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Africa in the News: Methane May Become Rwanda

 

Some Rwandan’s may soon be deriving large amounts of relatively inexpensive electricity from an uncommon source, Lake Kivu. The lake is large, 1,000 square miles, and deep, with a maximum depth of 1,575 ft.  However, its unique characteristic is “the rich supplies of methane gas that are lying in its depths.” The methane is a result of area volcanoes and anaerobic bacteria, and there is an estimated 60 billion cubic meters of it trapped deep below the surface. The trapped gas has traditionally been viewed as a local hazard but is now being seen as a potential energy source in a region which is hampered by shortages. The Rwandan government has launched a pilot program which has already begun to extract methane from the lake in the hopes of attracting investors.

This type of energy production is especially attractive for the Rwandan government because it isn’t exported, but derived from Rwanda’s own resources. The mechanisms for extracting underwater methane are also cheaper than those of hydro or thermal plants. The methane extraction process involves lowering a pipe so that it is positioned just above the gas. Then, “when a valve is opened, the deep water flows up and the gas bubbles out.” The project has already attracted investment from an energy company in the U.S., ContourGlobal, which has plans to develop an energy production plant on site. The company expects to produce 25 megawatts of electricity in about a year and increased production to 100 megawatts after the initial phases have proven successful. This would “double the 95 megawatts that Rwanda currently produces from all sources,” allowing for more development, industrialization and a better quality of life.

This project may have a major impact on Rwanda’s economic growth. Although the country’s economy has been steadily growing since the ending of the civil war in 1993, development has been hampered by a shortage of electricity. This is not to mention the effects that rolling blackout can have on individual homes and the larger society. As Vincent Karega, Rwanda’s Minister of Infrastructure explains, “We are trying to solve the quality of life problem because we have no energy — it is difficult to cool the vaccines, the medicines, to store and package food, to process it… So energy is key for all of the socio-economic transformation." Innovative and sustainable energy resources have the potential to unlock a host of new possibilities for Rwanda and other developing nations across Africa.

 

Reference: McKenzie, David. "’Exploding Lake’ Could Power Economic ‘revolution’" CNN International. Cable News Network, 4 May 2011. <http://edition.cnn.com/2011/BUSINESS/05/04/rwanda.kivu.exploding.methane/index.html>.

Additional Information

A paper from UNEP on the “Poverty-environment-energy linkages in Rwanda”: http://www.unpei.org/PDF/Rwanda-Pov-env-energy-linkages.pdf

 

An article on geothermal energy in Rwanda: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-04/rwanda-plans-to-start-sinking-geothermal-wells-has-700-mws.html

A short article from UNDP on “Environment and Energy” in Rwanda: http://www.undp.org.rw/Energy_and_Environment.html

A short video on the Lake Kivu energy project among others: http://blip.tv/file/5106490

Discussion Questions

1. How important is electricity to your life? Do you think you could continue to function normally with only a few hours without electricity at night? What about no electricity at all? How would things change?

2. Can you think of ways to identify and exploit sources of clean, cheap, renewable energy for other developing countries? What kind of support would these countries need from those that are more developed?

3. What support can you provide to help solve the energy crisis around the world?

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sarah little