Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

The 'exploding lake' that could power Rwanda

By Daisy Carrington and Lisa Cohen, CNN
updated 11:08 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Hotels have rushed to set up along the coast of Rwanda's Lake Kivu to cater for the influx of visitors, no doubt lured in by the idyllic beach setting. Hotels have rushed to set up along the coast of Rwanda's Lake Kivu to cater for the influx of visitors, no doubt lured in by the idyllic beach setting.
HIDE CAPTION
Rwanda's methane lake
Rwanda's methane lake
Rwanda's methane lake
Rwanda's methane lake
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rwanda's Lake Kivu is becoming a tourism hotspot
  • It is one of three 'exploding lakes' in the world
  • Underwater levels of methane and carbon dioxide could make the lake lethal
  • Rwanda has defused the lake by using the methane for power

Every week, Inside Africa takes its viewers on a journey across Africa, exploring the true diversity and depth of different cultures, countries and regions.

(CNN) -- To look at, Lake Kivu seems, well, innocent. Situated on Rwanda's western border, it is both a prominent food source in the country, and -- increasingly -- a tourist hotspot.

Hotels have rushed to set up along the coast to cater to the influx of visitors, no doubt lured in by the lake's idyllic beach setting.

"The lake is very important to tourism," says Innocent Twagirumukiza, founder of Green Hills Ecotours.

"When people finish visiting mountain gorillas, or other national parks around Rwanda, this is a good place to come and relax," he adds.



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 susceptible to underwater eruptions.

It 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.

Life of a Rwandan fisherman
Beautiful beaches boost tourism

"I don't use [the term "exploding lake"]. It's just a lake that has methane gas and needs degassing," says Olivier Ntirushwa, the manager at Kibuye Power Plant in northwest Rwanda.

Not only does the "degassing" keep the lake 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 like that?" says Ntirushwa.

Read: Rwanda's B-boys

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 the 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. We only do 2.4, so imagine how much is left," he says.

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 [it's been done]. It's a new technology, and the people of Rwanda are very excited about it. Being a pioneer, being the first doing this, it gives some us respect."

Read: Rwanda's B-boys

Read: Up close with Rwanda's mountain gorillas

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:57 AM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
Vintage helicopters, ziplines, private flying safaris offer new, spectacular views of wildlife and rugged terrain.
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Photojournalist Daniella Zalcman asked Uganda's religious leaders their views on homosexuality. Their answers might surprise you.
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
In Africa, royalty is an endangered species. Meet the man on a mission to photograph the last remaining kings and queens.
updated 6:35 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Getty photographer John Moore captured the spirit of those who survived the epidemic
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Nazis, bomb raids, and a mysterious man with a mustache. The search for the spinosaurus reads like a spy novel.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Can a rat be a hero? It can if it saves lives. Meet the giant rats that sniff out landmines and TB
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
In Africa, royalty is an endangered species. Meet the man on a mission to photograph the last remaining kings and queens.
updated 7:10 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Can state-of-the art schools in rural Africa rescue the environment? One charity is betting on it.
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
To save the rhinos, one charity is moving them out of South Africa, where poaching is at an all time high.
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
mediterranean monk seal
Many of Africa's animals are facing extinction. Is it too late for them? Our interactive looks at the many challenges to survival.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
No one knows what causes "fairy circles" in Namibia's desert. A new study, however, may have solved the mystery.
updated 6:54 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
A picture shows the Rwenzori mountain range on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 8, 2014. At 5,109 metres (16,763 feet), Mount Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.
The 'African Alps' are melting, and it may be too late. Now may be your last chance to see the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains.
updated 10:38 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
One company thinks so. They're investing in insect farms in Ghana and Kenya. Could bugs build an industry and curb malnutrition?
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
updated 5:27 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
updated 6:16 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Makoko Floating School
A new wave of African architects are creating remarkable buildings in the continent, and beyond.
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT