In late December of 2012, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared 2014-2024 the decade of sustainable energy for all and launched the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative jointly with the African Development Bank. In passing the resolution, the General Assembly noted that 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity and that 2.6 billion people in developing countries rely on traditional biomass sources for cooking and heating needs. Half a billion of those living without access to electricity live in Africa.

Hydropower is undoubtedly the most common form of sustainable and renewable energy. In 2008, hydropower accounted for 16.3 percent of global electricity production. In Europe and North America, 25 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of the potential hydropower has been developed. In Africa, one of the continents with the greatest need for additional generation capacity, only 5 percent of potential hydropower is in use today. Hydropower has the potential to provide a significant percentage of the energy that is necessary to realize the objectives of the General Assembly’s resolution.

It’s not impossible for nations in conflict to put aside their differences to coordinate the delivery of natural resources, but it’s unusual. For Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda, cooperation is transforming the shared Ruzizi River into a valuable source of hydropower for three peoples.

Ruzizi I & II

The Ruzizi River forms the border between DRC and Rwanda. The south-flowing river connects Lake Kivu with Lake Tanganyika. Two projects located on the river are currently in operation. The 29.8 megawatt (MW) Ruzizi I, which is owned and operated by SNEL, the parastatal electricity utility of the DRC, is located 3 kilometers downstream of the outlet from Lake Kivu and was commissioned in 1959. The 43.8 MW Ruzizi II is owned and operated by SINELAC, a multi-national organization established by a treaty among Burundi, the DRC, and Rwanda and was commissioned in 1989.

Precedents pave the way

The Ruzizi III dam will be the third in a series of four projects on the Ruzizi River. The experiences of the first two initiatives provide the clues to the success of Ruzizi III. The Ruzizi River forms the border between the DRC and Rwanda. The south-flowing river connects Lake Kivu with Lake Tanganyika. The 29.8 MW Ruzizi I plant, owned and operated by SNEL, the parastatal electricity utility of the DRC, is located 3 kilometers downstream of the outlet from Lake Kivu and was commissioned in 1959. The 43.8 MW Ruzizi II plant is owned and operated by SINELAC, a multi-national organization established by a treaty among Burundi, the DRC, and Rwanda, and was commissioned in 1989.

SINELAC has been besieged by management and financial challenges since its commissioning—a repeat of that structure for Ruzizi III was not an option. Donors and governments wanted a fully commercial and independent structure protected from interference by any of the three governments, assuring that they are all equal.

“It simply is not possible for [Africa] to achieve its development targets with the current state of infrastructure. Energy in particular is a game changer. Access to energy literally changes people’s lives.”

—Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa

A third way

EGL has been working steadily to promote the third project. In June 2012, EGL launched a request for proposals for the selection of a private investor to develop Ruzizi III on a Build-Operate-Transfer basis. In September, EGL declared the consortium of Sithe Global and Industrial Promotion Services (Kenya) as the preferred bidder for the project. (This is the same consortium that developed the 250 MW, $900 million Bujagali Hydroelectric Dam on the River Nile in Uganda.)

The proposed technical solution for Ruzizi III envisions a run-of-river project comprising:

  • a diversion dam;
  • a 7 kilometer headrace tunnel;
  • penstock and surge chamber;
  • surface powerhouse;
  • three Francis type turbine-generator units;
  • a 220 kilovolts switchyard; and
  • a 10 kilometer transmission line to a substation located at Kamanyola in the DRC.

The design also includes a small generating unit at the dam site to produce energy from the ecological flow that will be released to the bypassed reach of the river between the dam and power station. The proposed technical solution has a total installed capacity of 147 MW.