Igniting the Power Grid in Rwanda using NASA Earth Observations

EarthzineDEVELOP Summer 2013 VPS, DEVELOP Virtual Poster Session, Original

This map shows population density per 100-meter by 100-meter pixel developed by the AfriPop project. Population density can be used as a proxy for energy usage; the higher populated areas, the greater the energy usage of that particular area.

Team Location: Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia; and Wise County Clerk of Court’s Office, Wise, Virginia


Faith Mwiza (California Baptist University)

Vincent Mwumvaneza (California Baptist University)

Nirav Patel (University of Florida)

Merna Saad (Christopher Newport University)

Gaspard Twagirayezu (Oklahoma Christian University)

Angela Unrein (University of Kansas)


Kenton Ross, Ph.D. (NASA, DEVELOP National Science Advisor)

DeWayne Cecil, Ph.D. (Global Science and Technology Inc., National Climatic Data Center)

Past/Other Contributors:

Rwanda Ecological Forecasting Team Summer 2012

Rwanda Agriculture Team Summer 2012

Rwanda Ecological Forecasting & Agriculture Team Fall 2012

Rwanda Ecological Forecasting & Agriculture II Team Spring 2013


Throughout much of the Republic of Rwanda, domestic energy use is reliant upon woody biomass, hydroelectric power, or imported petroleum products. With only 15 percent of the population retaining electricity use in their households, solar power efforts are gaining momentum as a viable source of energy in urban and rural areas. As a means of reducing environmental harm while also increasing energy and economic security, the green energy sector in Rwanda currently has opportunities to develop an electrical grid throughout the nation.

Using NASA’s Earth observations, this study aimed to pinpoint potential solar energy production sites. Land cover data was determined using Africover data. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor aboard the Aqua and Terra satellites provided water vapor and aerosols, and cloud data. Land topography data was acquired from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) Digital Elevation Model (DEM) on the Terra satellite. The data collected from all of the platforms described above was used to produce a geographical potential analysis, in which geographic locations within Rwanda were determined to have a sufficient amount of solar radiation from land cover, aspect, and slope characteristics for the placement of energy production sites.

Night light data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite provided human development extent and proximity to human settlements. The VIIRS data was added to the settlements created by the AfriPop project, which derived the settlements from Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+) data. The AfriPop Project’s mapping method was then applied to create a map that accurately and precisely estimates population density. In addition, the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) sensor on the Suomi NPP provided average surface flux data, which was used to assess the most viable locations for solar panels. A solar irradiation map was crafted from that data to determine which geographic locations receive the highest amount of solar energy.

In turn, the geographic potential analysis, population density analysis, and the solar irradiation map were combined to produce a final solar energy suitability map which can assist the Rwandan nation in identifying areas that are most suitable for solar panel sites.

Return to the Summer 2013 VPS page.