Full construction work is due to start this week on a solar energy project that will supply electricity to 87,000 homes and businesses in Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world, thanks to a Dutch company with American investors that has offices in Israel.
Gigawatt Global’s 7.5 MW photovoltaic solar panel project will add 15 percent to the East African country’s generation capacity and represents the biggest private-sector investment in that nation’s energy sector in 30 years.
The company would not say how much the project is worth, but it is understood to be in excess of $10 million.
The solar field will be located on a 115,000-square-meter (28.4-acre) plot of private land that has been leased in the village of Mubuga, some ten kilometers (six miles) from Gitega City, seat of the Kingdom of Burundi until its abolition in 1966. Last year, Gitega replaced Bujumbura as the country’s capital following a decision by the Burundian parliament.
“We hope this historic solar project will further warm our bilateral relations and shine a light in Africa on practical solutions to both economic development and the climate crisis,” said Raphael Morav, Israel’s ambassador to Burundi.
Gigawatt Global is also developing a solar-based rural electrification mini-grid and solar street lighting pilot projects in Burundi.
Dr. Hanna Klein, the company’s VP for research and project development, is planning to switch the flour mills in Mubuga from diesel to electric motors powered by a solar energy mini-grid.
Five years ago, Gigawatt Global opened a $23 million solar project — the first commercial scale solar field in continental sub-Sahara Africa (outside of South Africa) — to power 15,000 homes in neighboring Rwanda.
That was built on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a kibbutz-style orphanage for victims of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
The difference in price between the Rwanda and Burundi projects is largely explained by the drop in solar panel prices.
The company is a founding partner of the US Power Africa program, and has solar, wind and hydro projects under development in 10 African countries.
“Bringing clean energy to one of the world’s least developed countries fulfills Gigawatt Global’s mission to be a premier impact platform of choice for renewables in Africa,” said Michael Fichtenberg, managing director of Gigawatt Global Burundi SA and the lead project director.
“We believe this demonstrates how solar power can be implemented in other developing markets, while decreasing dependency on costly and polluting diesel generators,” he said.
Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Gigawatt Global, said, “It takes a global village to bring utility-scale green energy to where it is needed most in Africa.
“Following the lackluster United Nations climate conference (COP 25 in Madrid, which took place in December), we are demonstrating to the world that it is possible to create and scale a business model to achieve, especially in frontier markets, many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.
The Burundi project has been supported by the Energy and Environment Partnership (a Finland, UK, Austrian fund), the Belgian Investment Company for Developing countries, the African-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP) and the Renewable Energy Performance Platform (REPP).
Land-locked Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 185th out of 189 in the 2019 Human Development Index. More than 65% of its population lives in poverty.
It is bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and southeast, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Like Rwanda, it was ruled by Germany and then Belgium until gaining independence in 1962, and has long suffered from friction between the two dominant tribes, Hutu and Tutsi. During 1972, the Tutsi-dominated army carried out mass killings of Hutus and in 1993, the majority-Hutu population massacred Tutsis.
Burundi underwent a constitutional crisis in 2015 after former Hutu rebel leader President Pierre Nkurunzizain ran for a legally questionable third term and won, prompting widespread protests that were violently repressed. Although a new constitution was passed in 2018 allowing him to stay in power until 2034, he is expected to step down in May.