Ethiopia is a country blessed with a plethora of renewable energy resources such as sunlight and flowing rivers. However, according to the World Bank, Ethiopia, which is also the continent’s second-largest country by population, also has one of the worst electricity access deficits. Nonetheless, Ethiopia remains committed to using its renewable energy resources to make progress and provide electricity to its people.
The electrical energy supply in Ethiopia is covered by almost entirely renewable sources: hydropower accounts for about 90%, and wind 7.6% (AIMS Energy). Lake Tana, located in the northern part of the country, is the source of the longest river in the world—the Blue Nile River. Damming the Blue Nile is among the ambitious goals for increasing power generation. Once completed, it will become one of the continent’s largest hydroelectric power plants with a generating capacity of 6,450 MW. This is almost 1.5 times Ethiopia’s entire national capacity of 4,500 MW in 2019 (AIMS Energy) and would allow it to meet growing demand as well as generate revenue from selling the extra power to neighboring countries.
Aside from generating electricity, the dam will regulate water flow in the region, hopefully improving agriculture. Although the dam will be an important energy source, it also has potential downsides. The technology will disrupt local ecosystems, so the costs must be carefully weighed with the benefits (ScienceDaily).
Another renewable energy resource that is currently underused is solar energy. Based on statistics gathered by AIMS Energy, East Africa was identified as having the highest theoretical potential of more than 200,000 TWh/year.
Ethiopia, furthermore, also has a high potential for biogas production from crop residues and animal manure. Ethiopia’s livestock population according to the 2009/10 central statistical agency survey is about 150 million (AIMS Energy). Yet, costs, water scarcity, and lack of awareness in the community were the main factors that hinder the installation of biogas facilities.
There exists an undeniable shortage of energy capacity and distribution networks, especially in the rural areas of Ethiopia. Developing an affordable, reliable energy strategy that taps into Ethiopia’s clean energy sources will help connect millions of households to power and will support economic development and sustain livelihoods while protecting against the impacts of climate change. Ethiopia has a unique chance to act and be a clean energy leader in Africa.
Ruby Teklemariam is a sophomore at Williams College, studying Computer Science. She hails from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and works with the Zilkha Center as a Website Intern.