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To maintain this golden age, the East African state is pressing ahead with ambitious development plans, and renewable energy is core to the mission.
The next target is to become the wind power capital of Africa.
Ethiopia inaugurated one of the continent’s largest wind farms in 2013 — the $290 million, 120-megawatt (MW) Ashedoga plant. This was followed by the even larger 153 MW Adama II facility in 2015.
But wind accounted for just 324 MW of Ethiopia’s total output of 4,180 MW at the end of 2015, with the vast majority coming from hydropower.
“We are conducting research and studying the data to see the number of plants we can connect (to the National Grid),” says Misikir Negash, head of communications for the Ethiopian Electric Power company. “It is important to have different energy sources for a reliable system. Wind is a big focus and we need it.”
A 1,000% increase
The target of increasing wind output by more than 1,000 percent within four years has been greeted with skepticism in some quarters, but there are reasons to believe.
“The government has already taken on far bigger projects,” says Zekarias Amsalu, director of Ethiopia Operations at market research group Asoko Insight, referencing the $6 billion Grand Renaissance Dam project. “I don’t doubt it can be achieved.”
“Their capacity should enable them to be a dominant wind nation in the region,” he says. “They have very good winds in the dry season which is normally when you would like to top up electricity production…From a wind perspective this is one of the most promising countries in the continent.”
Home and away
Despite Ethiopia’s grand plans, development has been slow to arrive for many of the country’s poor.
Negash disputes this figure, and insists there is no contradiction between pressing ahead with new technology and supporting wider access.
“We have different departments working towards parallel goals,” he says. “We have a program to provide 90 percent of people with (electricity) access within five years.”
Wind power is also expected to deliver wider benefits for struggling communities through training and job opportunities around the new sites.
Further, the plants are likely to strengthen Ethiopia’s position in the region through trade. The country is already an exporter of energy to neighbors such as Sudan and Kenya, and wind power will offer new options.
“They can use wind to feed their local grid and export from their hydropower resources,” says Amsalu. “Most of these are on the border so they are (ideal) for exports and gaining foreign currency.”
Ethiopia’s partners are hoping that the successful adoption of wind will drive a wider trend in the region.
“I think Ethiopia can be a very good showcase for renewables,” says Breum. “Hopefully this can show neighboring countries that low carbon development of the power sector is possible.”
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