Wednesday, October 3, 2012

When will electrification of Ethiopian rural area become a reality?

No doubt, electricity can change livelihood of rural poor. Indeed, if they can easily get the energy to listen to the radio, to charge mobile phone which allow them the get information  from towns, for example about market prices ( . More an more development project try to get smartphones into rural area, giving farmers access to internet and to apps that allow them to access the weather forecast or agricultural best practices.
Access to electricity also allows to industrialize, work longer at night, allowing children to learn after dark, power the water pumps for irrigation.

Ethiopia is the water tower of East Africa and has potential to produce huge amount of electricity from hydro-power, and develop the rural area by electrifying even relatively remote areas (which for example is the current strategy for rural India to lift the rural poor out of poverty). Also Ethiopia is developing huge hydro power plant, such as the Renaissance dam ( ).
The Renaissance dam (image from
Whatever the negative impact of hydro-power plants can have on the environment, on displaced people, they are also a promise for a better future for many rural poor who suddenly could get electricity.  

It sounds like a promising bright future for Ethiopia, but the reality looks quite different. Last week the English version of the Ethiopian Reporter published an article on current power cuts and an in depth description of the power sector in Ethiopia. It explains why despite all these positive development why it is not such a promising future for rural area and why we face power cuts on daily base in urban areas : a result from increasing urban demand, subsidized local price and huge exports to neighboring countries...

Ethiopia: power outages electrifying the nation

By Merga Yonas

Ethiopia, a country known for its immense hydro-electric power potential is often is often quoted widely as the ‘Power House of Africa’. The potential is not only in hydropower; geothermal energy generation is also considered as a prospect. In view of that, in recent times the Ethiopian government has engaged itself in the generation of hundreds and thousands of megawatts of electric power. To the surprise of experts and observers the axiom that Ethiopia is the power house of Africa has not been practically realized on the ground. Reports show that in 2009 less than 10 percent of Ethiopians had access to electricity and the country was plagued with power outages.

Thus, in order to overcome this situation, the Ethiopian government has been embarking on building dams and generating electric power. In this regard, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) anticipates to increase power to over 10,000 MWs by 2015. Since 2009, the Ethiopian government has completed projects including the Gilgel Gibe II Dam (420 MW) and the Tekeze Dam (300 MW) and in 2010 the Tana Beles Dam (460 MW) was inaugurated. With Gilgel Gibe III now under construction and expected to be finished in 2013 providing another 1870 MW, the largest project that is being undertaken by the Ethiopian government  is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile which is projected to produce 6000 MW when fully completed in 2017.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, the government of Ethiopia has undertaken feasibility studies to launch a new project again on on the Blue Nile basin in the area called Mendaia (200MW), Beko Abo (2100MW), and Karo Dodi (1,600MW). Meanwhile, other feasibility studies are being carried out for projects on the Tekeze River and on the Dedessa River to produce 450MW and 301MW respectively.

Despite the already completed and the massive hydroelectric project being undertaken in the country, power demand in Ethiopia is faced by power outages. Besides this, the country plans to export power to Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti and even Yemen or Egypt.

Experts in the field argue that the distribution network in Ethiopia is being rapidly expanded with currently electricity being subsidized in the country. In order to repay the loans for dam construction, electricity tariffs would have to be increased, which in turn would reduce electricity demand per capita, which is already low due to the high level of poverty in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) has also predicted the power demand of the country would increase from 15 percent to 20 percent per annum.

Recent reports also show that Ethiopia has started exporting electricity to Djibouti, charging 70 dollar cents for a kilowatt hour (kWh), much higher than Ethiopia's rates that are pegged at 0.065 dollar cents. Over the past five years, the Ethiopian government had obtained close to 64 million dollars in grants from various sources to finance the transmission lines to Djibouti.

Ethiopia has also made an initial agreement with Kenya and Sudan to export to them 200MW and 500MW respectively. These projects that interconnect Ethiopia with Sudan and Kenya are being carried out with a multi-million dollar donation from the World Bank (WB).

The bottom line is that with all these plans of generating and exporting power, the local demand has been sky rocketing. Families, business owners, health stations and industries have been complaining regarding the excessive and unwarranted power blackouts.

In return, this power cut is followed with undesirable consequence, some among the public contend. These include, household equipment loss, threat on the life of patients, and from technological apparatus suffering exhaustion to the production interruption in some factories.

In Addis Ababa, areas like Gulele sub-City, Arada sub-City, Kirkos sub-City and other places have been facing similar predicaments. Residents in these sub-cities have been risking their daily routine due to the blowing up of transformers that leads to over 10 day power blackout as well.

Power cut has been continuing for the past two to three months. “Power will be out in the morning and might be back again in the afternoon then it might be out again for the whole night, Aytenew Debebe, a resident in an area called Sebseba Aderash located in the Gulale sub-City told The Reporter. Aytenew, though could not file this complaint to the responsible body, left the matter to the landlord who rented him the house assuming that he is the one who must complain.

However, he related how the response from EEPCo and the continuing power cut has been imposing great impact on him. Though the problem is technical, an employee of EEPCo came once in a while to fix it, but the next morning the problem is still there, Aytenew told The Reporter.

Aytenew, who is studying for his master's degree in Human Right at Addis Ababa University, said: “This morning until 8:00am there was light, but until now (2:00pm in the afternoon) I’m in a blackout.”

“I use computers [desktop] which don’t operate without electricity, Thus, while I want to stay home to work on various matters related to my study, I get pushed to use it out of my home because of power cuts,” Aytenew told The Reporter.

He noted that the power blackout has been creating “inconvenience” on his study. If there is light at night he says that he is forced to buy candles to get home, and sometimes he gets irate when his electric divider burns out due to power interruption. “These scenarios have been highly affecting me,” he says.

From Sidist Kilo down to Amist Kilo, located in the Gulale and Arada sub-City, the public has been facing persistent power cuts for about 10 days and after informing EEPCo for maintenance it took them more than a week to come and fix the problem, a resident of the area who requested to remain anonymous told The Reporter.

One transformer has been allotted to 500 households; thus considering its obsolescence and the responsible body remaining latent, solutions yearned for by the residents in the area.

After repeated requests to change the transformers  there is still no solution to the problem, the source explained. As a final attempt, the resident of the area signed a petition comprising 142 voices and filed it to EEPCo but still there is no solution.

At least, on a daily basis, there is a moment when the power blackout stays for over five or six hours, which could spoil the freshness meats and cheeses, Belete Ayele, salesman and purchaser at Central Super Market, located at the traffic junction of Wollo Sefer on the African Avenue Road, told The Reporter.

There are times when the supermarket ends in loss of power that makes unable to grind meats and cut cheeses, Belete said. Every day the supermarket stores about 100 kilograms of meat; thus when faced with power outages over four kilogram of the meat would go completely out of use.

Belete, in his late 40s, and living in Bole Gumuruk off the Ring Road, told The Reporter that a month back his television set  became a victim of the power cut, which cost him 80birr for maintenance. Likewise, there are cases around my neighbors where three refrigerators and some television sets became obsolete, Belete said.

Recently, industries in the country and EEPCo have discussed how to use the electric power, as the problem to some extent still exist, Muluken Haile, general manager with Ethiopian Association of Basic Metals and Engineering Industries (EABMEI) told The Reporter. Yes, there are cases where the power outage causes industries with large amount of finance and in material loss as well, Muluken added. 

During EABMEI stakeholders meeting held at Hilton on April 10, the association put forward in its presentation where power interruption is causing severe and expensive technical problems among other issues that the basic metal industries are facing. Thereby, the paper proposed as a solution that EEPCo should inform in advance to basic metal industries even when the short power interruptions occurs. Their (EEPCo’s) operation personnel need to recognize this, the paper concludes.

Repeated attempts made by The Reporter to contact officials from EEPCo was unsuccessful.

1 comment:

  1. I had a dream about a dame like this but i was standing on the almost dried up river bed as the water began splashing over the edges and the dame starting to buckle under the stress. finally the walls broke and millions of gallons of water started crashing down at me. Then i woke up.