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  • 8/20/2019 An investigation into renewable energy as a driver of grassroots development in rural Rwanda



     An investigation into renewable energy as a driver of

    grassroots development in rural Rwanda

    James Grabham



    This dissertation is submitted as part of a MA Degree in

    Environment and Development at King’s College London

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    Signed: …………………………………………...……………. 

    Date: …………………...………………………………………. 

    I, James Grabham hereby declare (a) that this Dissertation is my own originalwork and that all source material used is acknowledged therein;(b) that it has been specially prepared for a degree of the University of London;

    and (c) that it does not contain any material that has been or will be submitted to

    the Examiners of this or any other university, or any material that has been or

    will be submitted for any other examination.

    This Dissertation is 11,935 words.

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    This study assesses the impacts a growing renewable energy market in Rwanda is having on

    grassroots development. The UN’s 8


      sustainable development goal concerning universalaccess to clean, modern energy provides the context to this study to assess the effectiveness

    of renewable energy in driving the development of low-income communities rather than

     being the manifestation of a vain attempt at modernisation. The growth of the industry in

    Rwanda is being led by the private sector involving a range of different renewable energies.

    The mixed methodology adopted in this study targets a range of stakeholders including

    government ministries, private companies, NGOs and consumers of renewable technology.

    The findings of this dissertation are that the government plays an instrumental role in the

    regulation of the private sector, innovative funding systems are required to effectively supply

    low-income Rwandans, livelihoods are heavily influenced by renewable energy whilst

    cultural indicators have been greatly under-researched.

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    List of Figures, Plates and Abbreviations……………………………………………………..5 


    1.  Introduction


    Country Profile…………………………………………………………………….7 


    Research Questions………………………………………………………....……..8 


    Paper Presentation…………………………………………………………………8 

    2.  Literature Review

    2.1 Renewable Energy and Modernisation Theory……………………………………9 

    2.2 Market Regulation and Finance………………………………………………….12 

    2.3 Livelihood Impacts….……………………………………………………………14 

    2.4 Cultural obstacles ………………………………………………………………..16 

    3.  Methodology

    3.1 Field Research……………………………………………………………………18 

    3.2 Participants……………………………………………………………………….19 

    3.3 Sampling Methods……………………………………………………………….20 

    3.4 Obstacles ………………………………………………………………………...21 

    4.  Results and Analysis

    4.1 Table of Organisations Surveyed………………………………………………...24 

    4.2 Market Regulation………………………………………………………………..25 

    4.3 Funding Systems and Affordability ……………………………………………..32 

    4.4 Livelihood Impacts…………………………………………………………...….36 

    4.5 Cultural Obstacles………………………………………………………………..40 

    5.  Conclusion……………………………………………………………………….…..44



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    Figure 1: Map of Rwanda…………………………………………………………………….18 

    Figure 2: Twitter accounts for participating organisations…………………………………..19 

    Figure 3: Guardian article on General Karake……………………………………………….22 

    Figure 4: BBC article on General Karake …………………………………………………...22 

    Figure 5: Del Agua’s water filter…………………………………………………………….28

    Figure 6: Del Agua’s energy efficient stove…………………………………………………28 

    Figure 7: Priority factors for solar companies to operate ……………………………………30 

    Figure 8: Priority factors for Del Agua………………………………………………………30 

    Figure 9: Priority factors for SNV……………………………………………………………31 

    Figure 10: GLE engineers……………………………………………………………………33 

    Tables: 18,19,22,24,25,28,30,31,33

    Table 1: Participating Organisations……………………………………………………...24-25

    List of Abbreviations:

    Int. –  Interview

    CDM –  Carbon Development Mechanism

    GLE –  Great Lakes Energy

    GoR –  Government of Rwanda

    MoH –  Ministry of Health

    RDB –  Rwandan Development Board

    AMIR –  Association of Microfinance Institutions

    IFAD –  International Fund for Agricultural Development

    RURA –  Rwanda Utilities Regulation Authority

    DFID- Department for International Development

    MININFRA –  Ministry of Infrastructure

    SE4ALL –  Sustainable Energy for All (Government)

    ESSP –  Energy Sector Strategic Plan (Government)

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    I am grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Andrew Brooks, for his guidance and assistance

    throughout the period of undertaking this dissertation, particularly for his knowledge of the

    subject and help with logistics. I would also like to thank every participant that took part in

    this study, the generosity with their time and lasting assistance made my research very


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    Country Profil e

    Rwanda is Africa’s 9th smallest country in terms of land area, just over 10,000 square

    miles, and with its population of approximately 11.78 million (World Bank, 2013) it is the

    densest on the continent’s mainland. The implications of this which concern this dissertation

    are that Rwanda’s natural resources are being ravaged at an exceptionally fast rate with forest

    areas being reduced by 7% annually (Safari, 2010). 88% of Rwandan households rely on

    wood for domestic energy use (Bedi et al. 2015) which is above the continental average of

    80% using traditional biomass as the primary source of their energy consumption needs. As a

    result Rwanda is heading towards an energy crisis which will not only devastate the

    environment but also worsen almost every indicator of development including health

    standards and income generation. Unfortunately, Rwanda is not the only developing country

    to be faced with this critical situation and consequently the UN has identified the energy issue

    as a priority for future development in the form of the 8th  sustainable development goal  –  

    ‘Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’.

    The approach the Rwandan government has taken is to encourage the development of

    renewable energy taken from the abundance of wind, solar, biogas, and hydro sources that are

     present in the country. However, encouraging greater production of renewable energies is not

    simply a means to improve environmental stewardship but is regarded as a central component

    for the country’s drive for wholesome development. Introducing new, clean technologies into

    households is to have the desired effect of raising living standards, reduce gendered

    inequalities, encourage entrepreneurship and to create thousands of new jobs for domestic

    workers within the sector (GoR, 2015). Despite these noble goals, renewable energy projects

    have often failed to deliver wide-scale and sustained improvements to livelihoods in the

    developing world. This is particularly true of sub-Saharan Africa where World Bank funded

    energy projects have a ‘success’ rate of just 36% (Barry et al. 2011).

    This study will therefore assess the impacts renewable technologies are having at the

    grassroots level in low-income communities in Rwanda and explore the criticisms directed at

    development through modernisation in the Global South.

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    Research Questions

    This study has four areas for investigation and the results for each question below will

    help develop an understanding of the Rwandan approach to renewable energy and ultimately

    lead to a judgement on whether the industry can be a successful vehicle for development


    In what ways have the government attempted to create a business culture in

    Rwanda to attract renewable energy companies?


    How is off-grid energy production being made affordable for low-income


    iii.  To what extent can the renewable energy sector stimulate socio-economic

    development in Rwanda?

    iv.  What cultural challenges have hampered the successful implementation of

    renewable energy projects?

    Paper Presentation

    These research questions have been chosen as they attempt to fill in the gaps within

    current academic literature on renewable energy polices. The following section reviews this

    literature and justifies the legitimacy of this study as an alternative perspective of the debates

    surrounding renewable energy in the Global South. The third part of this dissertation focuses

    on the methods employed to collect the appropriate data in an ethical and reliable manor. The

    results of the study will then be presented an analysed with relation to the research questions.

    Finally, part five offers a conclusion to the study and a judgement made relating to the

    relationship between renewable energy and grassroots development.

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    Renewable Energy and Moderni sation Theory

    Modernisation has acted as a prominent and enduring fixture of development studies

    over the past sixty years and whilst this term has evolved from separate processes of

    Westernisation, urbanisation and industrialisation it has retained the capacity to be deeply

    divisive. Post-development thinkers such as Arturo Escobar (1995) have bluntly condemned

    the process as the embodiment of capitalism which undermines and destroys traditional ways

    of living. This is in opposition to proponents of modernisation like Daniel Lerner (1958) who

    advocated the practice as a means to escape underdevelopment and poverty. Within this

    debate, renewable energy has often been described as a form of ecological modernisation, a

    theory which identifies ecological stewardship as a catalyst for economic growth (Toke,

    2011). However, there are also social and cultural implications that result from the

    introduction of new technology which could potentially be viewed as destructive. Inglehart

    and Welzel (2005:16) summarise modernisation as ‘technological innovation and its

    socioeconomic consequences as the basis of human progress, with pervasive implications for

    culture and political institutions’. The pervasive implications which Inglehart and Welzel

    allude to will act as the basis of this study, as renewable energies will be assessed in terms of

    their cultural, political, economic and environmental consequences.

    Criticism of modernisation has been extensive since the term was engineered in

    President Truman’s 1949 speech on underdevelopment and the need for the developing world

    to undergo a process of transformation to reach the economic status of Western nations.

    Truman’s simplistic view of the development gap created the notion of modernisation as an

    uncompromising term describing traditional and modern lifestyles as distinct binaries in

    which ‘no country or citizen can belong to both’ (Daniels et al. 2005:192). Similar high

     profile misinterpretations were evident in Rostow’s stages of economic growth model (1960)

    in which ‘traditional societies’ signified the lowest form of development compared with

    advanced capitalist economies which occupied the higher stages. This view of tradition is

     best summarised by Abrahamsen (2000) who describes the pursuit of modernity as the

    disposal of anything which comes before development as it is has no value in the developed

    world, instead modernisation identifies that underdevelopment is constructed by deficiencies

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    and absences. The historical view of modernisation has therefore been extremely disparaging

    of national customs, culture and economic practices.

    The late 1970’s marked the take-off for modernisation projects which had three

    distinct characteristics. Firstly, modernisation usually occurs from a top-down perspective

    with a trickle-down of wealth to the grassroots. Daniels et al. (2005) explain that projects

    would embrace the ‘big is beautiful’ mantra where modernisation was delivered through large

    dam-building and irrigation projects, for example. This highlights one of the most crucial

    weaknesses with top-down approaches which is that the diffusion of wealth and economic

     benefits is not equal and rarely reaches low-income groups. Rist (1997) argues that this is

     because the core/periphery model, which encapsulates top-down development, is vague and

    wildly imprecise. There is no distinct zoning of what the core and periphery are and yet

    modernisation proponents are forced to assume that wealth dispersal occurs at an equal rate.

    This point relates to the next characteristic which is that modernisation theory is

    driven by economic targets over more social indicators. Another assumption therefore has to

     be made which is that economic success brings with it higher living standards, greater

    empowerment and more broadly the fulfilment of people’s basic needs. This is an assumption

    that Potter et al. (2008) are critical of as they find that it is detrimental to these social

    indicators if they are relegated behind economic ambitions. The assumption that health

    follows wealth, therefore, does not always materialise.

    The final issue with modernisation is that it presents only one path  to development,

    this is particularly relatable to Rostow’s  model. The problem with this is that people and

    communities across the Global South are not homogenous and passive. Rather, low-income

    groups are dynamic and individual to circumstance and environment and particularly they can

     be differentiated culturally. It is therefore incredibly unlikely that one solution can be laid

    down to solve a multitude of different origins of poverty and marginalisation. Similarly, the

    heterogeneous identities of communities means that the top-down approach mentioned earlier

    is likely to fail because of this ignorance of specific issues and conditions at the grassroots


    The extensive criticisms outlined above represent a model by which the Rwandan

    context can be tested against to assess how damaging or successful programmes of modernity

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    can be in relation to universal development. Hettne (1990) vehemently criticises

    modernisation programmes which are situated within liberal free-market systems and

    identifies sustained government intervention and regulation as the only way to stave off the

     private sector’s natural course of cultural destruction and the unerring pursuit of economic

    objectives. The introduction of renewable technologies into the energy sector in Rwanda

    represents an opportunity to challenge the failures which have come to characterise theories

    of modernity and introduce a grassroots programme of clean energy for all which reinforces

    cultural diversity rather than undermining it. The consequences of ignoring past experiences

    of modernisation may lead to dramatic and traumatic shifts in the landscape for low-income

    Rwandans. This represents the view of Wolfgang Sachs (2010:111) who likens the spread of

    Eurocentric values to ‘an oil slick over the entire planet’. Sachs goes on to explain that

    modernisation can be an uncompromising process that rapidly alters traditional ways of life

    and introduces a monoculture which conforms to the West.

    Perhaps, however, this argument overdramatizes the impacts modernisation can have

    on communities, and instead the process should be interpreted as more gradual and less

    abrasive towards traditions. Cloke et al. (2005) remark that change has a temporal element; it

    can happen at different rates and at different places rather than being an all-encompassing

     process. Furthermore this change may not involve the total eradication of the ways in which

     people live their lives, instead it can be interpreted as the remaking of local geographies. The

    second point they make is that social groups experience modernity in vastly differing ways.

    For example, as modes of production change the experiences felt by different races, classes

    and genders of people will be different, so it would be inaccurate to condemn a whole process

    of modernisation as either successful or damaging. These two points must therefore be taken

    into consideration within this study to assess how livelihoods are changing and who may be

     benefitting or suffering as a result.

    Whilst the concept of modernisation forms the background context for this study, a

    more concrete model is needed to analyse the impact renewable energy advancement in

    Rwanda is having on the lower income groups. There is no shortage of pre-existing models

    which evaluate the sustainability of renewable energy sources in the Global South, for

    example Dunmade (2002), Cherni (2007) and Teitel (1978) have all contributed in this

    respect. However, these models have typically been designed to assess government and NGO

    approaches to renewable energy whereas this study focuses on the private sector. Therefore,

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    these existing models need to be modified so that they are more appropriate to this study of

    renewable energy in Rwanda. The following section will analyse the literature surrounding

    four factors which are of particular importance to this study. These factors, associated with

    the adoption of renewable technologies, will be used to analyse the success Rwanda has

    experienced and similarly help identify where problems have arisen. The first section focuses

    on two closely linked issues concerning aspects of finance and also market regulation. The

    second section analyses livelihood implications which leads onto the final factor; cultural


    Market Regulation and Fi nance:

    In 2011, it was estimated by the World Bank that 44.9% of Rwandans were living

    under the poverty line ($1.25 a day). The policy therefore to sell these people highly

    advanced and expensive renewable technologies through the private sector is reliant on

    innovative funding and payment schemes. The literature on renewable energy projects

    identifies three factors which have come to characterise successful programmes in respect of

    markets and finance; increasing education and training capacities, external funding systems

    including microfinance, and extensive government intervention.

    One of the greatest obstacles facing energy transitions according to Prasad and

    Visagie (2007) is convincing people to adopt new energy habits which satisfy state

    environmental targets with their own financial insecurities. In a country where 80% of energy

    consumption is procured through an unregulated, informal biomass market (where the

    commodity is essentially free), attempting to encourage people to pay for their energy

    requires extensive knowledge transfer. This education needs to include demonstrations of

    how investments into modern energy can save households time which can be used to pursue

    other income generation opportunities and therefore build financial security (Chataway et al.

    2006). This responsibility for the dissemination of education should be that of implementing

     NGOs, argues the United Nations Energy Agency (2008), however Prasad and Visagie

    disagree. They point out that NGOs are inherently footloose entities that will not provide long

    term training after the inception of new technologies. Instead, private sector companies which

    are more concerned with after sale services and the government, which is a permanent fixture

    in the country, will provide more effective knowledge transfer to ease the transition to a more

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    sustainable future. However, educating people on embracing clean energy is not enough on

    its own and must be partnered with a means for low-income people to be able to afford it too.

    Government subsidies have frequently been adopted to increase energy consumption

    in the Global South by making clean energy more affordable for consumers. However, Landi

    et al.’s (2013) study of biogas digesters found the subsidy scheme in Rwanda to be entirely

    unsuccessful. The government’s offer of a $300 subsidy for anyone wanting to purchase a

     biogas digester failed to appeal to low-income groups, as the remaining cost for the

    consumer, for a basic model, was $855. This is a figure vastly out of the range of most

    Rwandans, especially as this type of renewable energy source does not directly have any

    financial return to the customer. The problem, therefore, is that governments in developing

    nations do not have the wealth to sustain a subsidy programme to make energy affordable to

    the poorest. Nguyen (2007) therefore suggests that the role of governments should be limited

    to removing taxes and duties on parts for renewable technologies that need to be imported.

    This strategy would pave the way for a more competitive energy market which would benefit

    the consumer in terms of affordability, after-sales services and higher quality equipment

    (Dekelver et al. 2006).

    Bajgan and Shakya (2005) regard this notion of a competitive market as insignificant

    if the rural poor are still unable to bear the cost of an initial investment. They identify the

    greatest problem as the lack of access to loans that low-income people have and is something

    implementing agencies must negotiate with banks over, offering lower interest rates over

    longer periods of time. Barry et al. (2007: 2850) similarly comment that the lack of available

    finance is ‘the main stumbling block to the implementation of renewable energy technologies

    in Africa.’ This approach has proved to be more successful, with Pellegrini (2010) reporting

    that the micro-finance scheme set up by the Banque Populaire du Rwanda, supported by a

    Dutch development agency, allowed a greater proportion of eligible households to apply for a

     biogas digester loan and pay back over a three year period.

    Alternatively, the burden of cost should be taken entirely out of the hands of the poor.

    Public-private partnerships are regarded as a means to do this, whereby the private sector

     produces high quality, low cost products and external organisations provide the finances on

     behalf of the rural poor (Groenenberg and Glasbergen, 2001). This approach is of particular

    viability for the renewable energy sector because the industry appeals to a range of

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    development organisations that may specialise in health, environmental stewardship, gender

    equality, education procurement and others. The success of these partnerships relies upon the

    host government ensuring that the private sector is managed effectively and offers an

    attractive environment for bilateral and multilateral funding organisations (Collier, 2007). An

    example of this would be Rwanda’s zero tolerance to corruption, which indicates to potential

    financiers that their inputs will be used efficiently and not lost to illicit activity (GoR, 2015).

    L iveli hood Impacts:

    The next aspect of this study investigates livelihoods and how they are impacted by,

    what Elias and Victor (2005) term; ‘energy transitions’. A person’s livelihood is described by

    Ellis (2000) as the combination of physical and intangible capital which a person (or family)

    owns or has access to. Five types of capital are commonly referred to under the sustainable

    livelihoods framework; financial, physical, social, human and natural, all of which are

    governed by different institutions and social relations. This model shows how the

    introduction of renewable technology can therefore have wide ranging and diverse

    interactions with people’s livelihoods. These interactions are likely to affect members of a

    household differently, based on gender and age group, as they will all have varied access to

    the household’s capital. This is something that must be taken into account in a study such as

    this one, however, from a broader perspective there has been a longstanding argument that

    any transition to more modern energy sources, such as electricity, brings with it huge strides

    forward in standards of living and opportunities for development.

    Sokona (2012: 3) identifies Africa’s lack of access to sources of modern energy as ‘a

    major obstacle for achieving wellbeing, and in the wider sense, an impediment to the

    continent’s development objectives.’ Indirect evidence of this can be shown by Brew-

    Hammond’s (2010) work on energy consumption in the developed world, where rising levels

    of prosperity have been recorded alongside steady increases in the consumption of ‘modern

    energy’, whereas sub-Saharan Africa represents a region of underdevelopment and similarly

    experiences the lowest per-capita access to modern energy across the world. Brew-

    Hammond therefore calls for greater development policy on widening access so that social as

    well as economic targets can be met.

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    Examples of social indicators which can be improved through the introduction of

    renewable energies have been diverse but the most commonly cited benefits have focused on

    improved health standards as well as increased availability of time for people to spend on

     pursuing alternative income generation and educational opportunities. The UNDP (2009)

    have identified these social indicators to be of particular relevance to women and children

    who are normally responsible for collecting firewood and cooking (the gendered implications

    of an energy transition will be discussed in more detail in the following section on cultural

    obstacles to renewable energy.) The literature recognises that the opportunities to alter

    livelihoods are felt more acutely by women as they have more time afforded to them in light

    of not having to collect wood as regularly. Huba and Paul (2007) estimate that on average

    Rwandans travel 1.5km per trip to collect wood, usually on mountainous terrain. Studies have

    shown that new technology can reduce this need for wood collection and enables women to

     pursue income generating activities such as selling crops and homemade crafts (Bedi et al.

    2015) or they might choose to return to education and increase their human capital.

    Furthermore, Dekelver et al. (2005) find that there is a clear relationship between health

    standards and the replacement of burning wood fuels for more modern energy sources. They

    identified the reliance on burning biomass fuels as the most prominent reason why respiratory

    illnesses are one of leading causes of death in Rwanda. Successful integration of less

     pollutive energy sources would, they argue, lead to a dramatic rise in health standards in

    Rwanda which would in turn increase the labour pool whilst reducing the drain on public

    health services.

    The next aspect of how livelihoods can be impacted by renewable technology is in respect

    of businesses and wealth generation. A study by Ramachandran (2008) found that the poor

    reliability of national grid systems in sub-Saharan Africa was seriously hindering business

    operations. On average a country in sub-Saharan Africa can expect between 50-170 power

    cuts a year which would typically last between 5-12 hours. Similarly, the World Bank (2011)

    found that 50% of businesses had experienced a loss of revenue directly due to the poor

    service of power from the national grid. The option to move towards an off-grid energy

    source which would offer much greater reliability can be regarded as an extremely

    marketable aspect of renewable technologies.

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    Cul tur al Obstacles:

    The third means by which renewable technologies will be assessed is in terms of their

    cultural appropriateness. This is a factor which has historically been overlooked within

    academic studies. For example, Teitel’s model (1978), for assessing the appropriateness of

    new technology, focuses on mostly physical factors such as the availability of resources,

    labour and also market related assessments. More recent studies have attempted to

    incorporate socio-cultural factors into their research such as Barry et al. (2011) who listed

    ‘community adoption’ as one of their eleven factors to investigate. However, it remains a

    largely disregarded component, perhaps because of the difficulty involved with measuring

    social conditions. This point is reflected in Barry et al.’s (2011: 2846) summation of cultural

    obstacles as purely an education issue; ‘Consumers in Africa do not easily accept renewable

    energy technologies because they lack knowledge about the advantages and opportunities for

    using these types of technologies.’ Whilst this statement may be true of a minority of

    consumers, broad generalisations such as these have come under much greater criticism in

    recent years. Instead, a more thought-out consensus has found that low-income Africans

    don’t shy away from new technology because they are uncertain about the benefits, but it is

    usually an affordability issue and the level of financial risk which people are concerned about

    (Bryceson, 1996).

    However, this argument on its own does not reflect the whole complex situation of

    technology adoption in Africa. Cultural barriers do exist and are both diverse and numerous,

    making the job of implementing new technology schemes and altering people’s energy habits

    very difficult. For example, Landi et al. (2013) encountered cultural obstacles in Rwanda

    which had hindered the implementation of a national biogas programme. They observed that

    the number of people aged 45-60 in Rwanda was incredibly small, despite the average life

    expectancy in Rwanda being 64.5 (World Bank, 2012). This figure has widely been attributed

    to the 1994 civil war in which this age group, at the time, would have been in the bracket of

    25-40 and most heavily targeted during the genocide. The consequence for this is what Landi

    et al. term an ‘experience deficit’ within Rwandan society, as it is often this more mature age

    group which has been found to take risks and be more open to embracing new technology and

     practices. The problem for development practitioners, therefore, is convincing Rwanda’s

    young population to adopt more efficient and cleaner energy rather than persist with

    traditional biomass sources which had been used by their parents and grandparents.

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    This is an example of the cultural problems facing a specific country, but broader

     problems have been felt in the renewable energy sector. The most prominent of these has

     been the issue of increased domestic abuse that has been felt within some studies as a result

    of renewable technology benefiting women more than men. The gendered benefits of

    renewable technology was described in the previous section on livelihood impacts in which

    women had more time to pursue income generation and educational opportunities after the

    successful adoption of new technology. Whilst many academics have praised these

    development programmes in terms of the way they promote empowerment of women

    (Johnson, 2005) and how a household will benefit from the more responsible way women

    spend income (Kabeer, 2001), other academics have been more wary of the impacts. For

    instance, Schuler (1996) found in Bangladesh that women who participated in income

    generation schemes would often suffer greater levels of domestic abuse as male members of

    the household could feel emasculated due to the fact they were not the sole breadwinner.

    Similarly, Mayoux (2001) found in Cameroon that it was not uncommon for men to reduce or

    even withdraw their financial contribution to the household if their wives were beginning to

    manufacture an income. Mayoux therefore described the process of female income

    generation, in this instance, as disempowering because they became more responsible for

    their families wellbeing rather than securing a more equal future.

    What these arguments show is that beneath the visible benefits renewable

    technologies can bring may be darker underlying issues that must be understood and

    addressed by the implementing organisation. The purpose of this study is not to discover

    every cultural problem that exists but to assess the ways in which the government and the

     private sector operate to ensure that any negative implications from the introduction of

    technology is identified and solved through an appropriate means.

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    F ield of Research

    The reason for selecting Rwanda as the location for this study, beyond the fact that it

    has embraced renewable energies, is that it has close ties with the UK in terms of aid and

    hosting British organisations. Similarly, English has gained status as a national language in

    Rwanda after it was admitted as a member of the commonwealth, despite never being

    colonised under the British Empire. This has been a result of the breakdown of Franco-

    Rwanda relations during the genocide in which the French government had been complicit in

    the atrocities (Guardian, 2014). Therefore the relationship which has flourished between the

    UK and Rwanda makes it more accessible to do research in the country and conduct

    interviews in English.

    I elected to stay in Kigali for the duration of my study in Rwanda as the capital hosts

    the headquarters of many of the government ministries as well as the head offices of private

    companies and development agencies which were concentrated in an area called Kacyiru.

    Furthermore, Kigali is central within Rwanda, as the map shows, and this allowed for easy

    travel to places such as Ruhengeri in the North, Akagera in the East and Nyungwe in the

    South. During the month I

    spent in Rwanda, I needed to

    travel outside of Kigali to

    research marketing days and to

    speak with the beneficiaries of

    new technology.

    Figure 1: Map of Rwanda

    Source: Google Maps (2015)

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    Despite this study being focused on how the private sector is delivering renewable

    energy products in Rwanda, the role of the government and external funding bodies are also

    critical for the success of the sector. Therefore I attempted to meet with as many

    representatives of these different groups as possible. A full list of the participating

    organisations and interviewees is presented in the results section. I found the most productive

    method for contacting organisations was through Twitter, as organisations would very rarely

    respond to emails. Almost all of the organisations I contacted through Twitter, whether they

    were a private company or a government ministry, responded quickly and set up appropriate

    contact channels so that I was able to ask for and organise interviews. Furthermore, I gained

    more contacts through ‘snowball’ sampling which Browne (2005) describes as the process of

    using interpersonal relations and connections between people to broaden the breadth of study

    and to reveal previously hidden participants to the researcher. This proved to be a fruitful

    method as established participants would often be enthusiastic about my research and want to

    assist in terms of setting up other interviews with organisations that I had not heard of, but

    were nonetheless very suitable to the study.

    I was also keen to visit areas outside Kigali where projects set up by private

    companies were operating so that I could get a first-hand experience of the product and how

    appropriate it was in being a tool for development. For some organisations it was not possible

    Figure 2: Twitter accounts for participating organisations. Source: Twitter (2015)

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    to do this as they could not provide the staff to show me around the communities where the

    technology had been adopted. However, I was able to join a solar company on a marketing

    day as well as visit a health clinic which utilized a solar powered generator with a different


    Sampling Methods:  

    i.  Interviews

    The main source of data collection was derived from formal and informal interviews. This

    is an effective method to collect large amounts of detailed information and allows a deviation

    from broad topics to comprehend more fully the issues that are of particular relevance to a

    specific participant or stakeholder (Denscombe, 2007). All of the formal interviews

    conducted in this study took place at the offices of the organisation which the participant was

    representing. An unexpected benefit of doing this was that other employees would often be

    invited into the conversation if the interviewee wasn’t able to answer a question. The

     participants I met would often specialise in renewable energy but sometimes issues

    surrounding oil, finances, policy etc. would come up and other staff in the office would be

     better placed to answer. As a result some interviews became informal focus groups where

    four or five employees would be joining in; I found this to be a really positive aspect of the

    sampling strategy.

    The sampling strategy involved with formal interviews is straightforward in that I

    attempted to contact any organisation relevant to this study, and as there weren’t going to be

    a large number there was no need to be selective. This is in contrast to the informal

    interviews I carried out which were with the recipients of renewable technologies, of which

    there were many. At a marketing day, for instance, I was able to speak with prospective

    customers of solar panels and I would randomly select these participants although I would

    attempt to find those that could speak English.

    ii.  Participant Observation

    This method is sometimes regarded as non-scientific, (Easthope, 1971) however

     participant observation can be an effective way of supplementing a study with an outsider’s,

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    objective perspective. I used this method of research differently throughout the study. At

    times I was passively participating, for example, at a marketing day I was able to observe the

    ways a solar company marketed their product and could therefore understand what they

    regarded as the most appealing benefits of their products to the consumers. Participant

    observation is a method described by Jorgensen as a description of ‘what goes on, who or

    what is involved, when and where things happen, how they occur and why,’ (Jorgensen,

    1989:12). By triangulating my research methods I found that participant observation gave me

    a richer understanding in the field of what interviewees had previously said.


    Secondary Data

    I have engineered a research topic which is more heavily reliant on data from

    implementing organisations and not local people. However, to strengthen my results I will be

    consulting independently verified data collected on behalf of organisations to assess the

    impacts renewable energies have had. This point regarding the legitimacy of secondary data

    is very significant, Cloke (2004: 41) argues, as a researcher must always ‘consider the

     processes through which data sources are constructed.’ Many of the organisations and

    companies I spoke to had a database of testimonials from customers (which they gave me

    access to) about the problems and benefits they had felt. This is so that they could use this

    honest data to improve their    products and funding systems rather than as a tool to

    manufacture positive feedback which could be used in future marketing campaigns.


    As with any research study there were inevitable challenges which emerged in the

    field, however these did not hinder the results of the overall project. The first and most

    disruptive element of these obstacles was in the form of national protests targeted at the

    British government. On the 22nd  June Rwandan General Karenzi Karake was arrested at

    Heathrow airport on behalf of Spanish authorities in connection with alleged war crimes

    against civilians (Guardian, 2015). Karake is regarded as a hero for his efforts to end the

    genocide by the Rwandan government and as a result President Paul Kagame and Louise

    Mushikiwabo, Rwanda's foreign minister, had expressed their ‘outrage’ with the British

    government (BBC, 2015).

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    Having arrived in Rwanda on the 21st of June I had planned to visit the British High

    Commission in Kigali to ask for assistance in terms of gaining contacts and possibly

    interviewing a representative of the Commission over the UK’s proactive and continued

    contribution of aid for the purpose of green growth. However, in response to the arrest of

    General Karake, protests broke out across Rwanda on the 24th  of June which were

    concentrated in Kigali outside the British High Commission.

    The protests meant that visiting the High Commission was not an option during my

    time in Kigali and although it would have been useful to the study it was not a great loss.

    Cloke (2004: 374) remarks that ‘politics and ethical considerations operate at every level

    throughout the research process’ and so unexpected obstacles such as the Kigali protests  are

     part and parcel of doing ethnographic research and operating flexibly is a necessity.

    Another obstacle which I encountered related to the use of photography in Rwanda

    which has very recently become a topic of intense debate in the country. Issues of privacy in

    relation to filming and photography in public have only very recently emerged in Rwanda

    and for this reason there have been no studies into why this has come about and the reasons

    for it. I learnt of this issue through speaking with other Western tourists who had spoken of

    uncomfortable experiences when taking a photo in public and subsequently having aggressive

    exchanges with locals who weren’t even in the photo. This was therefore something that I had

    Figure 3. Karake article

    Source: The Guardian Online (2015)

    Figure 4. Karake article

    Source: BBC News (2015)

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  • 8/20/2019 An investigation into renewable energy as a driver of grassroots development in rural Rwanda




    Table One: Participating organisations

    I nterview


    Organisation Energy I nterviewee Position Date




    Solar Head of Strategy

    Office Administrator


    24/06 –  05/07




    Solar Marketing Manager




    11/06 –  03/07




    Ministry of


    All forms Economic Advisor

    Renewable Energy

    Senior Engineer



    7 Efficient stoves

    and water filters

    Program Manager 25/06

    8 Solar Engineer 30/06

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    The data collected from interviews, secondary data sources and my own observations

    in Rwanda will be presented in this section. The analysis of existing literature on renewableenergy, which was explored in section two, will provide the context for discussion of the

    results of this study. The first element of the results to be presented and analysed concerns

    market regulation, the second explores the issue of affordability, part three focuses on

    livelihood impacts and finally the cultural aspects of the study are assessed in part four. Each

    section of results is preceded by the research question which is relevant to that area of


    Market Regulation

    1  In what ways have the government attempted to create a business culture in Rwanda to

    attract renewable energy companies? 

    The government of Rwanda has repeatedly identified the private sector as the most

    effective delivery system of ‘development’ (GoR, 2015). It has therefore taken steps to create

    the ideal conditions for a competitive renewable energy market which will produce high-


    I nterview


    Organisation Energy I nterviewee Position Date


    9 Solar, hydro and


    Private Sector



    10 All forms Renewable Energy



    11 Independent Health


    Solar Doctor 09/07

    12 Biogas digesters Development Officer 07/07 –  21/07


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    quality and inexpensive products for Rwanda’s rural poor. The most significant element of

    this, as identified by private companies, has been to reduce import taxes such as VAT on

    components for renewable technologies. The importance of this approach was explained by a

     participant representing the solar company BBOXX (Int.1).

    BBOXX initially attempted to manufacture their solar panels in Rwanda with the

    reasoning that it would be more cost effective to source local materials and exploit the

    abundance of cheap local labour to construct solar panels. Dunmade (2002) similarly regards

    domestic manufacturing as a positive as it provides local employment and also means that

    replacement parts can easily be sourced inexpensively. However, the participant reported that

    after just two weeks BBOXX ran out of materials including exhausting national supplies of

    glue. The evidence therefore shows that a small country such as Rwanda with limited natural

    resources cannot yet supply an entire industry such as the energy sector. All of the private

    companies which participated in this study revealed that the manufacturing of their products

    takes place primarily in China and Vietnam. This makes it essential that import taxes are

    either very low or non-existent as this allows companies to keep costs down and maintain

    high quality products. The customer ultimately benefits in respect of lower prices which is

    absolutely critical in such a poor country. This point is made by another participant when

    asked if he would like to see Rwanda manufacture its own solar panels;

    ‘Would I want to see something produced here [Rwanda] that was an inferior

     product? Not really… It is the quality that makes the difference, the panels we have here have

    a life expectancy of 10-15 years…  customers will see a healthy return on their investment.’


    The relevance of this policy is that it challenges Dunmade’s (2002) recommendation

    that domestic manufacturing is required to avoid import costs and similarly create green jobs.

    However, the Rwandan approach has been to prioritise quality above any other factor in the

    short term. The reason for this is that the renewable sector is composed of highly advanced

    technology which Rwanda does not have the capacity to construct. It has proven to be far

    cheaper to import components into Rwanda by reducing entry barriers into the country.

    Whilst Dunmade correctly asserts that job creation will be impacted by outsourcing to China,

    the reality is that there is no viable alternative at present. Domestic manufacturing should be a

    target in the future however, once the renewable energy sector has delivered the economic

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    growth that is expected of it, and quality renewable technology can be constructed in


    The justification for prioritising quality renewable technology is to ensure successful

    adoption of equipment by rural communities (Landi et al. 2013, Cherni, 2007, Teitel, 1978).

    The reason for this being that a poor quality product will damage consumer trust and the

    spread of uptake in communities will be severely hampered. The repealing of import taxes

    has therefore been very successful in Rwanda in reducing costs whilst also maintaining high

    quality. However, there have been bureaucratic and organisational problems associated with

    these breaks. A participant (Int.1) highlighted the government’s recent VAT law changes as

    an example of this whereby solar companies were forced to pay VAT on their imports despite

     previously being exempt. The mistake, made by the government, took three months to

    reverse, in which time the private sector were forced to absorb 30% increases in costs. It is

    these errors that the government are trying to cut out of new energy policies as described in

    the Sustainable Energy for All Action Agenda (2015). This document highlights the need to

    further reduce the barriers to entry for the renewable energy market in Rwanda; ‘poorly

    targeted import duties currently hold back the development of more-effective technology’

    (SE4All, 2015:26). However, current successes cannot be understated. For example, 80% of

    foreign companies who enjoy tax breaks in Rwanda operate within the renewable energy

    market and this is a trend the Ministry of Infrastructure is keen to continue (Int.5).

    The success of government incentives through tax levies represents a move away

    from subsidy policies which had been heavily criticised by academics such as Landi et al.

    (2013) as being ineffective and unviable to the very poorest. This criticism was shared by

    three participants of this study who felt that subsidies undermined Rwanda’s goal of

    encouraging competitive and fair markets;

    ‘Subsidies are an unfair system which give an advantage to one company over

    another one.’  (Int.2)

    The government has therefore attempted to ‘provide a level playing field and

    encourage fair competition by ensuring that any subsidies and government procurement are

    well designed’ (GoR, 2015). However, subsidising the energy sector does still feature and the

    results of this study found them to be largely inefficient. Mobisol are offered grants to

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    subsidise the cost of their household solar system. However, the government does not add

    any conditions to these grants over who may be eligible for them. This means that every

    Rwandan, regardless of income group, has the opportunity to buy at the lower price.

    Therefore, I would regard this as a failure of the government in passing up an opportunity to

    explicitly target the poorest communities which would complement their fundamental

    objective of ensuring the private sector develops to reduce poverty rather than maximise


    Direct financial assistance is not the only way by which the government can reduce

    the costs burdened onto private companies. Del Agua is a company which manufactures

    water filters (Fig.5) and energy efficient stoves (Fig.6) thus reducing the need for firewood to

     boil water and cook food. It is a company which identifies itself as a health orientated

    organisation rather than an environmental or energy related one so that it can attract different

    stakeholders, the justification for this being that Del Agua’s products reduce smoke

    inhalation in the home and therefore reduce the risk of respiratory diseases.

    ‘We absolutely need the government [MoH] for every step of the process ,’ (Int. 7).

    The ministry’s most valuable contribution has been to allow Del Agua free   use of

    community volunteers which report to the Ministry of Health. Around four volunteers work

    in each village and have been intensively trained by Del Agua on how to use the water filter

    and energy efficient stove. The volunteers were then given the task of distributing the

    Figure 5: Water Filter

    Source: Authors own (2015) Figure 6: Energy efficient stoves

    Source: Authors own (2015)

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     products to 100,000 households in the Western Province and educating the occupants on their

    new equipment. This assistance has been imperative to the success of Del Agua and the

    opportunity for rural households to be given this energy efficient equipment for free (the

    implications of how this has been feasible will be explained later on).

    At this point it would be appropriate to reflect on the first research question of this

    study; ‘In what ways have the government attempted to create a business culture in Rwanda

    to attract renewable energy companies?’ The government has shown to be progressive in

    terms of identifying interventions which promote fair competition and reducing those that

    hinder the private sector. It is a country that is successfully attracting foreign companies to

    start operating in Rwanda despite the fact that the pool of consumers in the country are very

     poor and therefore huge profits are unlikely to be reaped in the near future. Therefore, to

    understand why European and North American companies had elected to operate here, I

    asked each organisation to rank the most significant reasons for doing business in Rwanda

    including political as well as more physical factors.

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    of Gov.


    Fair Regulation

    of Markets









    Figure. 8

    Del Agua




    Direct Government



    Organisation of



    Fair Regulation of


    22%Dense Population


    Mobile network




    Figure. 7Solar companies 

    Results showing which factors are most significant to different organisations

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    Rwanda’s level of infrastructure, combined with the high population density, were

    significant features cited by organisations. They indicated that it was easy to travel around the

    country to visit remote villages and this had a number of benefits. For example, marketing

    days can take place in almost all areas of the country and repairing and maintaining

    equipment does not require as much time as it would in a sparsely populated country with

     poor quality roads.

    The indicator ‘business climate’ relates to policies such as Rwanda’s zero tolerance to

    corruption and was a very significant factor for the more conventional ‘for - profit’

    organisations such as the solar companies BBOXX and Mobisol. They indicated that in

    countries such as neighbouring DRC it is almost impossible to carry out a business venture

    without having to succumb to the culture of bribing, which would consequently push costs up

    (Int.1, 4). Furthermore, Rwanda does not make foreign companies suffer inefficient

     bureaucracy that features heavily in other sub-Saharan African countries.

    For an organisation such as Del Agua, which would be classed as a ‘for profit social

    enterprise’, the business climate factor is less significant. Instead its direct partnership with

    the government is key, along with Rwanda’s advanced mobile network system (Int.7) which








    Organisation ofGov.


    Fair Regulation

    of Markets









    Figure. 9


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    allows them to collect huge amounts of data which is needed to earn carbon credits through

    the UN (again, this will be explored in more detail).

    From a broad sense these results emphasize how important the government are, in

    various capacities, in facilitating the diverse operations of private companies. Academics

    such as Schulpen and Gibbon (2002) resoundingly argue that the state must take an active

    role in the development of the private sector in developing economies. This role includes

    creating the conditions whereby the private sector can flourish but also closely regulating this

    growth to ensure it leads directly to poverty reduction rather than just maximizing profits.

    Barry et al. (2011) develop this point within the context of renewable energy by suggesting

    that without government involvement the private sector will not be able to produce renewable

    energy products which can compete with traditional energy sources such as biomass. The

    limited education and finances that rural populations have in developing countries necessitate

    active governance to be able to instigate an energy transition (Elias and Victor, 2005).

    The results of this study show that the government takes its role as a regulatory and

    monitoring body extremely seriously with regard to the development of the renewable energy

    market. The conditions they have sculpted in Rwanda in respect of business appear to be

    almost ideal, despite occasional bureaucratic errors, as they have successfully attracted a

    range of local and foreign enterprises to begin operating in the country. Having overcome

    ineffective policies and taken down barriers to entry, private companies can enjoy

    competitive markets, a real success therefore in terms of the government’s initial aims. A

    successfully regulated private sector is regarded by many development academics (such as

    Pieter Glasbergen et al. 2007) as the most effective means to align state targets with the needs

    of individual households. However, the issue of affordability remains and whether or not

    these private companies can deliver renewable technologies to the lowest income groups.

    Funding Systems and Af fordabi li ty

    2. How is off-grid energy production being made affordable for low-income households? 

    The results of the previous section show that the private sector in Rwanda is thriving

    and that the government is taking an active interest in attracting and assisting foreign

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    companies in the country by reducing their costs and allowing them to operate in fairly

    regulated markets. However, 44.9% of Rwandans live under the poverty line of $1.25 (World

    Bank, 2011) and so a well regulated market does little to make renewable technology more

    affordable to the majority of Rwandans. Affordability is often regarded as the greatest

    obstacle when co-ordinating development projects through the private sector, especially in

    highly technical sectors such as energy (Bugaje, 2006). What are needed, therefore, are

    innovative external funding systems to offset the costs to the consumers and this is often done

    through public-private partnerships which have become extremely popular in the late 1990s

    as Groenenberg and Glasbergen (2001: 1) explain;

    ‘ Partnerships between environmental organizations and the private sector are an

    expression of a professional approach in the environmental movement and a private sector

    vision of the environment as a business opportunity.’

    Great Lakes Energy (GLE) is a solar company which targets remote health centres in

    Rwanda to provide a reliable and clean energy source. The problem that had faced GLE was

    that community health centres do not have the wealth to buy a solar system outright,

    especially as the returns on their investment won’t be seen for around 10-15 years. The

    reason for this being that health centres do not typically have any income other than

    Performance Based Funds (PBF) from the government, designed to help with day to day

    Figure. 10: GLE engineers installing a solar system at a health centre.Source: gle.solar (2015)

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    running costs. The answer for GLE has been to create partnerships with development

    organisations such as World Vision, Health Builders, World Bank and Cordaid. These NGOs

     provide grants to GLE to purchase a solar system on behalf of a specific health centre so that

    they can gain access to clean and reliable energy (Int.8).

    Maurrasse (2013) sees this as a perfect marriage in terms of enhancing the renewable

    energy market for the benefit of the lowest-income communities. The private sector delivers

    high quality, inexpensive equipment which is funded by organisations with specific

    development ideologies and so environmental and health targets are successfully aligned with

    the economic ambitions of the private companies. Partnerships such these can only thrive,

    Maurrasse argues, if the host country demonstrates good governance and transparent markets,

    as has been shown in the previous section, to attract foreign investors and development


    FONERWA is an organisation that is similarly dependent on attracting funding from

    abroad, as well as domestically, to finance its projects which fight climate change. In fact,

    FONERWA is an intermediary organisation which channels external funding into private

    sector projects which are in need of assistance. Whilst a large proportion of the funding

    which comes through FONERWA is through bilateral sources such as DFID, FONERWA

    also capitalises on domestic sources such as collecting environmental fines and fees. As a

    result of this system, FONERWA can act as an independent funding organisation and make

    internal decisions on where best to inject finances. Private businesses must meet specific

    criteria relating not only to climate change targets, but also to employment and wider

    development goals to be eligible for funding. Funding is delivered in the form of grants of up

    to $300,000 (which is paid incrementally) and also credit, a loan at around 11% interest

    which is more favourable than the national rate of 15-16% (Int.9). Bajgan and Shakya (2005)

    have argued the case for more generous and flexible loans to be offered to environmentally

    conscious development projects because renewable energies are plagued by slow return rates

    on investments. The credit schemes offered by FONERWA would appear to complement this

    argument as they endeavour to be partners with private companies and ensure that hitting

    development targets is as important as making repayments.

    The most protracted and challenging means by which an organisation has attracted

    finance has been Del Agua which has profited from the UN’s Carbon Development

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    Mechanism (CDM). The process to be eligible for the CDM is extensive, however it has

    allowed Del Agua to provide free equipment which directly benefits around 450,000 of the

     poorest Rwandans (Int.7). Since its inception in 2006, the CDM has offered organisations and

    governments the opportunity to earn saleable certified emission reduction (CER) credits

    which can be sold as part of the global carbon trading market (UNFCCC, 2014). To do this,

    Del Agua has had to prove that the use of its water filters and energy efficient stoves has

    made a reduction in the level of emissions Rwanda produces. This evidence is manifested by

    comprehensive surveys of households including questions on the fuel they use, how often

    they cook, how their energy use changes seasonally etc. Independent carbon auditors then

    verify this survey data and compare it with a survey taken before the implementation of

    equipment to make a judgement on whether the project is reducing carbon emissions. One

     participant (Int.7), from Del Agua, reflected on this process as extremely lengthy but

    ultimately has given the organisation financial security as the carbon market does not

    fluctuate nearly as much as oil prices for example. Furthermore, Del Agua represents the only

    organisation in this study to explicitly target low-income Rwandans as recipients of

    renewable technology.

    Rwandans are categorised into wealth groups known as Udubehes, a longstanding

     practice of community action for poverty reduction (RGB, 2014). Extensive and detailed lists

    of income groups are kept by village chiefs and authorities and so Del Agua were able to

    distribute equipment to members of Ubudehe groups one and two, the poorest income groups.

    This distribution model has been employed for the entire Western province of Rwanda,

    resulting in every eligible household receiving a water filter and energy efficient stove (which

    reduces fuel wood consumption by approximately 50%) for free. Del Agua’s business model

    has been an unqualified success from a development standpoint but also indicates that only a

     private company could have undertaken this project. I come to this reasoning based on the

    method of financing the project received, the sourcing of equipment and the distribution

    model including the education and ‘after -sales’ service which demonstrates the qualities of

    the private sector .

    The final two organisations, BBOXX and Mobisol, operate on the lines of a more

    conventional private company. They sell their products directly to the consumer who pay

     back in instalments, usually over a period of three years, at between £6-14 per month

    depending on the product. Both companies acknowledged that they did not specifically target

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    low-income groups because ‘good solar is not cheap’  (Int.3) but their product would be

    affordable for the majority of Rwandans. However, in comparison to the approaches of other

    organisations in this study, BBOXX and Mobisol must be regarded as two companies which

     primarily deal with middle income groups and will therefore have a different impact on

    livelihoods which will be explored in the next section of results.

    The most significant underlying issue when assessing renewable energy as a tool for

    development is the notion that renewable technologies are being pitted against an alternative

    which is free in the form of biomass (Chataway et al., 2006). There are very few financial

    incentives for individual households to invest in clean energy sources. Therefore, innovative

    funding systems are fundamental in building a sustainable energy sector in the Global South

    which will take the financial burden away from the recipient. Barry et al. (2007) argue that

    the lack of access to loans which low-income groups suffer from is the greatest stumbling

     block for introducing renewable technologies. However, financial institutions in countries

    such as Rwanda do not have the capacity to offer potentially high-risk loans to low-income

    communities, therefore this is perhaps not the answer for economies that have only just

    started to grow. I would argue that funding through the Carbon Development Mechanism and

     bilateral flows of finance has greater significance for developing clean energy, so that the

     poorest communities can be targeted immediately. The wider distribution of loans should be

    an option in ten years’ time, once the sustainable energy sector has become more established

    and domestic banks might have more security. The first microfinance institutions only began

    operating in Rwanda as recently as 2007 and therefore this would suggest the market is still

    in its infancy (AMIR, 2014). Renewable technologies however, need to be adopted now if

    Rwanda is to stave off an energy crisis resulting in wide scale environmental degradation

    (Safari, 2010).

    L iveli hood Impacts

    3. To what extent can the renewable energy sector stimulate socio-economic development in


    The impacts renewable energies have on livelihoods is frequently reduced to an

    economic measurement; what are the cost savings a household experiences when progressing

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    to a more modern energy source? However, this study finds that the adoption of renewable

    technology can touch almost every aspect of a person’s livelihood. Therefore, the results of

    this section will be presented in consideration of the five aspects of the sustainable

    livelihoods framework (IFAD, 2015) to emphasize the breadth of influences clean energy

    has. This analysis attempts to go beyond the rudimental finding that renewable energies

    reduce the time spent foraging for food which could be better spent on income generation,

    education attainment and political participation.

    1.  Human Capital:

    According to testimonials made by consumers of solar panel systems, one of the most

    significant benefits was in respect of their children’s education. This has been enhanced

     by the introduction of lighting into the home so that children can continue with their

    studies after dark. In the past, children were faced with a ‘choice’ of helping family

    members in the fields during daylight hours after school or   doing homework (Int.2, 3,

    10). Other lighting fuels such as kerosene lamps are too expensive for low-income

    families to afford, even with the justification that it supports a child’s education. The

    importance of this factor is reinforced by other studies such as Asimoh et al.’s (2015)

    research into solar systems in South Africa where 89% of households indicated positive

    impacts on children’s education had been felt.

    A second impact on human capital is in respect of the improvement in health standards

    after the adoption of clean energy. Apparatus, such as Del Agua’s energy efficient stove,

    reduce the level of smoke inhalation in the home which is vitally important in a country

    where respiratory illnesses are responsible for 1 in 10 deaths (MoH, 2012). Ezzati and

    Kammen (2002) regard respiratory illnesses as one of the greatest barriers to development

    as it reduces productivity, increases school absences and burdens families with health

    care costs. Therefore the impact Del Agua’s product is having, as well as solar panels and

     biogas digesters, is hugely significant as they reduce the level of harmful pollutants in the

    home, which are especially dangerous to young children, and encourage development

    more generally.

    2.  Social /Politi cal Capital:

    Accruing greater socio-political capital through the adoption of renewable energy is more

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    difficult to observe but is by no means less significant. Owning a radio in Rwanda

    represents a symbol of status, but more than this, it allows people to be more politically

    conscious (Int.1). Political marginalisation is regarded within the sustainable livelihoods

    framework as disempowering and can be attributed to deterioration in mental health

    (IFAD, 2015). Therefore a radio offers the opportunity for people to listen to political

    addresses including those of the President Paul Kagame, a hero and well respected leader

    for many Rwandans. Extensive research has been carried out on this subject in sub-

    Saharan Africa and nowhere has the importance of radio been better exemplified as a

    deeply politicised appliance than in Rwanda in 1994. Kellow (1998) recounts how radio

    stations were used during the genocide to support the Hutu regime and orchestrate ethnic

    violence. Whilst this example throws up conflicts surrounding the role of radio, it

    supports the evidence from this study that people can feel more politically active as a

    result of having access to electricity.

    3.  F inancial Capital

    Bedi et al. (2015) correctly observe that the adoption of renewable technologies rarely

    generates a direct financial return and this is why low-income households may be

    reluctant to invest. However, BBOXX are keen to market the various financial

    opportunities afforded by their solar products. For example, a phone charging port, which

    is a feature of all of BBOXX’s products, allows individuals to keep their phone charged

    so that they don’t miss any business opportunities and can get up to date with the prices

    of crops and livestock to ensure that they are always selling at the right price (Int.1). This

    is a benefit that has shown to be very appealing in a country which has an extremely high

     percentage (80%) of people who identify themselves as farmers (RDB, 2015).

    4.  Physical Capital

    An argument can be made that simply owning renewable energy equipment is evidence of

    enhancing ones physical capital. However, this argument should be made within the

    context of the energy systems which currently exist, such as the national grid. The grid is

    woefully inefficient and unreliable in Rwanda and is something that the government

    concedes is a huge barrier to development. GLE therefore target health centres as they are

    in desperate need of renewable technology to ensure that they always have a reliable

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    source of energy. A doctor from a rural health clinic (Int.11) explained that the

    unreliability of the grid made it extremely challenging to give out medical care. In the

     past women had given birth at night with only the light from a mobile phone illuminating

    the delivery room. Now that the health centre has a solar system they have the assurance

    that they can operate more effectively.

    5.  Natural Capital

    The final aspect of livelihoods to consider is that of natural capital which relates to land,

    crops and livestock. The significance of this element is that Rwanda is a heavily

    agricultural country in terms of the high number of people who participate in the industry,

    as well as the fact that its main exports are tea and coffee (Fernstrom, 2009). Therefore,

    appropriate renewable technologies will be those that complement the agricultural sector

    such as domestic biogas converters. A national project, which has been jointly developed

     by SNV and the Ministry of Infrastructure, has seen the distribution of biogas converters

    to eligible farmers. Livestock and human waste are converted into biogas which is fed

    into the home and can be used for cooking and lighting. Once the waste has been

    fermented the leftover matter works as an effective fertilizer and has been shown by SNV

    to increase yields and provide more stable crops in light of droughts (Int.12). Technology

    such as this has proven to be extremely effective in combating cultural anxieties towards

    renewable energy as it is reinforces traditional livelihoods, a point that is explored more

    in the next section of results.

    This section demonstrates just a few ways in which renewable energies have huge

     potential for positively influencing families’ livelihoods. Whilst the benefits of renewable

    energy have been known for decades, the evidence of this study shows that diversity in the

    forms of renewable energy is critical. Currently in Rwanda renewable energy projects are

    exploiting solar, wind, hydro, biogas and even geothermal energy (although this is clearly not

    a decentralized approach, Safari, 2010). The decentralized approach to energy in Rwanda

    which encourages off-grid, personal production/consumption compliments the argument that

     people need different energy sources to satisfy their family’s socio-economic circumstance.

    Therefore, the criticism of modernity as being one path to development which ignores

    cultural diversity and treats communities as homogenous is not applicable to Rwanda’s

    development model. Furthermore, the benefits that renewable technologies bring are not

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    confined to direct economic growth, but influence all manner of social indicators too. This

    has been the worry for academics such as Potter et al. (2008) who recognised that under

     processes of modernity, social indicators usually become relegated behind economic ones.

    The results of this study presents a conflicting argument which is that economic benefits of

    renewable energies are often difficult to communicate to the consumer. Encouraging low-

    income families to bear the risk of investment when there are often no clear financial returns

    is the most difficult hurdle to overcome (Int.8, 11 12).

    Cul tural Obstacles

    4. What cultural obstacles have hampered the successful implementation of renewable energy


    The purpose of this research question was not designed to identify every cultural

     barrier facing renewable technologies, but instead to assess how different organisations have

    approached and dealt with possible behavioural difficulties. The Rwandan government has

    acknowledged the existence of cultural barriers and so this offers legitimacy to this element

    of the study;

    ‘Changing predominant cooking fuel use is a behaviour adjustment that is deeply

    culturally conditioned. As a result, programmes focusing on disseminating new technologies

    without accompanying behavioural change or social marketing campaigns are likely to fall

     short of being fully successful .’ (GoR ESSP, 2015) 

    The key finding in this respect is that there is a lack of co-ordination between the

    government and private sector as to whose responsibility it is to assess the possible cultural

    implications of introducing sustainable energy. For example, the extent to which BBOXX

    and Mobisol are concerned with the impacts their products have is restrained to a profit

    maximisation exercise. One participant (Int.3) explained that Mobisol identified that people

    in Rwanda are very aware and comfortable using a mobile payment system and therefore

    incorporated this asset into the way the business operates, hence why it is called Mob-isol.

    This is an example of how a company might design a culturally appropriate product but at the

    same time many other cultural impacts, which don’t affect sales, can be overlooked.

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    The significance of this point is that transitions in energy supplies need to be

    incremental so that people can slowly adjust to subtle changes in the way they cook, farm and

    in other aspects of their lives (Int.6, 10). This argument would therefore indicate that the

     products of Del Agua and SNV are more appropriate in this respect as they can be seen as

    transitory in their nature. Energy efficient stoves look and operate only slightly different to

    more traditional cooking apparatus and so there aren’t huge challenges in getting people to

    accept the new technology. Evidence of this is that Del Agua’s products have a 90%

    successful uptake rate within the first six months (Int. 7). Similarly, the biogas digesters

    which feature in SNV’s project compliment the practice of farming, an occupation which is

    central to Rwandan life and therefore reinforces cultural behaviours rather than undermines

    them (Int.12).

    This is therefore the worry with privately owned solar panels and the associated

    electrification of households. The opportunities created by having access to electricity are

    diverse and numerous, but some of these opportunities may lead to conflicts and

    disempowerment within the home which are not easily visible from an implementing

    organisations perspective. Returning to the literature on this subject, the UNDP (2009) found

    that the progression from biomass fuels to clean energy usually benefitted women and

    children more than men, which subsequently leads to a change in gendered roles. The

    evidence of this study showed that six out of eight organisations similarly felt that women

     benefitted more in the short term from a change in