Challenges impeding Rwanda’s peat-power generation targets

By Esther Muhozi
On 6 March 2024 at 10:02

The Minister of Infrastructure, Dr. Jimmy Gasore, has reported several obstacles in the process of generating electricity from peat, with climate change being a significant factor that impacted the expected volume of peat extraction.

He shared these insights on March 5, 2024, during his presentation to the Chamber of Deputies, addressing the issues faced in electricity production and distribution across the country.

Among the problems highlighted was the insufficiency of peat for achieving the power plant’s goal of generating 70 megawatts of electricity.

In 2023, the power plant faced a severe shortage of peat, leading to a grant of 5.84 billion Rwandan Francs from the Rwanda Energy Group (REG) to purchase diesel.

This was a temporary measure to sustain electricity production over five months due to the drastic reduction in peat availability.

Dr. Gasore informed the deputies that the discrepancy between the plant’s output and its potential capacity was due to limited peat extraction capabilities.

He emphasized that the planning for peat extraction by the project implementers was flawed.

Research has shown that the Rwabusoro swamp contains about 230 million cubic meters of peat, sufficient to generate 70 megawatts for 30 years.

However, the extraction rate is currently only 600 tons per day, while the requirement stands at 2,191 tons per day, equivalent to the load of 70 large trucks.

This shortfall has raised concerns among deputies about the plant’s inability to meet its 70-megawatt production target.

Deputy Niyorurema Jean Rene questioned the unforeseen challenges that arose during the feasibility study and the initiation of the plant, pondering, "What unexpected issues arose? When they started, didn’t they realize the need for these two thousand tons?"

He sought clarification on whether the problem was due to budget constraints or the technical capacity to extract peat.

Minister Gasore acknowledged the multitude of challenges in harnessing electricity from peat, including the technical and logistical demands required to secure the necessary volumes.

He pointed out the Gisagara plant, which needs 70 large trucks capable of transporting 30 tons of peat each day to meet its electricity production requirements. Furthermore, he highlighted climate change as a key obstacle, with increased rainfall leading to frequent flooding of the peat excavation sites.

Despite the construction of a three-meter-high barrier along River Akanyaru in 2012, intended to prevent floodwaters from spreading into the peat mining area, this solution has not been effective.

Dr. Gasore stated, "The solution was to build a three-meter-high wall to keep the water in the river and prevent it from spreading into the peat mining area, and although this was done, it has not provided a satisfactory solution."

In response to the peat shortage, discussions are ongoing between government agencies and the investor to explore possible solutions, including accepting a reduced output of 30 megawatts in the interim.

This arrangement would allow payments to facilitate further investments in peat extraction efforts. This strategy aims to eventually achieve the 70-megawatt goal.

Presently, the plant has seen an increase in its electricity production, attributed to the enhancement of the peat extraction machinery.

From producing 47.749 million kWh in 2021/2022, the plant has increased its output to 78.423 million kWh in 2023/2024, marking a 64% increase.