Monday, April 4, 2011

Ruhango Electrification Project

A guest post from our Spark Advocate, Nate Barthel!

Cheap and reliable access to electricity is a powerful catalyst for business development, a major contributor to increases in productivity, and an important factor in improving overall quality of life.  Unfortunately due to a shortage of state and local financial resources, the village of Rambyinyana remains without power.  

Spark Microgrants has determined that with a relatively small donation of $2000 the village would have enough money, combined with $4780 of their own money and additional government subsidies, to build an electrical delivery system.

Why Electricity?
Most of us understand that access to electrical power is important, in fact, here in the Western world it is critical multiple aspects of our daily lives.  But what does electrical power mean for a rural village in southern Rwanda?  We might assume it would be at least useful, but without any context, or understanding of daily life, it would be difficult to develop a real appreciation for its importance.  The following few paragraphs describes why electricity is important to the village of Rambyinyana.

Regardless of whether one has access to electricity or not, people throughout the world need light.  In Rambyinyana they rely on costly gas to provide light in the evening hours.  Using gas to light a typical home roughly costs 100 RwF/day (a little less than 20 cents). Over the course of a month this would mean that a family spends approximately  3000 RwF ($5) on fuel.  With access to an electrical utility, the cost would drop to between 500 and 1000 RwF ($1-$2) per month (after construction costs), a significant savings considering the average family subsists off of 30,000 RwF ($50) per month.  

Students need light in the evening to read, write, and practice their arithmetic and in fact is one of the chief reasons the people of Rambyinyana have sited the need for electrical power.  Affordable electrical power will allow children to study into the evening hours, increasing their learning potential and promising to improve the future generation’s standard of living.  

Electrical power is also major catalyst for business, which leads directly to increased incomes and improved livelihoods.  The people of Rambyinyaya have identified a number of opportunities including the establishment of a modern salon, a clothing tailor, and a food services business.  Each of these businesses require electrical power, power to run hair dryers and clippers, power to run sewing machines, and power to refrigerate food such as milk.  No doubt given access to cheap electrical power additional businesses will be created.  

Electricity, and the machines it powers, leads directly to increases to productivity.  Here in the West, electrical power is used to save countless hours that would otherwise be spent washing clothes and preparing food.  Similarly, the people of Rambyinyaya will use electrical power to increase productivity.  Specifically they have cited the need for a grinding machine which would greatly shorten the time it takes to grind grain.  

About Rambyinyana
The village of Rambyinyana is in southern Rwanda.  It is made up of approximately 575 people who subsist primarily off of agriculture and specifically cultivating beans.  

Villager Working Bean Crop                          
Source: Sasha Fisher

Source: Wikipedia

Ruhango District in Southern Province                     
Source: Wikipedia

(You can also access this report here)


  1. Thanks for putting this together Nate!

    When you say most people relied on gas, do you mean they had natural gas, or gasoline-powered generators? Also, did you hear anything in your research on what's used for cooking fuel, and/or households in Ruhango switching to electricity for cooking? I don't know about the economics, but given this new source of cheaper electricity it might make sense, and would most likely improve health. There's some nice research on health risks associated with indoor biomass combustion. Here's a resent article:

  2. Andy,

    I believe it was primarily kerosene used for lighting in lamps - Sasha can correct me if I'm wrong. I didn't find any information on gas used for cooking but I do know that bio-mass is often used. I also don't know the particular economics of cooking with electrical power - although a simple electrical stove might provide a good alternative method to cook food.

    Interesting article that you linked to. I took a trip to PNG in 2009 and what I heard there backs up what you are saying. A lot of people have health problems from cooking with wood (particularly indoors).

    Another great reason to support this project!


  3. Yeah, cooking with heat from firewood vs. electricity goes back to economics, which almost always beats out health concerns. Even if electricity is relatively cheap, firewood is more or less free (although time devoted to gathering is a cost)

    Kerosene on the other hand is usually pretty expensive, & also a health issue; I remember reading that an improperly used or poorly designed kerosene lamp can create indoor air pollution approx. equal to smoking something like 15 cigarettes/hr