Rwanda, perhaps best known as a once war-torn nation in the middle of Africa, has garnered the attention of clean energy advocates around the globe for constructing the fastest solar power project on the continent. The solar farm, situated in the famous green hills 37 miles east of the capital, Kigali, has a capacity of 8.5 megawatts (MW), That’s enough energy to power nearly 1,400 homes in the United States. For a rural nation like Rwanda, the same amount of energy has a much broader impact. But it’s not the size of the project that has wowed critics as much as the speed. The entire $24 million solar field went from contracts to connection in just one year.
From an aerial perspective, the solar field was designed with the shape of the African continent – a symbolic gesture that indicates this move toward clean energy isn’t just for the benefit of the people of Rwanda, but for the future of everyone in Africa. As opposed to a standard solar farm, where photovoltaic panels are stationary, the solar field in Rwanda uses computers to control the angle of the panels from dawn to dusk so that each panel follows the sun, realizing a 20 percent increase in energy conversion.
Rwanda, still very much a developing country, relied on international support to make this project a reality. The government agreed to a joint bid by Gigawatt Global, Norfund and Scatec Solar, which is backed by President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative. Construction began in February 2014 and only look five months. The solar farm went into operation in July 2014 and was converting the sun’s rays into usable electricity shortly thereafter.
In a small country – Rwanda is about the size of Maryland – that is primarily rural with sparse energy infrastructure, a solar project like this has an immeasurable impact. The project is built on land leased from the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, whose mission is to care for Rwanda’s most vulnerable children orphaned before and after the genocide 21 years ago. The lease now accounts for the largest portion of the village’s income, and a number of spin-off projects have been launched to provide solar panels to as many as 250,000 individual homes in the region.