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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

Can enhanced electrical storage unlock off-grid photovoltaic systems in rural Rwanda?

Team on site

Project team

Andrew F Crossland (PhD Engineering)

Harold Oghenetejiri Anuta (PhD Engineering)

Bronwyn McNeil (Anthropology)


The ‘Off-grid Rwanda’ project explores how much improved specification and usage could increase the performance and update of off-grid photovoltaic (PV) systems in rural Rwanda. The project aims to understand whether an economically feasible small scale energy storage system can be developed to allow PV to be more widely used in rural, off-grid homes, communities, health centres and/or schools.

A recurring challenge for energy planners and policy makers in Rwanda is providing for the needs of the country’s diverse population. Of the country’s 9.7 million people, nearly 82% live in rural areas and less than 1% of these have grid electricity. Accordingly, achieving 35% rural electrification and reducing reliance upon diesel generators are central priorities for the Government of Rwanda in achieving its Vision 2020. This is coupled by strong international pressure for green development. Rather than developing a large transmission grid with intensive central generation (such as large coal or gas power stations), it may be more affordable and beneficial in the long term to develop a de-centralised grid.

The increasing uptake of PV for small scale generation of off-grid electricity in Rwanda’s remote rural communities and state-led developments such as the recent exemption of solar equipment from import duties indicate enthusiasm surrounding the use of these technologies at a Government level. However, the cost, inefficiency and lifespan of traditional batteries necessary for off-grid PV systems are recurrently identified as the principal barrier to the technology’s wider market penetration. This project investigates the economic and socio-technical milieu left in the wake of these limitations. The potential of innovative energy storage and the continually evolving geographies of low carbon development and energy provision/use are also explored.

Power electronics, inverter, fuse box and controller

Project Objectives

  • Collate data for analysis on central and renewable generation, demand patterns of rural and local end users, and social factors;
  • Create links with private and public institutions in Rwanda to foster support for and sharing of relevant information during and after the study;
  • Analyse data collected to produce a technical report/high level specification on the requirements for affordable storage for increased electrification and quality of life (especially in rural communities);
  • Prompt and assist the work soon to be carried out by Great Lakes Energy to produce a solar power design application;
  • Produce a conference and journal paper to disseminate the findings;;
  • Foster further work involving implementing a storage-renewable generator system in an area with no electrification from the grid.

Links to wider research themes and priorities

The DEI has funded this pilot project through the DEI small grants scheme. The project also has links with the LCEDN, the DEI’s Energy for Development (E4Dev) research group and the Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience, feeding into and drawing on Durham’s growing pools of expertise in international development, renewable energy transitions and science and technology studies.

The research addresses the strategic priorities of adaptation, low carbon/climate resilient growth and rural livelihoods identified by theInternational Climate Fund (ICF) and the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Department for International Development (DfID).

More about the project activities and findings

More about the project outputs and further study

More about the project team

See testimonials about the research project