rwanda is also a fitting country for solar energy development, as concern for the environment is prevalent among its citizens, who will not even be seen carrying plastic bags. In his capacity as president, Kagame advocates a policy of diversifying energy sources as widely as possible, she added.
“It’s such a perfect match for Agahozo-Shalom to be a place where we will be able to bring alternative energy,” Heyman said.
Now that the Israeli youth village system has proved successful at Agahozo-Shalom in Rwanda, Heyman said, she feels that the concept “can be replicated with great success.”
“The challenge now is to figure out how to make this village and the ones that follow sustainable,” she said. “We need people willing to invest in businesses – like the solar company – on behalf of the village. Then we are talking true sustainability.”
In the eyes of Kagame, Agahozo- Shalom Youth Village “symbolizes the partnership that is there, that we want to be there” between Israel and Rwanda.
“In Rwanda we feel very much closely associated with Israel,” he said. “We are happy to build on this, on these symbols of togetherness.”
While there are still many challenges for Rwandans to overcome, Kagame stressed, none is “insurmountable,” adding that people who came from nothing are now able to become something in the country. Some of the challenges include continually improving education, developing technology, constructing infrastructure, integrating the various regions of the country and bringing markets to scale, he explained.
“We want to impact lives of people,” Kagame said. “There are things that cement all these ideas together and one of these is energy.
“You understand the meaning of that,” he said.