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Ethiopia on the way to become an energy superpower of East Africa

By Abdi Mohamed
Tigrai Onlne - June 30, 2014

It has been disclosed last week that Ethiopia has earned over 32 million USD during the past nine months. Currently, Ethiopia provides 100 megawatts electricity to Sudan and up to 50 megawatts to Djibouti. Electric power transmission lines with the capacity of carrying 2000 megawatts are also being extended to Kenya to supply power to the country.

Moreover, that beyond East Africa, Ethiopia has been undertaking preparatory works to export electricity to Yemen via Djibouti, and electric power will soon be supplied to South Sudan and Somalia. The power export not only increases the foreign currency earning of Ethiopia, but also strengthens the relations among the countries which would have pivotal role in stabilizing the region.

Ethiopia on the way to become an energy superpower of East Africa
Ethiopia on the way to become an energy superpower of East Africa

The draft master plan of electricity and energy aims to boost power exports from 223MW a year now to at least 5,000MW. Ethiopia’s potential power production capacity from hydro as well as geothermal, wind and solar energy may be more than 60,000MW, according to official estimates.

That is equal to roughly half the total current installed capacity in Africa of 147,000MW!

These ambitious plans have been noted as visionary by several reputable scholars and institutions. For example: The renowned Financial Times said a few months ago:

This is one part of an ambitious plan to transform the country into one of the top, and cheapest, power suppliers in Africa, with the potential of $1bn a year in revenues from renewable power for Ethiopia and cheap supplies for a region short of electricity to power much-needed industrial production.

As part of a $22bn African Union backed project to develop a pan-continental electricity highway by 2020, Ethiopia plans to increase its power exports to Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan, and establish grid links to South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and even to Yemen across the Red Sea.

Indeed Ethiopia has been making huge investments in terms of hydropower generation capacity under the 5-years Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). Even before that, the government built several hydropower plants, including Tekeze, Gilgel Gibe ll and Tana Belese plants.

Two key components of the GTP, that is Gilegel Gibe 3 dam and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, are now 85% and 36% complete, respectively. The hydropower plants take the lion’s share for the multiple fold growth of Ethiopia's hydropower generating capacity.

In 2005 the total hydropower generation capacity of Ethiopia was only 714 MW and the total power generated was only 3,112 GWH. However, by 2010 the power generation capacity reached 2,000 MW and the total power generated was 7,689 GWH.

As per the GTP, Ethiopia’s power generating capacity is planned to reach 10000megawatts by 2015. On the other hand, the length of power transmission lines across the country was only 8,380 km in 2005. But, by 2010 there were to 12,147 km power lines connecting electric power grids.

Similarly, the number of power distribution lines across the country increased from 25,000 km in 2005 to 126,038 km in 2010. As per the GTP, the length of distribution lines is expected to increase from 126,038 km to 258,038 kms.

The total number of registered electric power user households was less than 950,000 in 2005. But by 2010, it was more than 2 million. As per the GTP, it is expected that there will be 4 million registered households connected to electric distribution lines.

With all these works well underway, it is expected that the electricity coverage of Ethiopia will reach more than 75% by 2015, thereby connecting Ethiopians farmers with the 21st century.

Progress in Generation Capacity



Energy in MW







Project under construction(2011-2015)


Project Under Initial Stage


In this transformative endeavor to meet the demand for energy in the country by providing sufficient and reliable power supply that meets international standards at all times, hydro-electricity will continue to take key role for the foreseeable future.

As the government plan documents explain:

This objective will be achieved by accelerating and completing the construction of new hydropower electric generation projects and strengthening the existing transmission lines to provide improved access to rural villages all over the country.

An additional objective is to export power to the neighbouring countries. Modernizing the distribution system will also be considered, so as to reduce power losses to international benchmark levels.

However, the strategic directions of the GTP are not limited to the expansion of hydro-power plants and building an institutional capacity that can effectively and efficiently manage such energy sources and infrastructure.

Other major directions are stated in the components of the energy sector development plans as follows:

Development of alternative energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, etc. will be integrated with the country's Green Development Strategy.

lt is planned to increase this level of power generated by four times implementation strategies are to promote a mix of energy sources by developing renewable wind and geothermal resources.

Following that policy direction, the government has been aggressively investing in alternative energy sources. A joint steering committee has been set up under the Ministry of Water & Energy and the Environmental Protection Authority to develop and implement clean and renewable energy projects which can later benefit from carbon trading schemes. So far, the total four projects identified and handed over to the Ministry are expected to reduce about 65,720 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.

The Development Bank of Ethiopia, in collaboration with the World Bank, has announced that it would create about 800 million Birr fund to promote geothermal energy projects, while another 800 million Birr would be added as part of the World Bank’s private sector initiative.

Similarly, several works have been conducted in harnessing geothermal energy. In this regard, the major one is Aluto Langano geothermal project which is located about 200km south of Addis Ababa in the Rift Valley Lakes Region 15km northwest of Adami Tulu Substation and the 132kv transmission line to the left of Hawassa road. The geothermal resource covers an area of about 8km2. The resource area is located at an elevation between 1880 and 2100 meters. The project envisages the drilling of four new production wells and to construct 35 ¨C 70MW installed capacity new geothermal power plant. Different studies has approved that up to 100MW electric can produced from the Aluto Langano steam field. After successful rehabilitation of Aluto Langano Geothermal power plant started produce electricity since 2007.

Considering the daily production history and close monitoring result of the field, additional investigation has been done by the Japanese government. The result of the study has indicated that the field can produce additional 35-70mw electricity. The 2nd phase project is planned to be completed in the middle of 2014 and the 3rd phase planned to be completed at the end of 2016. The Project helps increase the generation capacity from geothermal source and to pave the road to the construction of large scale geothermal power plants.

There has been several efforts to harness wind power in the past decade. The major one is the Aysha Wind Farm. Aysha Wind Power construction project site is located approximately 7 km south of Aysha town, 47km to Ethio-Djibouti border and 170km from Dire Dawa town on the way from Dire Dawa to Djibouti route. Aysha Wind have 300MW wind turbines to be constructed in two phases which the first phase will be installation of a 120 MW wind turbines.

There will be 200 units of wind turbines each 1.5 MW capacity with a total capacity of 300MW at Aysha site. The commissioning of the 300MW Aysha wind project will not only alleviate the country power and energy shortfalls which may arise because of the fast growing of the country's economy but also give opportunity for energy export to neighboring countries. Moreover, the national grid will also benefit and exercise the benefit of hydro-wind generation mix.

Another major undertaking is the Adama I Wind Farm. The Adama I Wind Farm Project is located 95 km east of Addis Ababa and 3 km north-west of Adama city was completed and started operation  on started on March 31,2012. The wind farm have 34 turbines with the generation capacity of each turbine at 1.5MW. The height of the turbine pylon (tower) is 65 meter. Production capacity of the wind farm is 51 MW with an average annual energy production of 157 Gwh.

Ashegoda Wind Farm, which has an installed capacity of generating 120 Mega Watts of electricity, is built 10 km from Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigray regional state by the French company Vergnet SA. This project is part of the Ethiopian government’s plan to generate up to 890 MW of wind energy by the end of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) period.

Recently, the government signed of a contract to build the largest geothermal power station in Ethiopia with Reykjavik Geothermal, a European company from Iceland. Under the agreement, Reykjavik Geothermal is to build the plant in two different stages of each 500 MW with an overall planned capacity at the end of 1,000 MW.

According to the company: The investment cost is expected to be around $4 billion for the Corbetti project, which will be build inside the Caldera of Corbetti, which is located around 200 km south of the capital of Addis Ababa. Geo-scientists believe this site to be one of the world’s most promising geothermal sites.

It was also noted that:

"The Corbetti Geothermal Project will be Ethiopia’s first independent power project and the largest geothermal plant in Africa……

It will be one of the lowest cost and most technologically advanced geothermal facilities in the world."





Energy GMW

Estimated Commissioning Year


Tendaho Geothermal

Pre Feasibility Study





Corbetti Geothermal

Pre Feasibility Study





Abaya Geothermal

Pre Feasibility Study





Tulu Moya Geothermal

Pre Feasibility Study





Dofan Geothermal

Pre Feasibility Study





Tulu Moya Geothermal

Pre Feasibility Study










In terms of solar power, last year the government assigned two American companies contracts to build, operate and transfer the three solar energy project. three solar sites, each with one hundred megawatt generation capacity, in the eastern part of Ethiopia. The site selection, due diligence and Feasibility Study, of the projects were completed before the signing of the contract.

At the time, the heads of the two prominent American companies, Energy Ventures corp. and Global Trade and Development Company, underlined that:

“We spent many months analyzing the potential for a large-scale solar project in Ethiopia. What we found was Ethiopia has some of the highest solar radiance factors in Africa. The power that this project will deliver will clearly have a dramatic effect on the Ethiopian people’s quality of life.”

Furthermore, since 2012, the Ministry of Water and Energy installed more than 15,000 solar panels that turn sunlight into electricity to rural households and also institutions like rural telecommunications stations, health centers, and health posts. Now, these rural households and service centers are now beneficiaries of solar energy technology, which is based on distributed power technology as there is no grid connectivity in those areas, and will provide enough power for lighting, mobile phones, computers and a solar fridge for each household. In fact, the program is progressing as per schedule to reach its target of installing solar panels in 30,000 households by the end of 2014.

In conclusion, the effort to harness geothermal, solar and wind powers is a key component of Ethiopia's effort to realize the energy mix strategy and to realize its vision of becoming the power house of east Africa.

As Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), underlined in a statement to an international media:

"it is the first time an African government has looked at energy as an export sector the way you export gold, and it’s going to be a huge advantage for them."

Another official an international body said:

"If it all comes off, Ethiopia may also be the beneficiary of another sort of power. Energy is part of its regional strategic plan.

So, Ethiopia becomes an energy superpower and along the way it also gains political clout” in Africa."

Indeed, this is not an accidental outcome rather a logical extension of Ethiopia's pragmatic and scientific foreign policy, which is summed up as:

"Our policy in the Horn of Africa should, like all our other policies, be free of different sentiments and proceed from a sober analysis of the situation, keeping in constant view our development and democracy agenda.

It should understand that the success of our development and democratization has a positive contribution not only to Ethiopia but to all neighbors as well; and that a policy that is free of arrogance and greed would contribute to changing the entire region.  These are the premises on which our policy is based. 

The success of this direction was attested in the recent statement of the IMF as follows:

 “The Ethiopian economy continues to experience robust growth and single-digit inflation. The mission projects real GDP growth in the 8-8.5 percent range for 2013/14 and 2014/15.

The expansion in economic activity has contributed to poverty reduction and progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Ethiopia’s public sector led development strategy has delivered robust growth and rising living standards."

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