CSU partners with Rwanda for electricity development

Seth Bodine

Imagine living a life without electricity. While the small country of Rwanda has electricity in larger cities, there are still 3,000 villages with no electricity, lighted by kerosene lamps. The electrification rate is only about 20 percent across the entire country. 

An interdisciplinary team with Colorado State University partnered with the government of Rwanda for electrification of Rwandan villages through an installation of “minigrids”.  The project began from a Catalyst for Innovative Partnerships grant from CSU’s Office of the Vice President for Research, which aims to provide pathways for enhancing people’s livelihoods. 

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To achieve this goal, an interdisciplinary group of people at CSU are working on development strategies. There is a variety of different specialties in the group such as  sociology, communications, agriculture and engineering. 

Due to the scale of the project, the team is aligning themselves with the local government. 

“The problem is when you try to drop that into the village, you’re really not just engaging a couple of people, a couple living in a set of houses on a hill-top in Rwanda,” said Dan Zimmerle, senior research associate at the Energy Institute. “You’re really engaging all of these other entities in the country. So you need alignment with the local government, agricultural board, the extension service, electricity system, all these areas.”

Zimmerle said one of the reasons Rwanda was selected was partially because the government is stable with a low corruption index.  

“For electrification, that’s critical because you’re looking at something that may take ten years to pay off. So if you’re a the whim of the dictator sort of system, it’s extremely difficult to finance that type of thing,” Zimmerle said. 

 They will also be studying the demand for electricity as it becomes available to the villages. The hope of the minigrids is that the pairing of electrification and development will ultimately improve lives.

“We want to test if coupling electricity with development can actually raise living standards, incomes, to the point where the demand for electricity gets high enough that you can eventually pay for these sorts of off-grid systems,” said Dale Manning, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics.

Manning said that the people are really excited about getting electricity and using it, and have a good understanding of its uses. 

The next step for the project is getting funding. The team recently turned in a large proposal under the strategic partnership agreement. It is between the ministry of infrastructure and the Rwanda agricultural board, the team and a non-governmental organization. Because of the scale of the project, it is projected to take five to 10 years. 

Overall, the project is not only to provide electricity but to ensure a positive impact on the community while doing so. 

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“As our project aims toward overall community development goals, understanding the societal context that these individuals live within is crucial to ensuring that our project is implemented successfully and creates a positive impact on the members of these villages,” sociology graduate student and project coordinator Ali Anson wrote in an email to the Collegian

Zimmerle said that if a student is interested in this area, there are opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate. 

Collegian Assistant News Editor Seth Bodine can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @sbodine120.