Israel-linked solar firm to light up 87,000 homes and businesses in Burundi
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Israel-linked solar firm to light up 87,000 homes and businesses in Burundi

Set on contracts for 10 renewable energy projects in Africa this year, Gigawatt Global follows up Rwanda mission with new 28-acre solar field in one of the world’s poorest nations

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

The women’s cooperative of the village of Mubuga which is set to benefit from productive uses of solar power as part of a social and economic development program.  Dr. Hanna Klein (center), VP for Research and Project Development of Gigawatt Global is planning to switch the power to the village's flour mills from diesel to solar-powered electricity.  (Courtesy)
The women’s cooperative of the village of Mubuga which is set to benefit from productive uses of solar power as part of a social and economic development program. Dr. Hanna Klein (center), VP for Research and Project Development of Gigawatt Global is planning to switch the power to the village's flour mills from diesel to solar-powered electricity. (Courtesy)

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.

Patrick Nzitunga, Gigawatt Global project director in Burundi, near Mubuga, Burundi, the site of Gigawatt Global’s 7.5 MW solar field now under construction. (Courtesy)

“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.

Abramowitz (left) and youthful residents of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village hold a solar panel (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yosef Abramowitz (left) and youthful residents of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village hold a solar panel. (Courtesy)

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.

As part of Gigawatt Global’s corporate social responsibility program for community development, Michael Fichtenberg gives solar lanterns to 100 families in the village of Mubuga, Burundi. (Courtesy)

“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.

In this July 6, 2019, photo, young boys pose for a picture in a small village on the outskirts of the former Burundian capital, Bujumbura. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

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.

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