Rwanda is turning methane gas dissolved deep inside the waters of Lake Kivu into a lifeline by generating electricity to help businesses expand and light up a nation with a chronic power shortage. Elly Park reports.
Beneath the surface of this lake in Rwanda lurks a potential natural disaster and a source of energy. Deep inside, Lake Kivu houses billions of cubic meters of methane. Studies show that when not properly reduced, its buildup could lead to the release of toxic gases and possibly an explosion, affecting two million people who live around its shores. But with the launch of KivuWatt, the country hopes to mitigate the danger while at the same time generate electricity for one of the world's most under-powered regions. Jarvo Gummers is manager of the plant. (SOUNDBITE) (English) COUNTRY MANAGER, KIVUWATT PROJECT, JARMO GUMMERUS SAYING: "There is no other lake in the world with this kind of methane. So it has never been done on an industrial scale. But also the power plant, which is very basic, ordinary power plant. But now, instead of natural gas, we are using methane gas." Currently only 14 percent of the Rwandan population has access to electricity, that mostly comes from imported diesel fuel. And those who have access must pay the hefty price, which is a problem according to the Ephraim Munezero, who manages a tea factory nearby. (SOUNDBITE) (Kinyarwanda) GISOVU TEA FACTORY MANAGER, EPHRAIM MUNEZERO SAYING: "The reality is that electricity in Rwanda is very expensive, it's a big issue for factories. If the government reduces the price, it will be good for electricity consumers, especially factories because we pay so much money and our businesses are struggling." As supply increases with the success of plants like KivuWatt the state-run Rwanda Energy hopes to lower prices which is now 17 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) for industrial users, almost triple the price of the US. The KivuWatt plant is part of a larger project aimed at providing 70 percent of the country's population with power by 2018. Although officials admit the goal is ambitious, broader access to electricity is vital for energizing the Rwandan economy.