Rwanda adds 25MW from KivuWatt, Symbion signs methane deal

Saturday December 12 2015

KivuWatt power plant on Lake Kivu in Western

KivuWatt power plant on Lake Kivu in Western Province of Rwanda. Efforts to generate electricity from methane gas in Lake Kivu are starting to yield results with its installed capacity set to increase to 186MW in December 2015 when 25MW is added to the national grid. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA  

By KABONA ESIARA, The EastAfrican

Rwanda’s efforts to generate electricity from methane gas in Lake Kivu are starting to yield results with its installed capacity set to increase to 186MW this month when 25MW is added to the national grid.

The national demand of electricity is 105MW.

The first phase of the KivuWatt power plant, which is at the pilot stage, has already added 22MW to the grid as part of the 25MW it is to generate in the first phase before embarking on the remaining 75MW to make it 100MW.

And now, Symbion Power Lake Kivu Ltd, an American company, last week signed a contract to generate 55MW. Symbion is the second independent power producer to invest in the methane-to-power plant after KivuWatt signed a concession.

“The country has enough power,” said John Bosco Mugiraneza, the chief executive officer of the national electricity utility Rwanda Energy Group (REG). “Should any incident that disrupts power generation occur, there will be no load-shedding.”

Lake Kivu contains an estimated 55 billion cubic metres of naturally occurring methane gas. The total power generation potential of this resource has been conservatively estimated at more than 500 MW over 40 years.

The government also owns Kibuye Power 1 (KP1), a 3.5MW methane-to-power plant that was used as a pilot project to prove to investors that the methane gas in Lake Kivu can be used in power generation and there is technology to support investment in clean, affordable and reliable energy sources.

SIGNIFICANT DROP IN TARIFFS

The investments at Lake Kivu are expected to result in a significant drop in electricity tariffs. Power prices went up in September by 35 per cent with residential consumers now paying Rwf182 (0.24 US cents) per unit and industries Rwf126 (0.16 US cents) per unit.

Residential and industrial consumers used to pay a uniform Rwf134 (0.17 US cents) per unit.  The increment was largely attributed to higher costs of generation amid rising demand.

REG is also expected to save huge amounts of money that it used in purchasing electricity from independent power producers and on subsidies on power costs to keep final tariffs affordable.

By June, Rwanda was generating 51.8MW from diesel generators and spending $37 million annually in subsidies to make power affordable. The cost of electricity from the independent power producers’ thermal plants is 0.33 US cents per Kwh, which is the most expensive option.

Minister for Infrastructure James Musoni said the 9.8 US cents per kWh feed in tariff that the government negotiation team got was a good deal in a market where the industrial electricity tariff is 18 cents.

Symbion’s tariff is also cheaper than the 0.12 cents at which fellow American company KivuWatt is selling its power to Rwanda’s energy utility company.

“The people who negotiated the power purchase agreement with KivuWatt on behalf of the government did not have experience; that’s why they settled on that high price,”  a REG official told The EastAfrican.

“Phasing out the heavy fuel plants is to be gradual as affordable and reliable electricity sources are developed,” said Mr Mugiraneza.

With the breakthrough in commercial methane-to-power technology, Mr Mugiraneza is optimistic that ongoing projects on Lake Kivu will add to the targeted power generation capacity. 

DEBT FINANCING

Paul Hinks, the Symbion Power CEO, has promised to deliver the new project much earlier, saying the firm would use its savings to fund the project should lenders take too long to release the funds.

“We shall start the work without waiting for the financial close and we expect to bring on the 14MW much faster than specified in the power purchase agreement,” said Mr Hinks. “Probably, 18 months from now.

“We ask the lenders for debt financing for the project to speed up their efforts so that we can accelerate delivery of the power to the people of Rwanda.”

In a competitive tender, Symbion was granted the right to develop a 55MW methane gas-to-power plant on Lake Kivu under a 25-year concession. The production facilities will have two primary elements: A gas extraction and processing plant and an onshore gas-fired power plant. The sole off-taker for the project is REG.

The base load power generated from this domestic resource by Symbion will help to stabilise electricity supply and help to bring down the overall cost of electricity.

The implementation of the project will follow a modular deployment of four offshore extraction barges and corresponding onshore processing facilities, each using established gas industry technologies.

Now that the power purchase agreement (PPA) is in place, design and procurement for the project have begun. After achieving financial close, Symbion expects the first 14 MW to become available in 15 months, and the full 50 MW to be commissioned in 36 months. 

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