Rwanda: Pedal power brings cheap energy to rural Rwanda (AFP)

| April 2, 2012

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Daniel Ntibaziyandemye is a 28-year-old Rwandan who catches catfish at night on the remote and crocodile-infested Akanyaru River. He lays his traps just before dusk in the river’s vegetation, waving away mosquitoes and listening for crocodiles. Then he waits until night falls and, with the aid of a headlamp, ventures into the water to collect his catch.

Mr. Ntibaziyandemye explains, “Previously we used flashlights [torches] to find our traps at night. But the batteries were so expensive that it left us with little profit.”

But now he is enjoying a new source of light − LED lamps that are charged by a pedal-powered generator. Mr. Ntibaziyandemye says, “With the new LED lights, we can fish for a week for less money than it used to cost for one night.”

The small generator that charges the lights stands knee-high inside a wooden frame, and is operated by pedaling a stationary bicycle. It’s much cheaper to install and more efficient than solar power.

Twenty minutes of pedalling fully charges the batteries of five small but bright LED lights. Each light costs about 13 US cents. Once charged, a light shines for more than 25 hours.

The Rwandan company Nuru Energy is behind the innovation, which earned it a $200,000 U.S. award in the 2008 World Bank Lighting Africa Prize.

The company gives the generators and lights to small traders, allowing them to pay in instalments. Villagers such as Mr. Ntibaziyandemye pay traders a small fee to charge their lights every week.

Local businessman Martin Uwayezu is benefitting from the business. He explains, “The company gave me six months to repay the loan for my first lights. But with the money I made from recharging the lights, I was able to repay my loan in two months.”

To reach its customers, Nuru uses the local mobile phone system for transferring money. Traders send text messages to buy credit. They receive a code to unlock the generators and charge the lamps.

Much of Rwanda’s countryside has no electricity. More than 90 per cent of households use kerosene for lighting and cooking. But exposure to kerosene fumes is reported to be as bad as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

Sloan Holazman is Nuru’s marketing director. He adds, “In addition to being dangerous, it’s inefficient and costly. Households spend 10 to 25 per cent of their income on kerosene for light alone.”

In addition to charging LED lights, the firm plans to expand the use of its generators to charge mobile phones and other devices in rural areas with no electricity.

This is good news for villagers like Daniel Ntibaziyandemye. Now that his costs have dropped with the new LED lights, he has been able to buy a house and can even think about marrying.