Ethiopia digs for power

Ethiopia digs for power

By | Ethiopia | No Comments

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.

Economist: Africans consuming less electricity now than in the 80s

Economist: Africans consuming less electricity now than in the 80s

By | Developing Countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa | No Comments

According to the World Bank, the proportion of Africans with access to electricity increased from 19% in 1991 to 37% in 2014. But as a recent article in the Economist points out, this is nowhere near as impressive as it seems.

More people than ever may be connected to the grid, but they are not consuming more electricity. In 2014 each African consumed, on average, just 483 kilowatt hours (kWh). That is less than in the 1980s.

By contrast, Americans use 13,000 kWh each on average. Indeed, in the West, a typical family fridge consumes several times more power than a whole family of Nigerians.

As the Economist says:

“Some greens may hail such frugality. They should not: the alternative to electricity is often filthy, dangerous charcoal stoves and kerosene lamps. Besides, if utilities are unable to sell enough electricity to cover their costs then they cannot invest in maintaining or modernising their grids.”

Worldwide, power consumption is strongly correlated to GDP. The more electricity you use, the richer your country is likely to be. Yet this is not the case in Africa, where many countries use less power than their national incomes would suggest.

According to the Economist, this is because Africa has so little of the world’s manufacturing and heavy industries, who are the biggest consumers of electricity. In turn that keeps demand for power low in the rest of the economy. Without industrialisation and the good jobs it brings, ordinary Africans just can’t afford more electricity.

It’s why an approach to energy access which stresses small-scale solar powered solutions – while the ignoring the needs of industrial consumers – is unlikely to do much to alleviate poverty. To power Africa, all forms of energy will have to be used.

New electric train for Ethiopia slashes journey times from 7 days to 10 hours

New electric train for Ethiopia slashes journey times from 7 days to 10 hours

By | Developing Countries, Ethiopia | No Comments

We all know why electricity matters. Without it, kids can’t study after dark, hospitals can’t store lifesaving vaccines and factories can’t power mechanical equipment.

By contrast the impact of reliable energy on transport is often overlooked.

Yet transport is fundamental to a prosperous economy. Because without decent roads and railways, you can’t move goods to ports or cities to be sold.

One of the reasons Africa lags behind in global development is that it lacks a modern transport network. It is estimated that moving goods in Africa takes on average two or three times longer than in developed countries.

However, there are some positive signs coming out of Africa after years of underinvestment.

Ethiopia has recently celebrated the opening of brand new 752 km train line between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. Previously, it could take up to 7 days to transport goods from the Ethiopian capital to the Red Sea port, which has now been cut to just 10 hours.

The country can be proud to say that it is home to the continent’s first overhead line railway. Ethiopia’s trains are some of the fastest and most environmentally friendly in Africa, as they rely on electricity rather than burning diesel.

This latest achievement has been possible to the government’s emphasis on expanding hydropower, with projects such as the Gibe 3 dam, which is expected to generate over 15,000 MW of electricity from 2016-2020.

Electricity must remain at the heart of any development policy, particularly when it comes to building and running modern infrastructure like railways.

Energy investment in Africa fell by $14 billion during 2016

Energy investment in Africa fell by $14 billion during 2016

By | Developing Countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa | No Comments

Financing of energy projects in Africa fell by $14billion in 2016, according to a report from the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa (ICA).

Established at the 2005 G8 Summit, the ICA is an international NGO that advocates for greater infrastructure development in Africa.

The report shows that public and private investment in energy fell from a historic high of 33.5 billion in 2015 to $20 billion in 2016, including the World Bank, which cut its spending by $800 million.

600 million Africans currently live without electricity, and this number is expected to rise to remain stubbornly unchanged, even by 2030. Investment cannot fall if we are to guarantee secure and affordable energy access to the world’s poorest.

As the World Bank themselves have said, the advantages of universal energy access would bring enormous benefits: 1.5 trillion extra hours of paid work, savings of $38 billion on kerosene and charcoal, and 300 million school-aged children studying in better conditions.

US Energy Secretary: we’re here to help Africa use fossil fuels and use them cleanly

US Energy Secretary: we’re here to help Africa use fossil fuels and use them cleanly

By | Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa | No Comments

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry has promised that the US is ready to help expand electricity access across Africa, including from fossil fuels.

Speaking at a regional energy conference in South Africa, Mr Perry argued it was time to break the “culture of shame” around fossil fuels and use new technology to make them cleaner.

Mr Perry said he was concerned about the low levels of electricity access across Africa, where 600 million people still live without power – a number which is predicted to remain unchanged, even by 2030:

“Development starts when you have a power supply,” he said, adding that Washington is prepared to help countries develop their energy systems “from all sources.”

Leaders in Africa have previously stressed the need for a pragmatic approach to power generation. In a speech earlier this year, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said:

“Each country needs to decide on the most cost-effective, technologically efficient energy mix that works best for its own needs.”

Mr Perry was also critical of multilateral development banks like the World Bank, which currently restrict funding for fossil fuel projects in the poorest countries, warning that it was time for them to “take their thumb off the scale” and prioritise access to affordable power.

Rather than try to restrict access to fossil fuels, the US is banking on new technology like carbon capture and storage, which experts which experts say will be essential for the fight against climate change.

“We will invest in African energy projects, but it’s also time to let technology be your friend”, Mr Perry said.

“We will help this continent make more power, and we will do it cleanly.”

Africa’s untapped hydropower potential

By | Developing Countries, Ethiopia | No Comments

Africa is the world’s most energy-starved continent, home to 645 million people without access to grid electricity. This is stifling economic growth, fueling conflict and forcing people to leave their homes in search of a better life.

But Africa is also abundant in natural resources, including geothermal, gas, coal and gigantic waterways offering huge amounts of untapped hydropower potential.

Take the Congo River in central Africa. Engineers say that the section of the river that plunges down the Inga falls between the Congolese capital Kinshasha and the Atlantic Ocean could one day be the site of the world’s biggest hydropower station. If built it would house 50 turbines generating 40GW of power – twenty times what the Hoover Dam in the United States produces and a third of Africa’s current power production.

A project like this does not come cheap. The estimated $100 billion price-tag puts it far out of the reach of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the river system is located and significant amounts of international assistance will be required to get it off the ground.

This is not to say that massive hydro projects can’t happen in African countries.

Ethiopia – where less than a quarter of the population have electricity – is currently putting the finishing touches to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam on the River Nile, a project that has been largely self-financed. Once complete it will be the eighth largest dam in the world, capable of supplying the equivalent power of six nuclear power stations.

Big hydropower stations like this have major advantages over smaller scale renewables like wind and solar. First and foremost, they produce more power. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will supply electricity to millions of households and businesses, whereas Africa’s biggest concentrated solar plant (in the Northern Cape, South Africa) only powers 80,000 homes.

Just as important, hydro is a source of ‘baseload’ electricity like geothermal and fossil fuels. This means it can provide 24/7 power and is not dependent on the sun shining or the wind blowing.

The main disadvantages are the cost of construction and the limited number of suitable waterways that can be tapped. International consultancy firm McKinsey estimate that hydro could at most contribute 15 percent of Africa’s electricity by 2040.

But with hundreds of millions still languishing in dire energy poverty, denied access to safe healthcare or growing businesses, Africa will desperately need that contribution to close the energy gap.

Sending solar panels to Africa to tackle climate change is like sending salads to Ethiopia to tackle global obesity

Sending solar panels to Africa to tackle climate change is like sending salads to Ethiopia to tackle global obesity

By | Affordable electricity, Developing Countries, Ethiopia | No Comments

Todd Moss, a research fellow at the Centre for Global Development, has a brilliant analogy for Western aid spending on energy.

Imagine, he says, the US sending salads to Ethiopia in response to the global obesity epidemic.

Such a policy would be both completely absurd and morally wrong. Ethiopians did not create the global obesity issue and besides, 32 percent of the population are undernourished – a far more pressing issue than wider waistlines.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the West does on energy access. Africa didn’t create the climate problem, and in a continent where 600 million have no electricity at all, getting them the power has to be the priority. Yet in response to global emissions, Western aid agencies have placed major restrictions on large-scale conventional energy and are sending them solar panels instead.

Moss explains the problem with this approach:

“It is unrealistic to expect that nascent and expensive clean energy can meet all of Africa’s demand. The scale of energy poverty is such that sizeable populations will still require old-school grid power.”

His comments echo the words of Professor Joyashree Roy, Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University in India:

“We shouldn’t be talking about 10 villages that got power for a light bulb. What we should be talking about is how the village got a power connection for a cold storage facility or an industrial park.”

Sadly, solar panels can’t yet provide power on the scale needed for an industrial park, which is exactly what developing countries need to create jobs, growth and a route out of poverty.

For the world’s poorest there is simply no alternative to the cheap, round-the-clock power that conventional fuels can offer. Our aid policy has to reflect that reality.

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Ethiopia is energy poor, but perhaps for not much longer

Ethiopia is energy poor, but perhaps for not much longer

By | Ethiopia | 3 Comments

Just a quarter of Ethiopians have electricity access and power shortages are common. Two years ago residents in Addis Ababa were forced to throw away the dough they had prepared before it could be baked because of disruptions to the electricity supply. America’s Christmas lights currently consume more energy than Ethiopia’s entire 95 million strong population do in a whole year.

But in spite of these grim statistics, there is real cause for optimism about the country’s energy future. Because Ethiopia also has some of the biggest hydro-power resources in sub-Saharan Africa and the country is determined to use them.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), sitting on the Blue Nile, will when complete be the eighth largest in the world, supplying double the power of America’s famous Hoover Dam. The World Bank estimates that Ethiopia will be able earn $1 billion annually by exporting hydro-power to neighbouring countries.

Big hydro-power projects like this have major advantages over the small-scale renewables typically funded by Western development agencies. The most important of these is the sheer quantity of electricity produced. Unlike a solar array, the GERD will be able to supply millions of homes, as well as the factories and industry that Ethiopia needs to grow its way out of poverty. Hydro can also provide ‘baseload’ power: round-the-clock, reliable electricity that isn’t dependent on weather conditions. 

The disadvantage of hydro is that many countries lack the major waterways needed for large-scale dams. 

Ethiopia still has a lot of work to do to reassure water-poor neighbours like Egypt that the GERD won’t impact on water supplies further up the Nile. But once complete next year, the project could prove transformational to the lives and living standards of millions of Ethiopians. 

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Access to electricity is a human right, and the only way for poorer countries to develop. Add your name if you agree.