Rwanda: The Power to Succeed

Imagine this scenario
Local entrepreneurs devote their heart, soul and hard-earned money to establishing telecenter businesses in remote towns as their recovering country pulls together to rebuild itself. One day there’s a power outage that shuts down all the computers in the telecenters for several hours. The next day, there’s another power outage lasting for several hours. This pattern continues for weeks and months as the country’s electricity grid fails to keep up with growing nationwide demand. Telecenter revenues zig zag from month to month, depending on how many hours the power supply is available. The ability of the telecenters to survive is put in doubt.

The reality faced by Rwanda's Community Internet Centers
Unfortunately, this scenario is not hypothetical. It reflects the experience of two entrepreneur- owned Community Internet Centers (CICs) in Rwanda, which were established in April 2003 with assistance from dot-ORG (See previous articles listed at the bottom of this page). The CICs are located in the towns of Gitarama and Nyanza, a few hours away from the capital, Kigali. By late 2003, power outages were beginning to have serious impacts on their revenue streams. Gross monthly revenue at the CIC in Gitarama fell from $715 in November 2003 to $252 in January 2004. The CIC in Nyanza experienced revenue declines of similar proportions.

Partners called upon to find a solution
dot-ORG turned to one of its core resource partners, Winrock International, and Winrock’s Kenyan partner, Energy Services Development Africa (ESDA), to come up with a backup power solution that would enable the two telecenters to provide services all day, thereby returning their full revenue potential. In addition, dot-ORG asked for a third back-up power system along with guidance on ways to reduce power consumption for a new CIC planned for the town of Nyamata.

Establishing a reliable power supply with a battery backup power system
Winrock and ESDA selected a backup power system that uses deep-cycle, maintenance-free batteries to store energy from the electricity grid or a generator. When the daily power outages occur, the stored energy is used to power the core telecenter equipment. Winrock’s analysis showed that this solution would cost much less over a three-year period than a used diesel generator without battery storage, due to the high recurring costs of buying fuel for the latter option. Because the telecenters are located in towns where inexpensive grid electricity is generally available for some time each day, renewable energy options such as solar photovoltaics were not cost competitive. The backup power systems were installed in each CIC in September 2004, at a total cost per system of $5,438 including equipment, installation and training of CIC staff members in operation and maintenance. As a USAID-sponsored program, dot-ORG was exempt from paying duties and VAT on equipment.

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Matching low-power consumption hardware with power backup systems
Each battery/inverter backup power system was sized to a capacity of 800 amp-hours (Ah). This is sufficient to run the core equipment in the Gitarama and Nyanza CICs for a period of seven consecutive hours. The core equipment in each center consists of ten desktop computers, ten CRT monitors, one inkjet printer and three fluorescent lights. Based on Winrock’s recommendation, the newly established CIC in Nyamata opted to reduce its total power consumption by purchasing low- power LCD monitors instead of CRT monitors. The low-power configuration will enable the new CIC to operate for more than 13 consecutive hours using the same size battery system as the other telecenters.

Early Results
A few days after the installation of the backup power systems, the telecenters were already experiencing higher than usual customer turnout as a result of a combination of factors:
  • Nyanza CIC, which did not own a backup generator, is able to remain open more often when power outages occur. By being open for longer hours, the telecenter should be able to generate more revenues;
  • In Nyamata, where low-power LDC screens were purchased to save energy, the sleek display attracted customers who saw them as "high tech";
  • The power backup solution is quiet. CIC customers indicated that this attracted them away from competitors using noisy diesel generators.

All three factors are significantly improving the image of the telecenters in the eyes of their customers. The energy-related investment are giving all three telecenters a clear advantage over the competition.

Some challenges remain, however. Worsening grid power outages, lasting up to two days, mean that the telecenters cannot always recharge their batteries on a daily basis. Additional follow up will be necessary to address these challenges before on can truly assess the impact of the power backup solutions installed in the CICs.

Replication Potential
The battery-inverter power backup solutions designed for this project may be appropriate for other telecenters of similar size (about 10 computers) with limited access to AC electricity from a grid or other source.

Battery-inverter backup power systems are more likely to present a competitive option when the following conditions exist:
  • Electricity is available from the grid or another source (such as a community generator run only at night) for several hours each day.
  • Diesel/gasoline prices in the country are high. The cost of diesel in Rwanda, at about $0.80/liter, is fairly high.
  • The energy demand of the telecenter is less than 10-15 kWh/day.
  • There is a well-developed renewable energy market, so that both equipment and technical support are available at competitive prices.

    Article contributed by Rebecca Mayer, Winrock International.

For More Information, Contact:
Michael Tetelman
Acting Director, dot-ORG
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884 8856

Christopher Rovero
Senior Program Officer, Winrock International
Tel: 703-525-9430 x648

Related Resource Partners
Related DOT-COM Activity
Rwanda - ICTs for Elections and Community Access
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
Related Links
Click on USAID's logo to visit USAID
Click on Internews Network logo, to visit Internews
Click on Academy for Educational Development (AED) logo to visit AED
Click on Educational Development Center (EDC) logo to visit EDC
Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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