Rwanda is expanding the use of small solar units for remote households and schools to help meet a government target of increasing access to electricity to 70 percent of the nation by 2018 from just 22 percent now, officials said.
Poor access to power in the African nation has held back the growth needed to haul more people out of poverty but expanding power plants cannot always solve the problem when the grid has a limited reach.
They understood that off-grid [generation] is one solution to support their goals
Those on the grid also complain of regular cuts. "They (the government) understood that off-grid (generation) is one solution to support their goals," Klaus Maier, project manager for Germany-based solar power firm Mobisol, said.
His company, which produces small solar power systems aimed at low-income countries, is working to install 50,000 units in households and schools in the next four years in east Rwanda and with plans to extend its network of outlets across the nation.
The units are sold at a subsidised price and can be bought in instalments.
Since the project began this year, some 2,750 households had received units, said Maier, adding 70 percent used the new supply to help run small businesses.
The European Union is providing part of the funding for the 22 million euro ($27.4 million) project.
Other African nations are also seeking to exploit their solar potential.
Maier said the Rwanda project helped overcome the challenge and cost of building power lines across a landlocked nation of 11 million people that is known as "Land of a Thousand Hills".
Mobisol produces units with 30-watt to 200-watt capacity that can run energy saving LED lights, mobile phone chargers and other appliances.
Dieudonné Twizeyimana, 27-year old businessman in Nyamata, about 30 km (20 miles) east of the capital Kigali, uses his new solar units to help his business survive frequent power cuts.
"When there is a power blackout, which happens often, the lights of Mobisol help me light my bar," he said.
Rwanda now has installed generation capacity of 155 megawatts (MW), which only just matches demand. Most existing capacity comes from hydro-electric and diesel generation, while 8.75 MW already comes from solar, including a new solar farm.
Rwanda aims to expand total capacity to 563 MW by 2017. In the meantime, Rwanda plans to start importing 30 MW from fellow East African Community member Kenya in 2015.