At the end of 2013, the first PV power plant in Eastern Africa was connected to the utility grid, boosting Rwanda’s capability to generate electricity by six percent. The PV power plant, built in the shape of the African continent, is situated around 60 kilometers east of the Rwandan capital Kigali, on land belonging to the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), a community that looks after orphans. Here, eight Sunny Central 800CP inverters in four Medium-Voltage Power Station 1600SC systems convert direct current into alternating current, providing around 15,000 Rwandan homes with electricity every year.
“A great project in a great country,” said Matthias Beck, a member of SMA sales staff responsible for the project and a big fan of Africa. “What really impresses me is how forward-looking Rwanda is. The representatives from the Rwandan electric utility company also demonstrated excitement and enthusiasm about the possibilities of photovoltaics when they visited us here in Niestetal. Rwanda is a hilly and green country with maximum temperatures ranging between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius, which is excellent when you want to construct a PV power plant with a consistently high power output,” said Matthias. “Here the challenge isn’t extreme heat or extreme temperature fluctuations as in other regions in Africa.”
The biggest challenge in Rwanda is however the instability of the utility grid. The country’s utility grid is poorly structured, often fails and currently only provides around 20 percent of the population with access to electricity. Therefore, those responsible for the grid in Rwanda were particularly interested in the possibility of using PV power plants to generate and provide an operating energy reserve to stabilize the utility grid where it is needed most. “They visited us in Niestetal and learned a lot from our experienced experts about grid stability and grid management services,” explained Matthias.
After the Rwandan energy experts visited SMA, the Rwandan energy agency then signed a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) for the photovoltaic power plant, ensuring its long-term operation. The PV power plant was connected to the utility grid about 12 months after this agreement was signed.
“Transporting the four medium-voltage stations in a standard freight container as well as the 50 Sunny String-Monitors and the spare parts package also went well,” said Matthias. “Shipped from Sicily, the four stations were loaded onto trucks in Mombasa and driven around 1,400 kilometers to Kigali.”
SMA employees Toni Berger, Thomas Dulin and Danny Büder were all present on-site in Rwanda for the commissioning of the PV power plant. “The power plant was commissioned in two stages, which differed from our original plan,” said Danny Büder. “On our first site visit, only 30 percent of the facility had been installed, the medium-voltage equipment had not arrived and the duty had not been paid on the Sunny String-Monitors, which were still in the truck outside the PV power plant.
However, we put the time to good use by teaming up with the workers on-site to deal with the medium-voltage stations and connect the first inverter to the utility grid. Then, two weeks later, we were able to commission the Sunny String-Monitors.”
Background of the ASYV project:
The PV project is part of the Power Africa initiative, which was launched by American President Barack Obama. It was developed by the Norwegian company, Scatec, with the support of Gigawatt Global Coöperatief from the Netherlands. The project was financed by the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries (Norfund) and the EAIF (Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund). Financial support was also provided by various international programs that provide support to Africa and the Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative in the U.S.
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