At sight lake Kivu looks like an innocent beautiful small lake. Located along Rwanda’s western border, it is both a prominent food and water source in the country, and is increasingly a tourist hotspot.
Business men have rushed to set up hotels along the lake coast to build accommodation for visitors, no doubt lured in by the lake’s idyllic beach setting. The lake is very important to the countries tourism. Its usually visited after visitors finish gorilla tracking, or other national parks around Rwanda, this is a good place to come and relax.
What these tourists may not know, however, is that because of the area’s volcanoes and anaerobic bacteria in the water, Lake Kivu is a storehouse for 60 billion cubic meters of methane gas, and is very susceptible to underwater eruptions.
Lake Kivu is one of three “exploding lakes” in the world. Though these types of eruptions, known as overturns, can potentially pose a risk to the local community (in 1986, a similar lake in Cameroon released a bubble of CO2 that killed 1,746 people), Lake Kivu is safe, thanks in part to the efforts of the Rwandan government.
Lake Kivu has methane gas and needs degassing,” says Olivier Ntirushwa, the manager at Kibuye Power Plant in northwest Rwanda.
Degassing the lake is very important because it keeps it safe, it provides electricity for the region. In 2008, Rwanda launched a pilot project to extract methane gas from the lake and use it as a power source. This is a source of power, a source of energy that’s free. It’s our lake, so why not use it to benefit our people.
In Rwanda currently, only 20% of Rwandan homes have power, and Ntirushwa estimates it will take at least 1,000 megawatts to power the country by 2020. While this project is still in the early stages (the plant currently extracts a mere 2.4 megawatts of power), Ntirushwa sees an enormous amount of potential. This lake has the power to produce up to 800 megawatts.
The methane resides 250 meters underneath the lake, and to extract it, engineers lower a pipe to just about the layer of dissolved gas. Once captured, the gas is purified and dried. Overall, it’s a cheap method for creating electricity.
“It’s a very rewarding job, because it’s the first time its been used. It’s a new technology, and the people of Rwanda are very excited about it.