East Africa now has a utility-scale solar field connecting thousands of Rwandans to the electricity grid for the first time, thanks to the efforts of Kaptain Sunshine – a.k.a. solar energy pioneer Yosef Abramowitz, the American-Israeli CEO and cofounder of Gigawatt Global.
Powered in large part by research and development achieved in the American-owned Dutch company’s Jerusalem facility, the multi-nationally financed $23.7 million project launched on February 5 in Rwanda’s Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a unique refuge for orphans of the Rwandan civil war modeled after Israel’s Yemin Orde Youth Village originally built for child Holocaust survivors.
The eight-year-old village is leasing the land for the 8.5 megawatt solar field — constructed in the shape of the African continent — to Gigawatt Global, which has pledged to provide scientific and vocational training on solar power to the village’s high school students.
“Anne Heyman, our founder of blessed memory, held to a vision in which the village practiced tikkun olam, the Jewish teaching to help heal the world,” said Laurie Toll Franz, chairwoman of the board. “In addition to our work with Rwanda’s most vulnerable children, we’re now helping to improve the lives of thousands of people through sustainable electricity generation.”
Inspiration from Israel
Abramowitz, who volunteered with his family at the village three years ago, tells ISRAEL21c: “The genesis of the idea of working in Rwanda came from Anne, who tragically passed away a year ago. She was looking for creative revenue models to help support the charitable work of the youth village and invited us to replicate what our sister company [Energiya Global] in Israel had done in the solar field. A lot of inspiration came out of the Israeli social model.”
Less than 15 percent of Rwanda’s population of 12 million people has access to electricity, much of it provided by polluting and expensive diesel fuel. The country is therefore in dire need of additional power generation capacity, explains Gigawatt Global cofounder and managing director Chaim Motzen.
“We began negotiations with the government in February 2013, signed the 25-year power purchase agreement in July 2013 and had only seven months in which to finance this deal,” says Motzen.
“Aided by a grant from OPIC [the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation] and EEP [Energy and Environment Partnership in Europe] we went to work and came to a financial close in February 2014.”
Another seven months later, the solar field was already providing 6% of Rwanda’s new generation capacity, enabling tens of thousands of individuals to receive regular power along with its numerous socio-economic benefits.
“Top quality developers like Gigawatt Global are the keys to success for President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative,” said Elizabeth Littlefield, president and CEO of OPIC.
“After OPIC provided critical early-stage support … Gigawatt smoothly and swiftly brought the project online to give Rwanda enough grid-connected power to supply 15,000 homes. Gigawatt Global in Rwanda is a clear demonstration that solar will be a key part of Africa’s energy solution.”
Replicable in other countries
Abramowitz and Motzen flew to Rwanda for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting on February 5 alongside Rwandan Minister of Infrastructure James Musoni, OPIC Chief of Staff John Morton and international representatives of the partners behind the project.
“We are at a really landmark occasion,” says Abramowitz. “This was a proof of concept; someone had to break through and bring this historic project to life. Its implementation has been a herculean task.”
Gigawatt Global is active in efforts to bring solar energy to other emerging markets as well, including Haiti, Burundi and the Galapagos Islands.
“We absolutely believe this is replicable in other countries,” says Motzen. “Energy drives economic development, and the effect of lifting people out of poverty, especially with green energy, is hopefully going to be one of the greatest success stories of the next five years.”
In a related accomplishment for Abramovitz, Energiya USA, an affiliate of his Jerusalem-based Energiya Global multinational solar energy development firm, recently won a $30 million, 17.68-megawatt solar deal in southeastern Georgia’s Glynn County, the first utility-scale solar project in that area of the United States.
Similar to what Gigawatt Global is doing in Rwanda, Energiya USA and its partners are creating a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program for Glynn’s schools.
For further information on Gigawatt Global, click here.
For further information on Energiya Global, click here.