Being referred to as the ‘water tower of Africa’ and endowed with a potential to generate an estimated 1.5 million MW energy from different sources, Ethiopia has harnessed only little of this abundance so far. Although efficient utilization of this natural endowment demands large capital, the country pursued cultivating the sector in unwavering diligence, particularly in the past two decades.
The history of the Ethiopian electric power began during the reign of Emperor Menilik at his palace with a diesel generator. It gradually spread to the villages before it reaches its present status..
In the previous regimes, the pace of energy provision had been so sluggish that power was distributed in shifts. As figures depict, the power Ethiopia generated in 79 years didn’t exceed 370 MW. This covers the time between 1912, when Ethiopia’s first ever power plant was built, and 1991.
On the contrary, the progress after 1991 implies that the nation has been working to spell a new chapter of being Africa’s ‘energy tower’. Only in the past 25 years, Ethiopia could generate over 4000MW electric power. This figure will exceed 15,000 MW upon the completion of the ongoing projects.
It was with the inaugural of Tis Abay II Hydro Power Plant, which generates 73 MW, in 2001 that the incumbent commenced the renewable energy revolution. Then, three years later Gilgel Gibe I with a capacity of generating 184 MW was inaugurated.
Bearing special features, Gibe II portrayed Ethiopia’s development ambition. It gets water to generate power from Gibe I. The water released from Gibe I after generating power reaches Gibe II, passing through a 26 km long underground tunnel. Gilgel Gibe II is a pioneering project to Ethiopia and Africa.
The green energy revolution caused two other hydropower projects. These were the 300MW Tekeze and the 420 MW Tana Beles hydropower plants.
For Ethiopians, the two bear values far beyond their energy capacity. Ethiopia begin the building of Tekeze and Beles, hoping to give them an end at its own finance. While the construction of both projects started at the same time, Tekeze was completed in 2009 at the cost of 4 billion Birr; months later, a 7.1 billion Birr worth project, Tana Beles, was inaugurated.
It was designed in such a way that the water released after generating the 460 MW energy would be used for irrigation. This episode fueled anger among those parties who did not and perhaps will not want to see Ethiopia tap its natural resources.
Yet, it occasioned triumph and pride to Ethiopians. Beyond this, the struggle and the triumph created a pivotal platform that Ethiopia learned the possibility of undertaking mega projects without aids. So high was the motivation from this triumph that in 2009 the government and the people began building Ground Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) at their own finance and with unprecedented commitment.
A year after completing the 97 MW Amertinesh project, the green energy revolution came up with a new variety of energy mix to the national power grid.
A 51 MW Adama I wind farm was built in 2011. This trend is a solid manifestation of Ethiopia’s commitment to generate power from renewable sources. Its diligence brought the 120 Ashegoda and the 153 MW Adama II wind farms into existence in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
The success of the 1870 MW Gilgel Gibe III Hydropower project marks a trajectory along the path of Ethiopia’s green energy revolution. Gibe III will remain Ethiopia’s largest Dam until it is superseded by GERD. Besides, the technology it was built with is new to Ethiopia as well as Africa, according to Eng. Azeb Asnake, Executive Manager of Ethiopian Electric Power.
She also mentioned that the Dam is different for it is concreted. It has 630m width and 264m height and a holding capacity of 15 billion cubic meter.
In addition to the aforementioned completed projects, there are several ongoing projects including GERD, which is expected to generate 6000MW and to effect a significant socioeconomic and political shifts. Others include a 253 MW Genale Dawa III and a 326 MW Halele Worabesa hydroprojects.
A 70 MW Aluto Langano initial geothermal energy project is progressing well. Moreover, additional Aysha-300 MW, Debre Birehan-100 MW and Assela-100 MW wind farm projects to be implemented soon.
Apart from the remarkable progress in clean and renewable energy development, strenuous efforts have been made to improve the electrification service. These efforts, however, have not fully addressed the demand so far. Nevertheless, Ethiopia’s national electrification coverage today is in stark contrast with the coverage 25 years ago.
According to a report from the Ethiopian Government Communication Affairs office, the total number of electrified towns and villages in the country before 1991 was 329 (17 percent), whereas the figure now exceeds 6000 (56 percent).
Addressing the inaugural ceremony of Gibe III on December 17, 2016, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said, “Unlike the previous days, we are producing 5000MW these days; yet our energy demand has immensely increased. Since our nation is on a higher pace of development, the necessity for much more energy is inevitable to satisfy the development needs. Thus, we won’t stop generating additional renewable energy even for a moment.”