Generating power from a gas-filled Rwandan lake
On the Rwandan-Congolese border lies an enormous freshwater lake with deadly potential. But the American heating and electricity company Contour Global has partnered with the Rwandan government and European financiers to transform Lake Kivu’s power to kill into just plain power.
Enormous amounts of methane and carbon dioxide are trapped at the bottom of the lake. “You could almost see it as a champagne bottle, with small bubbles,” says Martijn Proos, executive director of Frontier Markets Fund Managers, the debt arranger for and a lender to KivuWatt. But Lake Kivu can kill far more people than Veuve Clicquot-induced cirrhosis: scientists estimate the gases will erupt in 50 to 200 years, suffocating the two million people living in the lake basin.
But methane and carbon dioxide do have their advantages. Not only has one brewery been extracting gas for its beer since the 1960s, but “if you have the methane gas, you can produce power out of it,” says Proos.
And in a country where 85% of the population doesn’t have access to electricity, the project has the potential to change their lives.
So Contour Global has built barges to suck up the gas-heavy water at the bottom of the lake. They then separate the water and the gas, and send it to a power plant connected to the national grid. “So KivuWatt will sell the power ultimately to the Rwandan Power Utility, which is government-owned,” says Proos.
The project expects to add 25 megawatts to Rwanda’s current installed capacity of 155 megawatts. That’s a significant contribution but not nearly enough to supply power to the whole country.
“I’m originally from the Netherlands,” says Proos, “and the Netherlands has 16.5 million people and has an installed capacity of 22,000 megawatts. In Rwanda, you have 12 million people who have to do with 155 megawatts… So that’s the difference between the developed world and countries like Rwanda.”
Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of Corporate Risk Canada magazine