Darkness in the City
The units on your cash power meter are up but for the last 30 minutes you have had no electricity. And when power eventually returns, it will not last ten minutes and the cycle continues.
That has been the case for weeks now and city residents just cannot understand what has befallen their city, famously known to have stable power supply by visitors from the other neighboring capitals where darkness is a known companion.
“Let us put the blame on the ebikorwa byiza (development works) going on in our city,” said Larry Vincent Mpaka, until recently the power operations manager at Energy Water and Sanitation Authority(EWSA).
According to EWSA officials who talked to The Rwanda Focus, the road constructions that are ongoing in the city are to blame as construction companies continuously cut through underground electricity cables during the process of mending roads.
In the recent past, the water section of EWSA has also blamed water supply disruptions in the city to damages caused by road construction works.
The ensuing chaos has left EWSA, construction companies and Kigali City Council (KCC) at loggerheads yet in reality, it’s hard to stick the blame on any of them.
“We have a job to do and if a power line passes in a road reserve, we obviously cannot shift the road to spare the cable,” said a driver of a grader with the construction company COTRACO.
When asked why EWSA has its power infrastructure under the roads, Mpaka, who has since been appointed the electricity distribution manager, blames the problem on poor and shortsighted planning by past technocrats who had no master plan for the city.
Gikondo, just like several other Kigali suburbs such as Kabeza, Old Kiyovu and some parts of Rugunga have been most hit yet EWSA says residents there should take heart as they need both electricity and roads.
“Water, electricity and roads are vital requirements of any modern city so we are obviously not planning these blackout incidents as they are not in either EWSA or KCC’s interests because we serve the same people,” explained Mpaka.
But not to take the blame lying down, EWSA has introduced fines against construction companies involved in vandalizing the power lines. “Whoever damages our resources is given an invoice and they cover whatever cost we incur in mending the damage,” revealed Mpaka.
While construction works might explain the daytime power outages, there are no clear answers as to why some areas are rocked with nighttime blackouts that leave residents reluctant to go out.
At 327,839 electricity subscribers countrywide, Rwanda still has some of the lowest power access coverage in East Africa. While the figures of electricity production might indicate that there’s a balance between production and demand that might not be the case on a closer look.
Information obtained from both Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) and EWSA indicate that the national installed capacity is capable of generating up-to 99.38 Mega Watts (MW) of power.
But in actual sense, the available generation of the country’s hydro and thermo energy sources can only manage 96.63MW of which the peak demand consumes up to 83MW.
That would be a perfect situation for the country until one brings in the international standards which require that there should be reserve power kept for emergency cases. “The law requires between 20MW to 25 MW of the available power to be kept for reserve,” said AlfredByigero, the head of department, energy, water and sanitation regulation at RURA.
With the available capacity of 96.6MW, respecting the international standard requirement would leave EWSA with just 72MW to supply to its 327,839 subscribers. That would leave the country in a deficit of 11MW at peak hours.
“That too can explain the outages in situations where construction works are not to blame,” observed Byigero.
Moreover, from Thursday last week up to sometime on Sunday, Jabana, a major thermal plant contributing some 7MW, was down reducing available capacity for the week hence explaining some outages in some areas.
As government sets ambitious goals to increase access to electricity, the observation also raises the need for urgency in plans to increase power production through various public-private investments in the energy sector.
“The government has launched an aggressive program to increase the access to the electricity services by all sectors of the economy and all consumer categories. It has started from an extremely low base but the growth in electricity access has been impressive between 2008 and 2012,” notes RURA in its report on the electricity sector.
For instance, in 2010, national access to electricity stood at 9.5% and the target was to grow it to 16% by the end of 2012.
According to RURA, EWSA has made a significant change in the way it functions. It is relying to a large extent on local private contractors for new connections while also helping these contractors to develop their technical capacity.
The strategy consists initially in increasing the number of connections within the areas already reached by the Medium Voltage (MV) network.
These results are also being achieved by progressively extending the medium voltage network and using a single phase medium voltage line to lower the costs of distribution in rural areas.
“The Government’s ambition is to achieve electricity access to 70% of households by 2017,” said RURA.
To do that, RURA official explains that government in collaboration with the private sector and partners is promoting small electricity projects as part of the general renewable energy framework.
Already, RURA explains that four micro-hydro projects (Keya, Nkora, Cyimbili and Mazimeru) have been commissioned and 10 mini and micro hydro projects are ongoing with a total combined capacity of 10,12MW.
These ongoing projects include Mukungwa II (2.2 MW), Janja (0.22MW), Gashashi (0.2MW), Musharara (0.4MW), Mazimeru (0.5MW), Nyabahanga (0.2MW), Rukarara II (2MW), Nyirabuhombohombo (0.5MW), Nshili (0.4MW) and Giciye (4MW).
According to RURA, all these except Giciye are due for commissioning by the end of 2012.
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