Jerusalem solar-energy firm hopes to build 8.5-MW field in Rwandan youth village

June 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The developing nation of Rwanda – through the vision of a Jerusalem-based team
led by American-Israeli Yosef Abramowitz – may soon become home to an 8.5-
megawatt solar oasis capable of providing 8 percent of the country’s energy
supply.

Although Abramowitz’s Energiya Global and the Rwandan government
are still working on signing a final agreement, the company provided a progress
report on the project on Tuesday morning at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem,
in the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. If the agreement is finalized,
the country’s first solar field will be located at the Agahozo- Shalom Youth
Village, a boarding school for genocide orphans east of Kigali, the country’s
capital.

The company hopes not only to bring a new and clean source of
energy to Rwanda but also to catalyze industrial growth, create jobs and generate revenue for healthcare and education.

“We are very
grateful that you can make the choice to invest in us as well as with us,”
Kagame said.

Abramowitz launched Energiya Global as its president and
co-founder with the hope of bringing solar energy to the developing world.
President and co-founder of the Arava Power Company as well, Abramowitz and his
partners were responsible for the construction of Israel’s first grid-connected,
medium-sized solar field, which came online at Kibbutz Ketura in June 2011. New
Jersey businessman David Rosenblatt and Ketura resident Ed Hofland cofounded
both companies with Abramowitz, and were joined by Ira Green and company
chairman Howie Rodenstein in establishing Energiya.

“We feel that we are
brothers and sisters with the Rwandan people, because we have also come from
darkness into light,” Abramowitz said.

The 8.5-MW project would encompass
about 16 of the youth village’s 60 hectares and would provide approximately 8%
of the country’s energy, explained Chaim Motzen, vice president and Africa
regional director at Energiya Global.

“There’s a great solar resource in
Rwanda,” he said.

The business climate of Rwanda is one of the best in
all of Africa, and the government is eager to reduce its dependency on diesel
fuel, Motzen stressed. Rwanda has about 100 MW of electricity for its 11 million
people, which is derived from approximately 55% hydroelectric sources, 40%
diesel and 5% methane gas.

After Energiya and the government of Rwanda
signed a memorandum of understanding, the company submitted its feasibility
study to the government at the end of 2012, and final negotiations toward
signing a deal are now taking place.

“We hope that we will break ground
and begin construction before Christmas,” Motzen said.

Once the solar
field is operating, it will support the country’s economic growth, provide power
to public institutions such as hospitals, reduce operating costs for businesses
and create thousands of jobs, he explained. The site will also become an
educational hub, attracting students from the village and from the region to
come learn about solar energy production.

The facility will also have a
positive environmental effect on both a national and local scale, reducing the
need for women to burn wood in their homes – an act that makes their air 20
times more polluted than that of Beijing, Motzen said.

“The project will
be a reliable source of income for the orphanage,” and a portion of the profits
will be shared with the village, he added. “We hope that this is a replicable
model.”

Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is the ideal host site for the
country’s first solar field, according to Anne Heyman, the Jewish South
African-American attorney and philanthropist who founded the village in December
2008.

The massive Rwandan genocide in 1994 led to a situation in which
there was “no systemic solution to the orphan problem,” Heyman
explained.

By establishing the youth village, she said she aimed to
transplant the Israeli way of coping with traumatized youth to Rwanda, noting
that “we share a common history in so many ways.”

This past January, the
village was proud to send off its first graduating high-school class, with 99%
of the students passing the Rwandan national exams, she said.

“These are
kids that came from the worst of the worst,” Heyman continued, stressing that
now, they aim to give back to their country. “These are kids who are able to
communicate, to think creatively.”

Heyman explained that Rwanda is also a
fitting country for solar energy development, as concern for the environment is
prevalent among its citizens, who will not even be seen carrying plastic bags.
In his capacity as president, Kagame advocates a policy of diversifying energy
sources as widely as possible, she added.

“It’s such a perfect match for
Agahozo-Shalom to be a place where we will be able to bring alternative energy,”
Heyman said.

Now that the Israeli youth village system has proved
successful at Agahozo-Shalom in Rwanda, Heyman said, she feels that the concept
“can be replicated with great success.”

“The challenge now is to figure
out how to make this village and the ones that follow sustainable,” she
said. “We need people willing to invest in businesses – like the solar
company – on behalf of the village. Then we are talking true
sustainability.”

In the eyes of Kagame, Agahozo- Shalom Youth Village
“symbolizes the partnership that is there, that we want to be there” between
Israel and Rwanda.

“In Rwanda we feel very much closely associated with
Israel,” he said. “We are happy to build on this, on these symbols of
togetherness.”

While there are still many challenges for Rwandans to
overcome, Kagame stressed, none is “insurmountable,” adding that people who came
from nothing are now able to become something in the country. Some of the
challenges include continually improving education, developing technology,
constructing infrastructure, integrating the various regions of the country and
bringing markets to scale, he explained.

“We want to impact lives of
people,” Kagame said. “There are things that cement all these ideas together and
one of these is energy.

“You understand the meaning of that,” he said.

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