ethiopia hydro plant
Hydropower generated from Ethiopia’s 100 000 km2 of water supplies a vast and growing slice of its power.Source: EEPCO

Hydropower is the prime driver of electricity in Ethiopia and despite moves to incorporate other renewables into its energy mix, the country’s reliance on its rivers is only going to intensify.

Ethiopia is a country growing at considerable pace. Its gross domestic product was $12.3 billion in 2005, and by 2016 this figure is expected to more than quadrouple to $50.6 billion.

At the same time, its population is set to rise from 74.6 million in 2005 to 97.4 million in three years’ time.

All of which means a surge in infrastructure and, in turn, a greater demand for power. According to the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO), demand for electricity grew by 24 per cent in 2011. An aggressive transmission and distribution (T&D) expansion plan by EEPCO has raised the electricity access rate from 22 per cent in 2007 to 46 per cent last year. By 2016, EEPCO plans to increase this to 75 per cent and the government hopes to have 100 per cent access by 2020.

Such ambitious targets place a heavy burden on EEPCO, which is state-owned and the only provider of power in the country, to try and broaden and strengthen Ethiopia’s energy mix… which at the moment is no mix at all. Nearly all electricity – 90 per cent – is provided via hydropower, making use of Ethiopia’s many rivers. The country – the 27th largest in the world – covers 1104 million km², of which 104,300 km² is water. It has 12 basins: eight river basins, one lake basin and three dry basins, with no or insignificant flow out of the drainage system.

While this gives the country a non-polluting and, in theory, renewable form of energy, it makes the system reliant on the volatility of cyclical water levels, which can be erratic in a country that suffers intense sunshine.

Hydropower generation rose from 2969 GWh in 2005 to 4927 GWh in 2011 and by 2020 it is expected to hit 14,293 GWh. But the country’s total hydropower potential is believed to be around 45 000 GWh – meaning most is still untapped.

A slew of new hydropower projects are underway, including the Grand Millennium hydropower project, which once completed will have an installed capacity of 5250 MW and is expected to enable Ethiopia to become a major power exporter in sub-Saharan Africa. Also being built is the 1870 MW Gibe III, which at 243 metres tall will be Africa’s highest dam. But the government and EEPCO realise they cannot put all their eggs in one basket and are looking at alternative forms of power generation.

Ethiopia has no coal and gas fired power stations but diesel engines supply 9.7 per cent of its power mix.

Coal reserves are estimated at 320 million tonnes while gas reserves are put at 24 billion m3. The government hopes to tap into both these reserves, but they are certain to take a back seat to the focus on hydropower and other renewables.

The push for renewables

At present, with 90 per cent of Ethiopia’s energy coming from hydropower and 9.7 per cent from diesel-powered thermal, just 0.3 per cent is accounted for by renewables.

A tiny percentage, yes, but an important one, as it is likely to grow substantially in the coming years. Renewables are an option that is slowly but surely being exploited by the government and EEPCO.

For wind, EEPCO puts the country’s potential capacity at 10 000 MW and it is taking the first steps to unlocking this. The first phase of the Ashegoda wind farm – the country’s first – became operational earlier this year. Once completed by the end of the year, the facility will total 30 MW.

Also under construction is the Adama wind farm, which will have a capacity of 50 MW and is expected to be brought on line next year. Another six wind farms are in the planning stage, including Ayisha, with a 300 MW capacity, and the 250 MW Galema.

Geothermal is Ethiopia’s other targeted source of renewable energy. The 7.3 MW Aluto-Langano power station has been set up as the country’s first pilot plant. Recent reports suggest that this capacity will be boosted to 70 MW by 2015.

Aluto-Langano is notable because it taps into the power potential of the African Rift Valley, which is accepted to have huge geothermal potential. So far, only Ethiopia and Kenya have tapped into this by successfully building a geothermal plant.

Five more geothermal projects are in the pipeline, all set for completion by 2018, bringing installed capacity up to 375 MW.

Power giants take an interest

This push for renewables has opened up the Ethiopian energy market to some major names in the global power sector. GE is to invest in the fledging wind sector. The firm has also said it will play a role in a solar sector, should one ever get off the ground – Ethiopia currently has no solar projects.

Andritz Hydro and Voith Hydro have supplied turbines and generators for existing hydropower projects, while China’s Goldwind has supplied 34 wind turbines to the Adama wind farm, a joint venture between HydroChina International Engineering and Chinese construction firm CGCOC Corporation.

Meanwhile, France’s Vergnet has installed 30 turbines at the Ashegoda wind farm, with fellow French company Alstom set to provide a further 54 units, which are due to be operational by 2014.

All of this extra capacity means Ethiopia is facing the same key issue as many other countries worldwide, whether they be ‘developed’ or ‘developing’: that of transmission and distribution. With that in mind, EEPCO has devised the Electricity Transmission System Improvement Project (ETSIP), a programme that will comprise the construction of four 230 kV transmission lines, 12 substations and the upgrade of another four substations.

The project is already underway, with Alstom Grid winning a $44 million deal to build two air-insulated substations. ABB has also won a $26 million contract for the upgrade of the four existing substations, which are all in the central region of the country. The work is expected to be completed by next year.

Ethiopia has also contracted Power Grid Corporation of India to undertake a feasibility study to determine the highest needed voltage power capacities of the country’s transmission lines. The study will be conducted taking into consideration the power generation capacity of the country for the next 25 years. It is expected to be completed by the end of this year and will cost $225,000.

In June, the South Korean government granted Ethiopia a loan of $80 million to support part of the Ethiopia–Sudan electric power transmission line construction and expansion project. The transmission line will be an expansion of the Beles-Bahir Dar-Sululta line and is 212 km long with a capacity of 400 kV.

Assuming all this T&D work is successfully carried out, not only will Ethiopia be able to better serve its own population, it will also be in a position to boost its electricity export potential.

Landlocked by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia is eyeing exporting electricity to all of the aforementioned countries. Already it has interconnections with Djibouti, Kenya and North Sudan, and has agreements to export 200 MW, 500 MW and another 200 MW respectively.

It has also signed a similar deal – for a yet unspecified amount of electricity – with South Sudan and is also planning exports to Tanzania, Somalia and Yemen and Egypt.

If Ethiopia can succeed in exporting power to these nations, it will be a very canny move. Egypt and Kenya are large economies with large power demands, and it could be very lucrative for Ethiopia to be providing them with electricity.