Watching East Africa’s Energy Access Sector Grow: Views from Rwanda

These last few weeks of 2019 have been full of meeting inspiring innovators and engaging eager students across East Africa. I don’t take for granted the opportunity to chat with so many bright minds, and I continue to motivated by how much interest in and need for research I see across the region.

This November I had the chance to visit lush, stunning Rwanda. It is deep with complex history and ripe with innovation. My research team is exploring opportunities for utility-scale and distributed technologies to work together in an integrated fashion to improve the utility’s reach to last mile consumers. So I was in Rwanda to visit a company that’s experimenting with containerized solutions for rural business and localized power generation. Visiting a village deep in Northern Rwanda I learned that containerized hydropower for instance, significantly reduces the cost and complexity of installation and operations and can act as a convening force for small-business. Traveling across Northern and Eastern Rwanda I met young folks operating systems and designing new containerized business ideas and left truly inspired by all the ideas turning into reality.

Later on in November I had the chance to put some of our latest research findings from a different exercise to good use as the Keynote Speaker at Shortlist’s inaugural Nairobi Networking Night. Shortlist is a fantastic recruitment program based in Kenya that helps connect recent graduates to industry job opportunities and vice versa. I was invited to talk about what the primary data we collected shows us about the skills gaps in the energy access sector in Kenya, and what can be done to help bridge those gaps. After the talk I stayed chatting with folks till the place closed… I again left feeling so energized by all the passion in the room and seeing the direct ways in which access to information can support job placement in the sector, which needs recruitment support and capacity development so critically.

This month I also moderated a panel at Strathmore University, about the value of gender balance to companies working in energy access, and later on spoke with over a hundred engineering students at the Technical University of Kenya about the status of renewable energy development in the country. Research, time and time again, has served as my channel for connecting with students, innovators, entrepreneurs, companies and institutions that each benefit from access to data, and, in some small way, to be the connective tissue between them. I am looking forward to what 2020 brings for our research team so that we can keep creating impact for East Africa.