• In a country where only a quarter of the population is connected to an electricity supply, power development plans are much appreciated because they will boost the nation’s economy and the wellbeing of the residents.

    Thus, when President Paul Kagame launched a power plant on Monday, which will use methane gas from Lake Kivu, it was appreciated as it will add 26 megawatts (MG) to the country’s grid.

    “26MW won’t address our energy or power problems, but it is an indication of what is possible,” President Kagame said at the inauguration of the plant.

    The KivuWatt plant which is being developed by US Company Contour Global is the first phase of a scheme aimed at adding more than 100MW exploiting the lake’s methane. The project is divided into three 25 MW installments between 2018 and 2019 totaling to 75 MW within that period.

    Rwanda aims at more than doubling the number of people who can access power either from the grid or off-the-grid supplies by 2018. It hopes to avail to 70 percent of its 11 million people with power, up from the current 25 percent.

    Power is key to lifting Africa’s economy and many countries in the region are exploiting available resources to ensure access to electricity.

    “Energy is one of the top priorities for the government of Rwanda,” Rwanda’s Finance Minister Claver Gatete said in the statement, adding that it was vital to reaching the nation’s goal of achieving middle-income status by 2020.

    The power plant and methane processing will cost $200 million, and will be financed by a private partnership with help from the African Development Bank (AfDB) and development funds, officials said.

    Hitting two birds with one stone

    Lake Kivu, which borders Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo provides a spectacular landscape of great beauty, surrounded by towering volcanoes and lush green vegetation well distributed in the slopes. The vegetation includes tea, coffee, and bananas.

    But underneath the calm blue waters, lies eminent danger. The waters are saturated with methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide gas. For the time being, the gas-filled water is well protected beneath a crust of heavy saline that prevents it from coming onto the surface.

    It is however known that the surface can only remain firm for so long. It could be easily broken by an earthquake, a volcanic eruption or even the growing pressure of the gasses themselves.

    Thus, the generation station on Lake Kivu in Rwanda’s west is also aimed at reducing the risk of a catastrophic event. By regularly letting the gasses out of the pressure-filled underneath, Rwanda could avert the dangers associated with an unexpected disturbance in the lake.

    Venting and flaring off the gasses would minimize the risk of an eruption, but these gasses are highly toxic. Thus, exploiting them for power is the better option in trying to avoid deaths of more than 2 million people that live along the lake’s shores and their animals, if an explosion were to occur.

    It is well documented how an explosion from Lake Nyos, in Cameroon, some thirty years ago, killed almost 2,000 people as far as 25 kilometers from the shore. Studies show that Lake Kivu's highly flammable methane mix presents an even greater danger to the region.

    Three lakes, Lake Kivu, Cameroon's Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun are known to have hazardously high concentrations of gasses like methane that if released suddenly could cause a disastrous explosion, after which waves of CO2 could suffocate people and livestock.

    “If you think about Rwanda’s limited options for electricity, this is a great one. Because we are ameliorating the risk of methane release as well as generating power,” President Kagame said.