When it comes to energy, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most ambitious countries. The East African nation has committed to quadruple the electricity it generates by 2020, and has just signed a deal with an Icelandic firm to make geothermal part of the mix.
This goal matters because two thirds of Ethiopians currently lack access to electricity: a huge number in a country of over 100 million. An estimated 94 percent of all energy consumed in Ethiopia comes from traditional biomass, i.e. wood and charcoal, leading an unsustainable loss of 200,000 hectares of forest each year.
More power is also needed to deliver the country’s development plan, which is focused on raising health and educational standards, improving crop yields, and spur industrialiasation.
“The demand is growing very rapidly — 25 to 30 percent every year, so we are trying to satisfy this demand,” says Azeb Asnake, chief executive officer of state power company Ethiopian Electric Power Corp.
“We also have a lot of industrial parks coming up — agriculture industry and the like — with more than 12 under construction or under operation. We really need to provide power to all this demand.”
As part of this drive, Ethiopia, which currently gets 90 percent of its electricity from hydropower, is looking to tap into the country’s significant geothermal resources.
Geothermal energy works by using the natural heat emanating from rock structures deep underground to heat water and drive steam turbines. Like hydro but unlike wind and solar, it is considered a “baseload renewable”, meaning it can generate power whenever needed and not just when weather conditions permit. East Africa has significant geothermal energy potential owing to the great East African Rift, a zone extending thousands of kilometres where the Earth’s crust splits.
Icelandic company Reykjavik Geothermal has just signed an agreement with the Government of Ethiopia to develop two geothermal sites, which will cost $2 billion apiece and generate the equivalent power of a nuclear reactor working at full pace.
The project is expected to be up and running in the next 7 years.