Many African countries are experiencing severe energy shortages, so alternative power means are sought. More green solutions are encouraged, such as solar power. However, these solutions are expensive and therefore inaccessible to the vast majority, meaning that the poorer are forced into darkness. Israel Habimana has taken it upon himself to ensure that his neighbourhood has access to power.
Rwandan Israel Habimana’s idea to create a hydroelectric plant displays an impressive feat of innovation and problem-solving. Statistics provided by the Rwanda Energy Group (REG) state that the number of households with access to electricity in the country has increased from 10% in 2010 to 75% in 2022. However, Habimana’s neighbourhood was part of the 1.4 million people in Rwanda without electricity and has had none for 15 years.
Despite never receiving an education, his visit to a small hydroelectric plant at Mwendo Catholic Missionary Centre in western Rwanda grew the seed within him to emulate how it works in his capacity. “I observed how the machines worked, and I did the same thing,” he said. “I myself have been living in a house without electricity for many years. The idea of building this infrastructure came to me when I saw the lighting in Kigali.”
The Nyankorogoma hydropower plant began in 2012 when he sold his house and land for $17 000 to buy engines and water pipes. He was able to provide for 50 families in his neighbourhood of Kirehe, but unfortunately, he had to halt production after only four months. His first attempt encountered significant problems as the power often burned household electronics. However, this setback did not deter him, as his next step was to further educate himself on how to regulate electricity. He went to the then-Rwanda Energy Group (REG) for advice and training.
He picked up the project again in October 2017 with the assistance of Energy4Impact, a Swedish international development cooperation agency. The agency helped upgrade the plant and make it what it is today. “The challenges I have are mostly related to the availability of materials, especially cables,” he said. “Often REG (Rwanda Energy Group) gives me these materials but not all the time. Also, it is difficult for me to increase the capacity of my infrastructure because the demand is high and my revenues are not significant.”
Habinamana’s plant now employs 15 people and has brought hope and development to his community. The power plant supplies 221 households and 25 businesses in five villages, with approximately 300 homes and companies still waiting to receive power. In addition, the Nyankorogoma plant provides an affordable stream of energy in the community. They are required only to pay a $45 initial fee followed by a $1 and $5 flat rate monthly for households and businesses, respectively.
“First of all, we are very happy with these kinds of people that are taking initiatives, finding financing and overcoming difficulties. In this specific area of Kirehe, when he [Habimana] started about three or four years ago, this was much needed,” said the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Energy Group, Ron Weiss.
“I designed and made this project without having been to school. But I know that if I had gone to school, I would have done miracles, and I wouldn’t have lost a lot of money, but I’m happy with what I was able to achieve,” said Habimana, who has helped develop his community beyond measure. Kirehe’s economic diversity increases more with reliable and inexpensive energy and will continue to grow from strength to strength because of Habimana’s power plant.