Gigawatt Global shines solar on Burundi

Gigawatt Global, a solar and social development company and a partner of Power Africa and Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid sub-initiative, has signed two international grants for a 7.5 MW solar project in Burundi, where only 4% of the population has residential access to electricity.

The proposed project will increase the country’s generation capacity by 15%, according to Gigawatt Global, a U.S.-owned Dutch company. The Burundi project follows Gigawatt Global’s launch in February of East Africa’s largest utility-scale solar field, an 8.5 MW facility in Rwanda on the grounds of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village near Kigali, which added 6% to the country’s electricity generation capacity after its interconnection last year — and which nabbed the company a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

The company has secured two grants totaling nearly $1 million for its effort in Burundi: one from Power Africa via the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and the other from Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP), a coalition representing the British, Finnish and Austrian governments.

Gigawatt Global team signs grant agreement for Burundi at USTDA offices

Gigawatt Global plans to develop and manage the 7.5 MW solar PV field on a 15-hectare site in the Gitega region, 65 miles (105 kilometers) from the capital of Bujumbura. The facility will produce electricity needed for 60,000 households. The total cost of the project is estimated to be approximately $20 million.

"Our impact investment model is to strengthen developing nations, both economically and environmentally, by providing renewable energy sources where they are most needed," says Gigawatt Global President Yosef Abramowitz.

The developer plans to build 1 GW of solar in Africa by 2020, "thereby providing electricity to millions of households and institutions that are currently without the most basic of human needs," Abramowitz added.

USTDA’s grant will fund a feasibility study that will address key technical and economic aspects of the solar project, conduct environmental and social impact assessments, and provide the necessary analysis for the project to secure financing. The grant funds awarded by EEP will be used for pre-development works and legal costs.

"USTDA is pleased to provide Gigawatt Global Burundi S.A. this grant for a feasibility study, which will utilize U.S. industry expertise to advance this important project," said USTDA Director Leocadia I. Zak. "This activity supports Power Africa’s objectives of increasing access to power and promoting greater private investment in Africa’s energy sector."

Currently, Burundi experiences a high frequency of blackouts, with downtime in electrical access an average of two days a week, according to Gigawatt Global. Burundi has a total of only 52 MW of installed electrical capacity, including 15.5 MW of diesel-generated power.

"We are honored and pleased to be moving forward in partnership with Gigawatt Global — a tier 1 solar developer — to build the first utility-scale solar field in Burundi. We embrace the development of renewable energy as a means of increasing Burundi’s electrical generation capacity, thereby stimulating economic growth and providing a range of opportunities for the Burundian people," said Come Manirakiza, Burundi’s minister of Energy and Mines.

The government of Burundi has signed a memorandum of understanding with Gigawatt Global for the development of the project. The company is also working with the Polytechnic University of Gitega, international NGO’s, and the local community to develop a corporate social responsibility program to enhance knowledge transfer and support community development.

Michael Fichtenberg, Gigawatt Global’s VP of Finance and managing director of the GWG Burundi project, said, "GWG has been working closely with the Burundian government and is pleased with the progress made to date. The Burundi Government’s good will, with the close cooperation and support of the U.S. and Dutch Embassies, has been crucial in advancing the country’s first utility-scale solar energy generation facility that addresses the crippling energy crisis and will directly contribute to the economic growth and stability of Burundi. We believe that this pioneering solar project can be the bellwether for further western investment in Burundi."

Michael Fichtenberg, GWG Burundi managing director, Jean-Jacques Nyenimigabo, advisor to the Burundian president, representatives of the Polytechnic University of Gitega and Gitega Municipal Council member Omer Ndayishimiye hope that 14% of Burundi’ss power will be provided by the sun next year.