Wärtsilä, a leading supplier of flexible power plants and services to the global power generation market, has been awarded the contract to supply a power plant to the Republic of Rwanda. The turnkey project is of particular significance since the power plant will utilize methane gas from the nearby Lake Kivu as fuel. The order has been placed by KivuWatt, a subsidiary of the New York-based international power company ContourGlobal. When operational, the power plant will supply electricity to Rwanda’s national utility.

This will be one of the first times ever that power generation is derived from this type of gas, although two smaller power plants already operate using the lake’s methane gas for fuel. However, this is the first time that Lake Kivu’s methane gas will be used to fuel a power plant of this size. The plant will be powered by 20-cylinder Wärtsilä 34SG gas-powered engines and have an electrical output of 25MW. Future planned expansions to this project will increase this output by an additional 75MW. Delivery of the equipment is scheduled for the first quarter of 2012, and the plant is expected to be operational in the third quarter of the same year.

Utilizing naturally occurring methane gas

Lake Kivu, located on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, contains high concentrations of naturally occurring methane gas. By tapping this indigenous fuel to generate energy, the need to import energy can be reduced. Furthermore, since the build-up of the gas is ongoing, it has been predicted in studies that a saturation point will eventually be reached that could lead to a catastrophic gas release. Extraction of the gas has thus the potential to both mitigate the risks of dangerous eruptions and provide substantial energy reserves. The actual extraction of gas from the lake, however, is not included within Wärtsilä’s contractual scope.

"For the Republic of Rwanda this is a win-win situation. On the one hand, gas levels in Lake Kivu need to be reduced in order to lessen the risks of a spontaneous gas eruption in the future that could have hazardous consequences. At the same time, the country urgently needs additional power generation capacity, and so by utilizing the lake’s methane gas, both goals are achieved," says Mr Joseph C. Brandt, president and CEO of ContourGlobal.

"This is a landmark project, and one that has the potential for huge environmental and economic implications," says Tony van Velzen, regional director, Africa, Wärtsilä Power Plants. "This kind of unique challenge is one that Wärtsilä is well able to handle. Smart power generation, providing the ability to use the most readily available fuel, in this case methane gas, is a key element in meeting future energy needs."

This will be Wärtsilä’s second 25MW power plant to be installed in Rwanda. ContourGlobal also operates a 100MW multi-fuel Wärtsilä power plant in Togo.