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Ethiopia

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.