Bar graph of the relative net carbon usage per kWh of power output energy storage

Carbon-negative renewable gas is a Climate Changer

Is Africa’s Lake Kivu also a huge complex energy storage device?

Adjacent to this lake, Lake Victoria is like a gigantic hydro-power battery. But Kivu’s not just a hydro battery, it contains the world’s biggest bio-digester. It’s doing a double storage job with water and renewable gas. The combination enables 40 megatons of carbon emission reductions every year, while Kivu can also generate 1.2 GW of power on demand.

So how does hydro with carbon negative renewable natural gas (RNG) become a real big climate changer? Has nature provided the potential to get the countries around the lake to beyond carbon neutral? Is it in the “really-good-for-the-planet” category of climate solutions? How can it also help this gorilla’s habitat survive and thrive?

We illustrate this as a leading example of how “Carbon negative” projects can be the super-achievers in the great climate challenge of our times.

The renewable natural gas contribution

Even methane from cattle can become part of the solution. Let’s break this argument down further. RNG is known for providing carbon-neutral energy. Take biogas from agricultural waste, where the USA is targeting 40 megatons of carbon reduction by 2030. This one project on Lake Kivu in Rwanda and DRC achieves the USA’s RNG target by itself.

So how does gas recovery prevent gigatons of natural background carbon emissions? What if we can add a side benefit of reversing destruction of vast equatorial forests to keep that carbon sink viable? In reality these benefits are a step-up, adding to being carbon negative. So “RNG Neg” can be a vital, although commonly overlooked climate change solution. The solution has huge scale-ability by reducing similar methane emissions.

Let’s look at this specific methane source, created by nature without human intervention. Importantly, this a case is where one can both extract natural gas and reverse carbon emissions. As the add-on in this special case, it can replace forest biomass as the region’s primary domestic fuel within 10 – 15 years. This change in fuel takes deforestation pressure off the mountain gorilla habitat in the Virunga Mountains in Africa. So RNG is an opportunity helping to buy time for the gorilla habitat and recreating a vast carbon sink.

More than that, the graphic below shows how we get to the hoped-for impact of buying time in the Climate Change context. Compare it to other methods listed for negative carbon emissions. Most lack much capacity or even credence. Well, this unusual one wasn’t on the list. It should be in time, not just as a one-off.

How carbon-negative is this renewable solution?

Climate activists commonly advocate that natural gas is not “low-carbon” enough and not part of the climate solution. Natural gas suppliers field demands to remove any claim of having real “low-carbon” investments. The louder calls are to advocate the use of hydrogen, or PV or wind. But while hydrogen is in many ways an ideal fuel, it comes with user difficulties, dangers of explosion and higher supply and distribution cost. It’s costly to transport, has low energy density and is near impossible to move by pipeline.

We should differentiate clean methane sources from conventional natural gas though. Some of them, like ours, can even be strongly negative on carbon emissions. That’s a long way better for the planet than neutral.

Purpose for Kivu gas extraction is evolving

The original Hydragas solution was needs-driven. It was created to deal with a threat at unprecedented humanitarian and environmental levels. Without acting on this threat in our lifetimes, millions of lives were at risk. It comes also with a one-time, catastrophic environmental hit. We can avert a one-day, 2-6 gigaton carbon emission by preventing lake Kivu erupting. In a relative sense, the climate impact is a bonus on top of all the lives saved, but still meaningful on a global scale.

Now sometimes we may think we have a great invention to talk about. But more importantly to market it, should we frame it in terms that resonate ? Ours has been a 20-year pioneering pursuit. So it isn’t just any cleantech project using available innovative technology. We now know it to be carbon negative. So it stands out as a high-impact climate changer with added carbon credits value.

It took decades to figure out how to do this project safely and effectively. We filled a need where effective recovery technology did not exist. It overtook an older extraction idea that never had such impact. We turned it around with an inventive breakthrough. Our motivation was at first about solving a gas extraction problem. Then it became about saving lives. Then it grew to be about turning around carbon emissions. The line must now be: “It saves millions of lives, averting gigatons of carbon emissions, making a country or two carbon-negative”. How is that going to sell the concept to investors?

Labeling is key; Can we call it a grid-scale battery?

So should we re-frame it further? We can make it focused on the climate change problem of the day – energy storage. Should we now claim how; “We see Lake Kivu as a giant battery with 263 TWh of renewable energy storage.” We can add that; “This battery trickle-charges itself at 2,600 GWh per year.” What is the key data to place with that label? Renewable gas can produce 600 MW of clean power for next fifty years.

Like a good battery we can stretch it out longer though. After the need to drop the danger level of gas build-up, for say 25 years, we can then produce over 200 MW of renewable, clean power for centuries.

Add a 576 MW hydro-power investment to the same lake

But there’s more to add to this battery. This same lake has been producing hydro power, from an old run-of-river station at its outlet, for over 50 years. The Ruzizi river cascade drops another 700 metres to Lake Tanganyika just 50km south of the lake’s outlet. A series of dam-free hydropower projects on this cascade can also deliver 576 MW. So the two projects in combination can yield 1200 MW for the next 25-50 years. The longer view is perhaps for over 800 MW in perpetuity. That’s one big, long-life battery!

An equatorial lake and a volcano,  a recipe for an energy opportunity or a nightmare
An equatorial lake and a volcano, a recipe for an energy opportunity or a nightmare?

So “whose definition is this definition?”

As we hear in the climate debate, any “natural gas” is placed in a basket of contentious climate value. It is grouped and assumed to be formed with its fossil relatives coal and oil. Let’s flex a defining piece of that narrative. In talking of semantics and messaging, what of biogenic gas? Does Mesozoic-age fossil-formed gas rank the same as “fresh” biogas from cow manure in bio-digesters? They are both GHGs. Its formation followed similar pathways, millions of years apart. I studied this comparison with some global experts. Today our conclusion must be that RNG categorises itself best as carbon negative renewable gas.

For this lake, we can specify and design systems to avoid any leaks in production and most delivery systems. This is where conventional natural gas has a poor record with leaks and emissions. The conventional gas supply chain has historically been a major source of fugitive emissions.

The carbon dioxide and methane in Lake Kivu in Africa is biogenic. It’s freshly brewed. Algae consumes dissolved carbon dioxide to grow biomass. Biomass biodegrades in anoxic depths to make methane and carbon dioxide. It uses the acetate process and also methanogens. The world’s largest bio-digester is part of a cycle making carbon-negative, renewable gas. Can we continue down this defining path and call it a bio-battery, powered by carbon-negative renewable gas?

CCUS: Is it a bio-battery or bio-digester?

Most of the gas in Lake Kivu now in situ is less than a hundred years old. A resource of tow gigatons of CO2e is already present. The bio-digester accumulates more new gas at another 0.5% a year. I verified this storage calculation by doing the formal calculation, as defined, while writing up a proposal for Breakthrough Energy Ventures competition. It is one of a number of initiatives where I was looking for funding for the Lake Kivu project.

The essential action on us now, with a GHG reserve building up, is to first harvest it to make it safe. The second it is to combust that methane in power generation or in home cooking. A third action can be to re-absorb the carbon dioxide made, into the deep lake. Here it is substrate for microbiology that can turn back to methane. A virtuous green cycle is thus possible. Again, it sounds like it works as a battery. Like any battery, its design and operation have room for enhancement. We could speed it up, but with due caution.

So we can treat it like a giant battery. We keep it in reserve and deplete it when we choose to and we are able to. We are now capable to do it safely, finally. Now is the time we must do it urgently to constrain climate change.

Defining CCUS

Must we prove to skeptics that it’s renewable and it has negative emissions? I met recently with Foresight, a group that champions clean energy solutions. I had this question: “If the gas is naturally biogenic, but not extracted continuously, is it still renewable?” The answer is yes, becasue it can be stored. But that answer would not be so if it leaks out to atmosphere. But it’s fully trapped. This is a huge, natural CCUS reservoir that can store 450 bcm of gas (at the safe-side limit). It is the definition of Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS).

What is the risk if we don’t harvest this gas?

Actually, we must first deplete this reservoir (or battery) by 50% now for safety reasons. That is why we must extract methane for the next 25 years to use up half the partial pressure (or volume) of gas in place. Thereafter we can discharge it indefinitely at a lower rate, closer to its natural recharge rate. That would be sensible. But our first order of business lowers the risk of eruption by a factor of two. It makes the lake 100 times safer. We do this by depleting gas from the upper portions of the layered lake’s depths. These portions give rise to the most risk as they have the highest partial pressure.

With some caution we can research further into “farming” gas generation. We understand the micro-biology and bio-chemical engineering pathways of using the returned CO2 to generate new methane faster. Key to these actions will be in managing the nutrients flowing to the shallow biozone to enhance algae growth. This is done by water lifted from the nutrient-rich depths. That is the key to multiplying the energy potential in the long-term.

Safety Action: Preventing a catastrophic lake eruption

This is a very high-stakes resource management game. Those gigatons of gas, if left until they saturate the lake’s capacity, will erupt. The world’s limnology experts describe the mechanism as a limnic eruption. It’s much quieter, almost silent, but could be 50 times more deadly than Krakatoa’s explosion in 1883. Many casualties may result from lake tsunamis caused by a giant, surging column of gas and water. But it’s the toxic and asphyxiating blanket of cloud emanating from that eruption that is much more deadly.

So, gas extraction is our pre-emptive action to mitigate the chance of a catastrophe. It has to be done properly though. Some amateurish and ill-considered methods were used and more were planned. These are worse than doing nothing. They break all the safety rules and bring danger forward.

The safety plan is still built on a concept of removing the bulk of the lake’s methane in 50 years. After the first harvest, we would have then paused for perhaps 100 – 150 years to allow gas to regenerate. As the methane gas inventory would reach a viable concentration again, we can begin to extract once more. That’s still in the harvesting plan. The concept is written up in the rules for how Lake Kivu must be developed. But a review commencing in 2019 may revisit some of these options.

What’s in the envelope we evaluate?

The gases are produced biogenically in the world’s largest, contained bio-digester. Lake Kivu became one of the largest, manageable carbon sinks over millennia. I wrote it up in a breakthrough ventures application. I worked out the data in a painfully complex spreadsheet. It is a government-designed calculator to determine the carbon SSRs. There were guidelines. i.e. Use ISO 14064-2 Section 5.3 “Identifying GHG sources, sinks and reservoirs relevant to the project”. It was highly explicit about every value to be used.

I had already worked out the answer in 20 minutes by normal means. It took 150 hours using this standardized government-style spreadsheet. The answers were 1.01% different. The specified calculator gave the modestly higher answer. This is miniscule compared to the arguable range of tons CO2 per ton of CH4; the currently published range is between 25 and 103. There is a long explanation about which number applies when, based on when the reduction is most needed. For simplicity the calculator used 28. Using this range the averted carbon emissions varies from 1.9 to 6.3 gigatons. The high end of this range is very close to the total annual US emissions in 2014, published by the EPA, of 6.89 gigatons.

Why make it so complicated? Was it to ensure one didn’t cheat? In essence it defines the full envelope. It assesses GHGs and SSRs with a cumbersome methodology. One even includes the GHG impact of building and then demolishing the equipment. One must account for displaced energy when switching to a new source. It presents the data in a spreadsheet common for all applicants. But getting it done is way worse than doing your taxes. The outcome still shows this renewable gas is carbon negative.

Proving renewable gas is carbon negative

The adjacent figure (click on it to expand) shows L-R the improving trend of power generation from coal to natural gas. Hausfather presented the data to show the US power industry gains from replacing coal with natural gas. I added the final bar to show how the proposed Lake Kivu project outperforms. The linked article questions if natural gas is a bridge fuel to renewables. I would argue that RNG is itself a game changer that goes much further than carbon neutrality. But how can these special cases be replicated on a global scale? There are opportunities for scale-up of averting major emissions in my next post.

I added the final bar to show how the proposed Lake Kivu project outperforms. The linked article questions if natural gas is a bridge fuel to renewables. I would argue that RNG is itself a game changer that goes much further than carbon neutrality. It transforms from being a clean gas source to the most powerful, renewable battery out there.

But how can these special cases be replicated on a global scale? There are opportunities for scale-up of averting major emissions in my next post. That means going after the biggest resource of all, methane in the oceans.

But let’s not forget the gorillas. Before even considering deforestation, Africa’s equatorial forests are under threat and so is the gorilla’s mountain domain. Apart from land pressures, the region uses firewood and charcoal for 80% of its non-transport energy needs. Any action that reduces deforestation is also about protecting their shrinking domain. RNG will help, so let’s make carbon negative renewable gas.

What message sells to investors?

This project needs investment. This type and scale of project is desperately needed. People need to be assured of safety where they live. The gorillas need their forest back. So now we need to pitch the investment, but also the story to investors. The question is how? It’s a great impact investment with high returns. But they’re a skeptical lot, as they must be. Any claim we can make to amp up a valuation has to be discounted or countered by them when negotiating an investment deal.

This much carbon mitigation (whether 40 or up to 130 megatons per year) can be worth a lot. So, inevitably as founders, we should get quizzed on this point. And so it has been. We like to appeal to the investors’ better selves too, with the humanitarian and environmental impacts. The Lake Kivu project has huge impact. The priorities are first to people safety, then to the environment and finally to the community’s bottom lines.

How to sell “carbon negative renewable gas”?

As an aside, I would be interested in the stats on this. How many pledges are made to fund renewables? As many as are calling on others to do the funding? How many are calling for funding negative carbon projects? I have seen hundreds. Is it a cheap way to get position on the bandwagon? What ever came of Canada’s Prime Minister’s 2015 pledge at COP-21 in Paris to fund $2.6 B of clean energy projects in the developing world? How much more is being promised at COP-25 in Madrid?

On the other hand, how many of the valid start-ups with projects eventually do get funded? Worse still, how many are not? Who, among many innovators and developers, crosses the proverbial “valley of death” illustrated here by FCA? Where do these developers, looking and pitching for these funds, get the money? Their enthusiasm is more evident than that of corresponding investment funds. For that answer, it’s probably from intermediaries.

I should rather be an intermediary

This clean energy funding marketplace has seen a proliferation of financing intermediaries. They are aggregators of new project prospects, those that can’t afford to attend all the conferences. They’re not there to raise funds as start-ups, but to raise bigger tranches of funds to fund them. They step in, providing aggregating vehicles that can spend hard-to-pitch-for funds. They are able charge fees for their disbursement of other people’s money to projects. In doing so they are earning a 5% slice of the investment without carrying all the downsides of failed investments. It’s a sweet gig.

Perhaps the tactic for start-ups and developers lies in how to frame our projects for both primary or intermediary investors. What do they want to invest in? We need to connect with them in any way that works. So let’s present the options. Let’s label it a giant energy storage system or series of clean projects with gigatons of carbon-negative emissions reduction.We’ll colour it any way the market wishes, as long as we get to fund it. Some ways just cost more than others, but that’s still way better than zero investment.

Cooking on RNG to reduce deforestation gas-to-power

Sustainable Cooking Energy? – Use renewable natural gas.

Sustainable Cooking Energy - from cooking on gas?
Is cooking on gas the sustainable cooking energy option?

What does it take to help a country make a transition to sustainable cooking energy? Why would the people change their tradition? What then is the most Sustainable Cooking Energy for the East African region? And can you imagine a new idea that puts over 10,000 women entrepreneurs to work to deliver it? Think of these ideas that are working well in Africa.

Biogas from Lake Kivu can provide an alternative energy delivery too. It is a renewable natural gas (RNG). Moving it by pipeline can replace firewood and charcoal, at an even cheaper price. It can thus become the region’s primary domestic and industrial fuel. But this switch to supplying pipeline gas needs infrastructure that does not yet exist. We have a plan for that.

The daily battle for cooking fuel

Charcoal suppliers in Rwanda are not a Sustainable Cooking Energy
Charcoal suppliers in Rwanda – Not a Sustainable Cooking Energy

Firewood or charcoal supplied 90% of non-transport energy usage in 2006. With the present population, usage rates are non-sustainable.By 2018 it was down fractionally to 83%. Deforestation rates are unsustainable. There is a growing need for a more sustainable cooking energy supply at low cost, with less climate impact.

The wood-fuel energy mix changed little despite efforts to increase imports of LPG. The tropical forest has all but disappeared. The exceptions are the Virunga and Nyungwe forest reserves. Even these national parks weren’t immune from the need. Charcoal-burners encroached into parks, cutting and burning trees to supply demand in the cities. In the DRC, militias in rebel enclaves “taxed” the transport of charcoal en route to Goma by charging carriers of charcoal extortionate fees at roadblocks. Prices escalated well above inflation.

The high cost of charcoal

For Rwandans, charcoal costs can absorb 25% or more of a household’s net income. In fact, charcoal cost Rwf 2000 per bag ($3) in 2004. But in 2019, the price has escalated above Rwf 10,000 per bag ($11). A family would typically use more than one bag per month. The 250% increase from 2006 was far above inflation. This will still take 20% of monthly income, with no affordable substitute.

From a financial perspective, charcoal is not a sustainable cooking energy either. In fact it has not improved since the country started to import over 10 million kg of LPG per year in an effort to stem deforestation. But, with LPG being much more expensive than charcoal, its high cost means that usage is low and household energy costs remain too high.

The 2003 Draft Rwandan Gas Law stipulated that Lake Kivu gas is to be used solely for power generation. Fortunately the updated 2008 Draft Gas Law removed the power-only clause, opening up the potential for pipeline gas. In this case renewable natural gas (RNG) can and should supply the pipeline gas alternative to LPG, fuel-wood and charcoal for cooking.

Pipeline RNG must become this viable alternative to biomass in the region’s supply mix. But using a first-world distribution model won’t do it as the capital cost and usage charges would be way too high. The “Vilankulo” option is better. (Indeed, the World Bank named the initiative after Vilankulo, a town in Mozambique.) This low-cost distribution model was first set up there in 1992.

Expensive power: no use for cooking

Electrical power in the region was, since the 1990’s, and still remains too pricey for most users. One cannot imagine that a power price, which is double that in most countries of Europe, would be affordable to East Africans. They have incomes just a small fraction of the per capita GDP in Europe. Rwandan GDP per capita was less than 20% of say South Africa’s or Zambia’s in 2006. Power pricing was a major socio-economic problem for residents and also for commerce and industry.

Electric power was only affordable to a few. Fixed rates in Rwanda ran from USc 22-26/kWh. But just 6% of the population had a power connection in 2006. Cooking with electrical power was a preserve of very few people.

Cleaner domestic energy – future solutions

Hydragas studied and modelled energy supply needs of Rwanda and DRC as part of its gas feasibility studies. We prepared feasibility assessments on RNG energy competitiveness and market size, including at least half a million homes. The market was price sensitive. Our recommended fix was to supply combined power and gas feeds into households. Power alone could not satisfy the needs affordably. This is borne out by the very low (56 kWh per month) power consumption the average home in Rwanda.

The connected customers seem to preferably use it for essential lighting and electronics. Charcoal is preferred for cooking. But the poorer rural users consume only firewood and no electrical power. Indeed gas, once it is available and distributed to homes, can supply the bulk of energy needs in almost all lower income homes. Combined gas and power can be supplied more cheaply and effectively than its alternatives.

Making the best out of competing energy sources

But on the supply side, utilities are faced with the cost of connecting two energy sources. Some coordination can help, as was studied in South Africa. A study for the national power utility (Eskom) and Sasol (gas) looked into a combined feed of low amperage power with a small pipeline gas feed to homes. But the two energy utilities could not forge the necessary cooperation. In the end, like Rwanda, power was not affordable. So in South Africa, dirty coal made up the lower cost alternative. The coal was sold by the “hubcap” at rates ten times higher than bulk supply prices. Because of the winter extremes of freezing temperatures and low wind, coal smoke blanketed many cities at night. Respiratory disease rates in South Africa’s poorer townships rocketed up to endemic levels.

Several sources have contributed to the growing power supply mix for Rwanda. Unfortunately diesel power dominates the mix. But less alternate sources have been available for cooking fuels. Very few are affordable, as illustrated with low sales of LPG, and biomass continues to dominate.

Balancing thermal energy and electrical power use

But Kivu gas can and should supply thermal energy into this mix. It is a cheap, convenient thermal energy source for households and industry. A key environmental impact, from gas use, is its ability to halt or reverse deforestation. This is done by replacing charcoal as a dominant fuel source.

A major capital investment need is a new national gas network to connect population centres. This network will provide the backbone for gas transmission and distribution around the country. The geography of Rwanda is well-suited for running a cost-effective HDPE gas supply network. It is a small country with a dense population. Despite being mountainous, medium-pressure, plastic (HDPE) gas pipelines are simple and effective to install. So, quite simply, it uses less piping material to connect more people at lower cost.

Compare gas networks developed for Mozambique

A medium-pressure network is an expanded, country-scale form of the Vilankulo concept. Mozambique’s first gas supply started in 1992 with a 110 km pipeline connecting the gas fields to two towns. It was expanded to include three offshore islands. We know it can work better in Rwanda because it is small and the most densely populated country in Africa. Thus, it is density of housing, even in rural areas, that reduces the capital cost per user. We advocate the Vilankulo concept, compatible with newer US and EU-based design standard for pipelines.

How to get gas into houses at low cost?

The Vilankulo design for household connections is simple. We can deploy it with limited training, as in Mozambique. It also supports an “Africa-appropriate” commercial model. This well-studied alternative can make distribution far more cost-effective. It is at the core of what made the gas program effective in Mozambique.

The pilot testing team after a day on the lake Dec 2003
Lake Kivu team: Philip Morkel, Fabrizio Stefani, Fred Wilson and Rory Harbinson

Our team of Rory Harbinson and Fred Wilson led the gas network installation program in Mozambique. They ran it from 1992 to 2014. Their practical solutions led a low cost program for household gas. An element of the simplified approach was eliminating 98% of households gas meters as they made up 50% of the material costs. It took years of gas sales to pay for a meter.

How to simplify a household gas installation?

Installing HDPE plastic gas pipelines for domestic supply
Commercial gas crews doing street gas main installation

We designed simpler gas systems using small 32 mm plastic piping for back street mains (as shown above). In fact these operate at medium pressure, higher than in old cast-iron street piping in Europe. We buried lines along Mozambican streets with little or no paving. Further, we tapped in 12 mm house feeder lines. They fed gas to a cheap and simple “top-hat” pressure reducer, delivering gas to each house. The basic delivery systems are adequate for any 0.5 – 1.0 GJ per month users.

Tapping into a gas street main to supply a large house of town block
Tying in a gas metered block of houses to a street gas main

In 1992, the cost of connecting a house was $200. It included a two-plate burner. All of them are still operating 25 years later. By comparison, legacy systems in Europe or even South Africa cost $4,000 – $10,000, 20-50 times more expensive. We believe that the cheaper connection for Rwanda can cost little more than $400 in 2020 for all-in costs from the city gate to the household cooker. This fee includes the starter set-up with a two-plate gas cooker. Indeed, users could also install lighting, water heating, refrigeration, barbecues and full size stoves over time, as needed. Piping needs to be upgraded for commercial users and some larger houses.

A workable commercial model for our times

We prepared feasibility reports in the 1990’s for Mozambique’s local gas and power distribution. To cut costs to users, we made it simple and cheap to operate in rural Africa. One of the donors funding the scheme, from Scandinavia, had a Norwegian expert review our town supply study as they could not believe the low capital cost.

To our amusement, the queries the expert raised included the following: Why no fleet of vehicles for the utility staff? What was the budget for an office block, or for a proper computer billing and administration system? Where is the workshop to repair all the gas meters and test or calibrate them? Also, where are the trench-diggers and earth-moving equipment? His list would have more than quadrupled the project cost and would have made gas unaffordable. In Vilankulo, a man on a bicycle could carry most needs for a house and he could install in an hour. He would ask for the help of the householder to dig an access trench for the pipe. Needless to say, this remains the way to do it.

Simple lessons from Nigeria on commercial strategy

This was where European and North American standard household installations were too expensive. Our gas project team was looking at how to cut out costs in Mozambique. Here, their revenues would take five years or more to pay off home installation costs. We found that half the capital cost was metering. Why even install a gas meter that costs 5 years gas usage? It will never pay back. Why specify the legacy household gas fitting to be the same as specified in Europe? In Africa, the cost of that first-world type of household gas installation will exceed the cost of the house itself.

Our commercial gas pricing model originated in Nigeria, where it is used for power metering. A trip to Lagos at the time gave us a clue. Apartment landlords had addressed the same problem with electrical usage. Instead of a meter per apartment, they inspected each tenants connections each year. A light bulb was one point, a stove 15 points, a fan five points etc. Each tenant’s total was divided into the apartment building’s total points and multiplied by the total bill. It worked for everyone. Indeed it was widely accepted as fair and runs in most cities there. Because of how logically it works, any cheating by a user both hurts and is visible to one’s neighbours.

Empowering Women : 10 000+ part-time jobs created

But beyond installation, the processes of commercial operations must simplify. This enables further cost reductions but can increase employment. Our view is of an “Africa-ready” commercial model, that worked well in Nigerian cities. As we observed with Nigerian landlords, there is a simple customer-facing role within a comparable gas model. This role can create a part-time income for 10,000 – 15,000 home-based entrepreneurial women in Rwanda. They would service the eventual 600,000 homes connecting to gas. Their job is to become the utility operator for the block that they live in. The block may have say 50 houses. They train simply to become “block” franchisees in their neighborhoods. They arrange to connect users, collect tariffs, keep a percentage and pay the town or district franchisee.

We configured a three-tier system with: At the top, a national gas transmission network and management team; next, a second-tier of town or district operators who franchise areas with up to thousands of users; and finally the women operating the “block franchises” would be the third-tier.

Franchising gas distribution

These tiers all play their role. These women become the local distributor for say up to 50 households in their “block” or street. Their role is to assess points regularly, monitor excess usage and levy a monthly charge to users on the same metered block basis. They arrange for connections of new users and collect monthly charges not done as mobile phone transactions.

Mobile phone technology exists in Rwanda to manage such billing and payment systems for operators and users. It is widely used as a banking tool for other utilities and services. The block and district or town distributor’s earnings are a percentage of their block or district collections. There is easy visibility through the chain (blockchain?) to audit the chain of transactions. All this is available through a simple mobile phone app, connected to the town/suburb/ district franchisees and on to the national distributor.

Delivering sustainable cooking energy future

Our first post on this topic starts with ideals and the grand plan for a clean energy future in Rwanda and Eastern DRC. The ideas make a difference at country-scale. The concepts on how this is set up are also explained. So I have dived here into the details to explain some of the simpler concepts to roll out RNG as a clean energy too. These are real ideas, and they have gone live in Nigeria and for gas in Mozambique with great success.

The plan’s methods have been adopted by the World Bank as their best practical example for the GGFR initiative. This flaring reduction initiative was a plan to implement in 38 poorer countries with stranded gas. In fact the plan is to make the operation of gas supply and even power supply cheaper to poorer users. These methods are also simple for small communities to implement with entry-level contractors and businesses. There is no need for multi-national utilities to be part of the solution.

10,000 women’s empowerment as gas entrepreneurs

It is our view that the importance of mobilising tens of thousands of small entrepreneurs. Specifically for women, working from their own homes is an important breakthrough. Indeed, it is obvious that legacy utility systems are overrated. Also, the commerce is simplified by using cellphone apps to manage billing and management. East Africa already leads the world in widespread adoption of mobile systems for banking and payments.

These approaches go some way to making energy more affordable, cleaner and more sustainable. These are the building blocks for a sustainable cooking energy solution. In fact, these solutions grew from the ground up.