Advancing what will likely be the company’s second utility-scale solar facility in East Africa, the American- Israeli-led Gigawatt Global firm has secured two international grants worth nearly $1 million for the construction of a photovoltaic field in Burundi.
Gigawatt Global, a US-owned Dutch developer co-founded by American-Israeli solar entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz, is planning to build a 7.5 MW solar field on a 15-hectare site in the country’s Gitega region, about 100 km. from the capital city of Bujumbura, the company said. The roughly $20m. venture is expected to increase Burundi’s electricity production capacity by 15%, and provide power for 60,000 households, the firm added.
On Monday, at the offices of the United States Trade and Development Agency in Arlington, Virginia, the USTDA awarded a grant to the company’s local subsidiary Gigawatt Global Burundi S.A., under the framework of the US government’s interagency Power Africa Initiative. Established by President Barack Obama in June 2013, Power Africa aims to add more than 30 GW of cleaner energy to Africa, or enough to power 60 million homes and businesses.
Monday’s signing ceremony with the USTDA follows the receipt in January of an additional grant from the Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP), a coalition representing the British, Finnish and Austrian governments.
All in all, the American and European grants total about $1m., the company said.
The awarding of the USTDA grant comes less than two months after Gigawatt Global established the first utility- scale solar field in East Africa, on the grounds of the Agazhozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda – in the Eastern Province district of Rwamagana. There, the $23.7m., 8.5 MW solar field is supplying 6% of Rwanda’s power supply, and was the first facility to be grid-connected under the Power Africa program. The company recently received a Nobel Prize nomination for the project, submitted by former Yesh Atid MK Shimon Solomon.
“Our impact investment model is to strengthen developing nations, both economically and environmentally, by providing renewable energy sources where they are most needed,” Abramowitz said. “We plan to build 1,000 solar megawatts in Africa by 2020, thereby providing electricity to millions of households and institutions that are currently without the most basic of human needs.”
Regarding Burundi in particular, Gigawatt Global first signed a memorandum of understanding with the country’s government in July 2014, expressing its intentions to positively impact the country’s development through job creation and contracts with local businesses, the firm said. Already, Gigawatt Global is working with the Polytechnic University of Gitega, international NGOs and local community representatives, to develop a corporate social responsibility program for knowledge transfer, the company added.
Today, Burundi only has about 52 MW of installed electrical capacity, which includes 15.5 MW of highly polluting and expensive diesel-generated power. In areas that do have power, Burundi experiences a high frequency of blackouts, with outages lasting an average of two days per week, information from Gigawatt Global said.
“We embrace the development of renewable energy as a means of increasing Burundi’s electrical generation capacity, thereby stimulating economic growth and providing a range of opportunities for the Burundian people,” said Burundian Energy and Mines Minister Come Manirakiza.
Gigawatt Global is currently in dialogue about social opportunities in Burundi with Tevel B’Tzedek, an Israeli NGO already on the ground in the country. Founded by American-Israeli Rabbi Micha Odenheimer in 2007 to coordinate service-learning programs for Israeli and Diaspora Jews in Nepal, Tevel expanded its work to Burundi in 2014.
“We’re looking into how we can combine resources and use the infrastructure of the solar field for the benefit of the community,” Elana Kaminka, Tevel’s associate director, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “Our expertise is doing long-term, ongoing intervention with needy communities, using Jewish and Israeli human resources – mainly, young volunteers.”
In October, seven Israeli and Diaspora Jews joined nine Burundian volunteers to build community structures in the rural Vugizo district of Makamba, the southernmost province of Burundi. Tevel is recruiting its newest set of volunteers to come to Burundi this fall, and is meanwhile also providing Gigawatt Global with logistical support, Kaminka said.
As the solar project moves forward, the USTDA grant allocated to Gigawatt Global on Monday will be used to fund a feasibility study to address the project’s technical aspects, conduct environmental and social impact assessments and provide the analysis necessary to secure full project financing. Meanwhile, the funds awarded by the EEP will go toward pre-development works and legal costs, according to Gigawatt Global.
After conducting all of these evaluations and securing full financing, the project is expected to be completed and operational by 2016, the company said.
“This project presents a unique opportunity to link US industry expertise with the advancement of clean energy in Burundi,” said USTDA director Leocadia I. Zak, in a statement on Monday. “On behalf of our partners under Power Africa, which seeks to increase access to power and promote greater private investment in sub-Saharan Africa’s energy sector, USTDA is pleased to formalize our partnership with Gigawatt Global Burundi.”
Zak signed the grant agreement with Gigawatt Global vice president of finance Michael Fichtenberg, who is also the managing director of the Burundi project.
Fichtenberg stressed that throughout the process thus far, the company has been pleased with the progress made and the cooperation with the Burundian government and the US and Dutch embassies in the country.
Such collaboration, he explained, has been instrumental “in advancing the country’s first utility-scale solar energy generation facility that addresses the crippling energy crisis and will directly contribute to economic growth and stability of Burundi.”
“We believe that this pioneering solar project can be the bellwether for further Western investment in Burundi,” Fichtenberg said.