Local energy resources can take many forms, and ContourGlobal’s effort to develop methane-powered generating capacity on the shores of Rwanda’s Lake Kivu -- called Project KivuWatt -- illustrates the benefits of thinking local, especially in developing economies.

Naturally occurring methane was discovered in Lake Kivu’s deep waters in 1936, as researchers were attempting to understand why it was home to so few fish. The lake is located at an altitude of 1462m, is 485m deep and has a surface area of 2400km2. In 1976, studies determined it contained approximately 250-300 km3 of dissolved carbon dioxide and 55-60 km3 of methane gas – both were trapped at significant depth and continued to increase on a daily basis.

Project KivuWatt will develop the methane resources contained in the lake and, at the same time, reduce the risk of a potentially serious environmental incident. Scientists have stated that the trapped methane and carbon dioxide could be released explosively within the next 100 to 200 years if measures aren’t taken to reduce their presence. Such a catastrophic event could asphyxiate many of the hundreds of thousands of people living around the lake’s shores. Project KivuWatt will draw on the 55-60 km3 of trapped methane and process it for power generation.

In the project’s first phase, processed methane will power three gas engine generator sets (“gensets”) to produce approximately 25 MW of electricity for the local grid. Phase 2 is expected to add another 75 MW of capacity, employing nine additional gensets to expand KivuWatt to 100 MW of power for Rwanda’s citizens. The gas production facility will include:

  • A platform- or barge-mounted gas extraction and treatment facility for every 25 MW of power capacity
  • A submerged, floating pipeline to transport the fuel gas ashore from each barge
  • An onshore gas receiving facility

Rwanda’s level of electrification is very low, and the economy currently only has access to very expensive liquid fuels. By tapping the indigenous methane, Project KivuWatt will play a significant role in advancing the country’s development and improving its socio-economic prospects. The full realization of Phase 2 also could provide the potential for exporting electricity to neighboring countries, with Uganda as the most likely purchaser.