Ethiopia – An Alternative Energy Future Beyond Hydropower?

Like many countries in Africa, Ethiopia is investigating the country’s renewable energy potential.

While recent hydroelectric projects, including the 1,870 megawatt $2.2 billion Gilgel Gibe III dam on the Omo River and the proposed 5,000 megawatt $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, formerly known as the Millennium Dam, on the Blue Nile have attracted international criticism, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water and Energy Sector Mapping and Database Development office has determined that the country’s wind potential could generate 10,000 megawatts annually, which has not yet been developed.

The country’s wind potential was included in the first phase of a $251 million project, designed to produce a comprehensive and updated energy sector data set for the entire country, which was submitted to the Ministry of Water and Energy on 19 October. The study also investigated the country’s solar energy potential. The first phase of the project, which took 16 months, developed a web based and Geographical Information System (GIS) enabled energy database.

Germany’s Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, (Sociert for international Cooperation), most of whose work is commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, financed the Ministry of Water and Energy’s Energy Sector Mapping and Database Development study.

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The project, which commenced in May 2010, was overseen by a national steering committee comprised of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water and Energy, Ministry of Agriculture and Central Statistics Authority, the Ethiopian Electric Agency and Ethiopian Electric Power Cooperation and Germany’s Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH Energy Coordination Office. The project was the second study of Ethiopia’s national energy sector, following on an earlier one conducted by an Italian company in the 1980s. The compiled database will allow for the production of multiple data-based energy maps based on data covering electricity, biomass, renewable energy and hydrocarbon resources.

Ethiopian dam Tekeze
Tekeze Ethiopian hydro electric dam

Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH Energy Coordination Office deputy director Samson Tolessa said, “There is no organized data about the energy potential of the country. The cost of identifying this potential by themselves is one of the reasons that might discourage investors.” Tolessa added that as the country’s potential areas for power generation are clearly indicated on the energy map, it will attract private investors to engage in Ethiopia’s nascent renewable energy sector and noted that the second phase of the project will be conducted by the same consultants at an estimated cost of $1.2 million.
As with most African countries, where overall it is estimated that only about 25 percent of the population is connected to electricity grids, Ethiopia has relied heavily on biomass to meet both its rural and urban energy needs. The dependence on wood and agricultural wastes for fuel has inexorably led to deforestation and desertification because of a lack of soil rehabilitation projects.

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Currently hydropower is Ethiopia’s predominant source of electricity, which up to now has mitigated developing data about the potential of other alternative sources for power generation such as wind and solar power. According to energy analysts, Ethiopia has a hydropower potential to generate over 260 terrawatt hours of electricity annually, Africa’s second largest potential after the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of Ethiopia’s current total electricity production, 98 percent is generated from hydropower and only seven megawatts from geothermal power, despite geothermal’s estimated potential of 5,000 megawatts.

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