Rwanda cuts ribbon at landmark 8.5MW PV plant

The largest PV farm in sub-Saharan Africa outside of South Africa has been officially opened in Rwanda by Dutch-headquartered developer Gigawatt Global.

The 8.5MW project, located 60km from the capital of Kigali near a village set up for orphans of the 1994 genocide, started producing electricity last autumn under a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Rwanda Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA).

Built at a cost of $23.7m, the PV plant brought together an international consortium of financing partners.

Debt was provided by the Netherlands Development Finance and London-based Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund, with mezzanine debt underwritten by Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries Norfund.

Equity came from Norway's Scatec Solar, also the project's EPC contractor and O&M provider, along with grants from the Africa Clean Energy Finance (ACEF) programme, part of US President Barack Obama's Power Africa Initiative, as well as from the UK-Norwegian-Austrian Energy and Environment Partnership scheme.

"Our project proves the viability of financing and building large-scale solar fields in sub-Saharan Africa, and we hope that this solar field serves as a catalyst for many more sustainable energy projects in the region," states Gigawatt Global managing director Chaim Motzen.

"The speed with which this project was completed [12 months from signing the PPA] is a tribute to the strength of the Rwandan government's institutions and their laser-focus on increasing Rwanda's generation capacity, as well as to the nimbleness of our team and partners which spanned eight countries."

The ceremonial ribbon-cutting was attended by Rwanda minister of infrastructure James Musoni, and John Morton, chief of staff of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic), which administers the ACEF fund.

The plant will supply grid-connected power for some 15,000 homes in the area. The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is leasing land to house the solar farm, with rent paying a portion of the village's charitable expenses.

Gigawatt Global president Yosef Abramowitz says: "This utility-scale solar field is a symbol of hope for sub-Saharan Africa's 34 million orphans and 600 million people without power, ushering in a new era of impact investing that we will hopefully be replicating throughout Africa."

The PV array takes shape, below.