Burundi Launches Private Distribution Utility

Weza Power aims to connect 9 million people to the power grid by 2030.

By Liz Bains on
6th September 2023

Virunga Power is to create a new privately owned and operated electricity distribution company in Burundi known as Weza Power.

The new company will provide electricity to residential and business customers in peri-urban and rural areas of Burundi, which has one of Africa’s lowest electrification rates. 

The launch of Weza Power was announced at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi. It is the result of a multi-year development partnership between Virunga Power and the government of Burundi and takes the form of a public-private partnership (PPP).

Over the next seven years, Weza Power aims to bring grid connected power to 9 million people or 70% of Burundi’s population.

Just 12% of the country's 12 million people currently have access to electricity, with this number falling to 2% in rural areas. Most households burn kerosene and charcoal for energy, while businesses have to rely on diesel generators.  

The initial phase of the PPP will mobilise a two-year US$60 million investment into the utility which will result in approximately 300,000 Burundians gaining access to grid electricity. Virunga Power will provide the initial equity investment.

Gridworks, which is owned by British International Investment (the UK government’s development finance institution) became a controlling shareholder of Virunga Power in March 2023, following a US$50 million investment. 

Other committed financing partners providing development and construction capital for the Weza Power project include the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) and the US government’s Power Africa initiative.  

The project will subsequently aim to raise around US$1.4 billion over seven years to build a network of distribution infrastructure connecting two-thirds of the East African country. This will be done without the government of Burundi needing to raise additional loans from its own balance sheet, allowing it focus on other national priorities. 

Weza Power will be connected to Burundi’s existing transmission network operated by REGIDESO, the state-owned utility company which will continue to generate electricity from clean, run-of-river hydropower plants and supply distribution-level power to the country’s main urban areas. 

The financing for the grid expansion and the creation of the new utility operator is expected to come from a blend of private and public funding, including commercial equity and debt, climate-based and other concessional funding, multilateral donor support, and private grants. 

 According to Gridworks, Weza Power is the first new private sector electricity distribution company to be granted a national level concession in Sub-Saharan Africa in a decade. It is hoped the PPP will serve as a template for delivering new electricity connections at scale and can be repurposed for other African nations.

“The government of Burundi should be applauded for their foresight in working with Virunga Power to develop an innovative model that can harness private sector capital and expertise for the benefit of the country’s people,” said Simon Hodson, CEO, Gridworks. “By bringing clean, reliable electricity to communities across rural Burundi, Weza Power will enable local entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and create jobs, and help families access basic services. Investment in electricity networks is vital to underpin economic development, as well as to support a transition to renewable energy.” 

Brian Kelly, CEO Virunga Power added: “This is an important milestone for Burundi and a catalyst for accelerating electrification more broadly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The expansion of power distribution networks to reach unconnected populations with affordable grid power can be achieved by blending public, multilateral, and private sources of capital when paired with efficient private sector-led operations. While this is a common approach in developing and developed markets globally, Africa has lacked a locally based model to follow, and Burundi’s willingness to take leadership with this approach is impressive and commendable.”  

Virunga Power was formed in 2011 as a developer, investor and operator of renewable power projects and distribution networks in eastern and southern Africa. It is also constructing the 1.65MW the upper Ruvyironza run-of-river hydro project in Burundi and owns and operates a licensed utility company in Zambia.

ConstructAfrica recently reported that more than 100MW of hydropower projects are planned or under construction in Burundi and the country is also set to gain 76MW of additional electricity capacity from two regional hydro projects, meaning investment in distribution infrastructure is urgently needed.

Photo: Weza Power launch (Source: Gridworks)

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