By SHARON UDASIN 02/06/2015

RWAMAGANA – Just a few degrees south of the equator on Thursday, sunlight bathed rows of pristine solar panels as delegates from around the world arrived to celebrate the inauguration of East Africa’s first solar field.

“What we can see up here today for Rwanda, Africa and the world is hope,” said Yosef Abramowitz, the American-Israeli co-founder and president of the Gigawatt Global company. “We’ve come together to see the light.”

The company’s $23.7 million, 8.5 MW solar field is the first utility-scale solar power plant in the region, and the largest solar field on the continent outside of South Africa and Mauritius.

Made up of 28,360 photovoltaic panels on a 20-hectare (50 acres) plot of land, the field is now supplying 6 percent of Rwanda’s power supply, and will be harnessing the sun’s light for 25 years according to the power purchase agreement.

“It’s a very good feeling to know that we put something on the ground,” Chaim Motzen, managing director and co-founder of Gigawatt Global, told The Jerusalem Post before the launch ceremony.

“It’s not a theory,” continued Motzen, who has been the driving force behind the project since its beginning. “It’s something very tangible and practical and has a significant impact on a country.”

The field is located on the grounds of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, in Rwanda’s Eastern Province district of Rwamagana, about 60 km. from Kigali.

The village, which houses and educates students orphaned during or after the Rwandan genocide, was established in December 2008 by Jewish South African-American attorney and philanthropist Anne Heyman, who died in a horse riding accident in January 2014. The fees paid by Gigawatt Global to lease the solar field’s land help pay the village’s expenses.

Gigawatt Global defines itself as an American-owned Dutch company with an objective of developing, financing, constructing and activating utility- scale solar fields in emerging markets. The firm’s Israeli research and development arm, the Jerusalem-based Energiya Global, supplied the initial research and development and seed money for the Dutch developer, which took over and implemented the project.

Abramowitz, also the co-founder of the Arava Power Company – the firm responsible for Israel’s first commercial-scale solar field, Ketura Sun – called the Rwandan field “a catalyst for solar in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Gigawatt Global signed a power purchase agreement with the Rwandan government in July 2013, reaching financial close on February 14, 2014. Interconnection to the grid was complete by July 2014, and by September, the field went to full production.

All in all, financing the project has required $23.7m., with debt provided by the Netherlands Development Finance Company and the London-based Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund, as well as mezzanine debt provided by the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries (Norfund).

Equity came from Scatec Solar ASA – which also served as engineering, procurement and construction contractor and the operations and management provider – as well as from Norfund and KLP Norfund Investments.

The project was also supported financially by grants from the US government by way of an Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) Africa Clean Energy Finance grant, and from Finland’s Energy and Environment Partnership. SEDI Labs, led by Raffi Mardirosian, served as a key project development partner.

Although Motzen was told by industry experts that pursuing such a time line was unrealistic, government officials insisted upon the schedule due to the country’s energy shortage, he explained.

“They gave us time lines that were very difficult to meet,” he said. “At the same time, because of the country’s business environment and because of its laser focus on getting more energy on the grid, we were able to move quite quickly.”

The Gigawatt Global field is the first project to be grid-connected within the United States Power Africa initiative, launched by President Barack Obama in June 2013 – a program involving 12 American government agencies and authorities, including OPIC and USAID. Power Africa aims to add more than 30 GW of cleaner energy to Africa, enough to power 60 million homes and businesses.

A $20 billion venture, Power Africa is funded two-thirds by the private sector and one-third by the US government, United States Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles told the Post in an interview at the Kigali embassy on Wednesday.

“These are very, very ambitious goals and these small projects are on the leading edge,” she said. “We’re really pleased to be a partner in this.”

“By funding part of the legal and technical costs for the Gigawatt Global field, OPIC was able to help demonstrate to investors that the project would be financially viable,” Barks-Ruggles said.

“It’s a basic necessity to be part of the knowledge economy to have access to electricity,” she said.

By benefiting the local community, the government and the private sector, the project proves “that you can actually make money building these things” and constitute a “triple win,” she added. Barks-Ruggles praised Gigawatt Global for the swift pace at which it was able to accomplish financial closure and grid connection. Instrumental in that process, she added, was the firm’s strong connection with and support from the local community. “It is very fast, which is great, because it proves that these things don’t have to take years and years to do,” she said. “It can be done quickly when all the partners agree.”

Asked if the project could be replicated elsewhere in Rwanda and in other East African countries, Barks-Ruggles responded, “That’s part of why I’m so excited to go out there.

“I think this is something you can show you can do on a fairly medium-scale, fairly rapidly, if you have all the pieces together,” she said.

As far as the Israeli involvement in the project is concerned, Barks-Ruggles credited the research and development arm for supplying technological expertise.

“As with any international project, you’ll find different partners bring different pieces to the table,” she said. “The experience and the research and development that the Israeli company brought technologically wise obviously helped Gigawatt Global to get going faster. They had access to proven technology.

At the Power Africa initiative, we want to work with partners to make this happen, to get double the energy supply – of reliable, safe energy to sub-Saharan Africa. If somebody brings clean energy to the table and they have an American partner they are working with, then great.”

At the launch on Thursday afternoon, Rwandan Infrastructure Minister James Musoni echoed Barks-Ruggles’s comments, calling upon investors to come build more such clean power facilities. The country has a target of connecting 70% of Rwandan households to electricity by 2018 – up from the current 23%, he explained.

“The completion of this project shows us that when there is such a big boost to the network we can easily solve the problems we are facing,” Musoni said.

The governor of the Eastern Province, Odette Uwamariya, stressed that continued developed of alternative sources of energy is required in order to meet the country’s energy development goals.

“I’m very grateful as a governor to see this project being launched today, because I happened to witness its conception, which actually by that time seemed to be too good to believe and probably too long to wait for,” Uwamariya said.

The author was a guest in Rwanda of Gigawatt Global.
‘Where would I belong if not here?’ JERUSALEM POST

RWAMAGANA, Rwanda – After a short lesson on the electronics of solar grid connection, members of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village’s science club walked through the gates of their country’s first solar field – a sea of blue panels amid the tree-dotted mountains of eastern Rwanda.

“We hope you will be the revolutionaries,” American-Israeli solar entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz told them on Wednesday afternoon.

“Let’s show you how it works from electron to grid.”

The science club members – a group of 18 high school students in the village – were receiving a special preview tour of a new 8.5 MW solar field, to be launched by the American- owned Dutch company Gigawatt Global the following day. The first utility-scale solar power plant in all of East Africa, the field is now generating six percent of the Rwandan power supply.

“The humming you hear, that’s the sound of electricity changing from DC to AC,” Abramowitz told the students, from atop a staircase next to the field’s inverter cabin.

Abramowitz serves as president and co-founder of Gigawatt Global, alongside managing director and co-founder Chaim Motzen, who spearheaded the Rwanda project.

The new field is located on the grounds of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, established in December 2008 by Jewish South African-American attorney and philanthropist Anne Heyman, who died tragically in a horse riding accident in January 2014.

Located in Rwanda’s Eastern Province district of Rwamagana, about 60 km. from Kigali, the village is home to high school students orphaned during or after the Rwandan genocide.

With the rows of panels gleaming in the afternoon sunshine, the science club students eagerly asked questions about electricity flow.

“It is a great opportunity for students of Agahozo to be next to this site,” Fabian Izabayo, the project’s assistant site manager, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

A graduate of Agahozo’s first high school class, 23-year-old Izabayo had a long journey to his role as assistant site manager.

“Before Agahozo we had no hope in life,” he said. “We lost most of our relatives.”

Out of the 58 members of his family, Izabayo said that aside from himself only four remained following the 1994 Rwandan genocide – his mother, his young sister and two women from his uncle’s family.

“For my mom it was not easy to manage us,” he said, noting that they fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the genocide as refugees.

Once they returned, Izabayo said he spent his primary school years in the Western Province where he grew up, walking 10 km.

daily to school but receiving the highest marks in his class. He then spent two years in a Catholic junior high school in the Southern Province.

“Still we had no vision of life,” he said.

After completing his courses at the school, Izabayo returned to his Western Province home, where he was recruited by Jean-Pierre Nkuranga, who worked at the time with Heyman on establishing the future Agahozo- Shalom Youth Village.

“I didn’t even know any English,” Izabayo said. “He said if you join Agahozo we want you to maximize your potential. Those who lost families will get new families.”

When they arrive at Agahozo-Shalom, the students first take part in an enrichment year, during which they both boost their academic skills and take part in “Tikkun Halev” (Healing the heart) sessions with social workers. The students then decide upon their tracks of study for “senior years” four, five and six. While at Agahozo, the young men and women are separated by gender into “family houses,” which include 16 students and a “house mama” – typically an older woman widowed during the Rwandan genocide.

By senior year four, Izabayo said he was “becoming a man of confidence” and began to try to “think out of the box.” In year five, he launched a business club and was able to bring in local businesspeople to provide guidance to the group, with the help of staff members at Agahozo like then business director Trevor Green.

Some time after graduation, Izabayo began working with Green, who in 2013 founded the Remote Partners – an NGO that works with international companies as a local partner working in the energy, real estate, agribusiness, commodities trade and ICT sectors in emerging sub-Saharan African markets. Remote Partners, where Izabayo serves as assistant CEO, alongside CEO Ido Herman, became one of the on-theground partners for the Gigawatt Global solar field. In turn, the two became assistant site manager and site manager for the field.

“In Rwanda we have an energy problem,” Izabayo said.

Before the Gigawatt Global broke ground on the solar field, the national grid had a capacity of 110 MW, Izabayo explained. While this number has climbed to 140 MW today, it still means that the new solar field accounts for 6% of the country’s power supply.

“Without electricity we don’t have infrastructure,” Izabayo said. “This really helps Rwanda in terms of increasing infrastructure around the country.”

During an interview with the Post on Wednesday morning in Kigali, United States Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles likewise discussed the critical nature of expanding the country’s infrastructure. The US government has been a key partner in the project by providing an Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) Africa Clean Energy Finance grant, as well as including the field in President Barack Obama’s Power Africa program.

The new field will now allow children in some 15,000 additional households to “study for school by electrical light” and provide adults with the ability to perform tasks as simple as charging a cellphone, she stressed.

“So if you’re growing vegetables you can check out prices in the markets around you,” she said. “It’s all part of the building blocks of economic development.”

For Ornella Rwanziza, a 17-year-old science club member from Kigali, the solar field adjacent to their village carries national significance.

“I care about my country and I believe it is contributing to my country,” she told the Post, during the Wednesday science club tour. “Some of us are from places where we cannot get electricity. But if it’s giving [electricity to] a large scale of a country, that means our citizens are benefiting and it’s contributing to our country.”

At school, Rwanziza focuses on math, economics and computers, and said she hopes to go to university abroad to study architecture. Her goal is to integrate business and technology skills into a career in architecture – in Rwanda.

“For all the projects I think about, I think about Rwanda,” she said.

In the science club, she works on a number of projects but is currently focused on mobile application development, with the guidance of the Kigali-based HeHe Labs startup, Rwanziza explained.

“We are not inventing anything – we are doing it for ourselves,” she said of the science club activities.

Like Rwanziza, 21-year-old Joel Mutuyimana also hopes to pursue a university degree abroad, in electrical engineering. He too is involved in mobile application development in the science club and is pursuing a math, physics and computers track in school.

In Mutuyimana’s eyes, the completion of the solar field was particularly significant due to Rwanda’s commitment to growth as a nation.

“It means a lot to me because here in Rwanda we are developing ourselves,” Mutuyimana said.

“We came here and learned new things and new technology,” he continued. “It’s stimulating to think more and dream big, so in the future we can have more engineers.”

While both Mutuyimana and Rwanziza are considering higher education degrees abroad, as the sun began to set over the new solar field on Wednesday, they expressed their gratitude for the opportunities they have gained at Agahozo.

“I don’t know where else I would belong if not here,” Rwanziza said.

The author was a guest of Gigawatt Global.