Rwanda is a small, East African country, with its population scattered throughout rural villages. As a result, rural electrification is an immense challenge for the Rwanda government. Today, only 16% of Rwandans have access to grid electricity. Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering’s small-scale hydropower project works in Rwanda to bring sustainable electricity to rural villages.
Our hydropower project makes use of the energy from a waterfall to power a turbine, which is connected to a generator that charges batteries. At our site in Banda, Rwanda, villagers bring car batteries to a local kiosk to be charged for a small fee. The money earned by the kiosk is used to cover operation costs of the kiosk as well as repair costs for the turbine; in this way, our business model is self-sustaining.
The project targets four major areas of social improvement: entrepreneurship, education, environment, and health.
- Entrepreneurship: Local villagers use the batteries to power lights and charge cellphones, among other things; small businesses, such as barbershops and cellphone charging stations, have opened up as a result of the newfound access to electricity.
- Education: Most rural Rwandan students have little time to study, as they need to work for their families during daylight hours and must stop reading at night in order to save money on expensive kerosene lamps; our low-cost batteries empower individuals to further their education by giving families an inexpensive way to keep the lights on.
- Environment: Our batteries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation by replacing kerosene lamps and wood with efficient and non-polluting LED lights.
- Health: Hydropower-charged batteries limit the incidence of respiratory diseases caused by excessive burning of kerosene and wood.
DHE is continuing to explore how to make the hydropower project profitable from start to finish, as our end goal is to have local entrepreneurs install small-scale hydropower sites without the assistance of DHE.