Ethiopia’s Green Energy Revolution: How the Country Plans to Power Up with Renewables

How the country plans to become a regional leader in green energy development and peacebuilding

by Motoni Olodun

Ethiopia is home to abundant renewable energy sources, including hydroelectric, wind, solar, and geothermal. With the potential to generate over 60,000 megawatts (MW) of electric power from these sources, the country is striving to become a regional leader in green energy.

The country has set an ambitious target to supply 100% of its domestic energy demand through renewable energy by 2030. To achieve this, the government is investing in various renewable energy projects, such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), wind farms, and geothermal plants. These projects are expected to improve energy security, support economic growth, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the development of some of these projects, especially the GERD, has sparked controversy and tension with neighboring countries, such as Egypt and Sudan, who fear the impact of the dam on their water resources and livelihoods. The dispute over the Nile waters has been a source of diplomatic friction for decades and has recently escalated into a threat of military confrontation.

The GERD, which is located near the border with Sudan, is the largest hydroelectric project in Africa, with a projected capacity of 5,150 MW. The construction of the dam began in 2011 and is expected to be completed by 2023. The government says the dam will provide electricity to more than 65 million Ethiopians who currently lack access, and will also enable the country to export power to neighboring countries and generate revenue.

The dam is also seen as a symbol of national pride and sovereignty, as it is being built with domestic resources and without external funding. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has called the project a “matter of life and death” for his country and has vowed to defend it from any foreign interference.

However, Egypt and Sudan, which rely on the Nile for most of their water needs, have expressed their concerns over the dam’s potential to reduce the river’s flow and affect their agriculture, fisheries, and hydropower sectors. They have demanded that Ethiopia reach a legally binding agreement with them on the filling and operation of the dam, and have sought the intervention of the African Union, the United Nations, and other international actors to mediate the dispute.

Ethiopia, on the other hand, has argued that the dam will not significantly harm the downstream countries, and has insisted on its right to use its natural resources for its development. It has also rejected any binding agreement that would limit its future water use or infringe on its sovereignty. It has accused Egypt and Sudan of trying to maintain a colonial-era status quo that gives them the lion’s share of the Nile waters.

While the negotiations have been ongoing for years, they have failed to produce a breakthrough or ease the tensions. The situation worsened in 2020 when Ethiopia began filling the dam’s reservoir without the consent of Egypt and Sudan. The move triggered a diplomatic crisis and a war of words, with both sides accusing each other of escalating the conflict and violating international law.

The risk of a military confrontation remains high, as both Egypt and Sudan have warned that they will take all necessary measures to protect their interests and security. Ethiopia, meanwhile, has said that it will not succumb to any threats or pressure, and has urged the downstream countries to resume the talks and seek a peaceful solution.

The Nile dispute is not the only challenge that Ethiopia faces in its quest to harness its renewable energy potential. The country also has to overcome the technical, financial, and environmental barriers that hinder the development of its other green energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

Ethiopia has the potential to generate more than 10,000 MW of wind power and has already installed several wind farms in different regions. The largest one is the Ashegoda wind farm, which has a capacity of 120 MW and was inaugurated in 2013. The country also plans to build more wind projects, such as the Aysha wind farm, which will have a capacity of 300 MW and is expected to be completed by 2025.

Solar energy is another promising source for Ethiopia, as the country receives an average of 5.5 kilowatt-hours of solar radiation per square meter per day. The country has the potential to generate more than 5,000 MW of solar power and has already installed some solar plants and mini-grids in rural areas. The largest solar plant is the Metehara Solar Park, which has a capacity of 100 MW and was commissioned in 2019. The country also aims to increase its solar capacity to 300 MW by 2025.

Geothermal energy is another renewable source that Ethiopia is exploring, as the country lies on the East African Rift System, which has a high geothermal potential. The country has the potential to generate more than 10,000 MW of geothermal power and has already drilled some wells and built some pilot plants. The most advanced geothermal project is the Aluto Langano geothermal plant, which has a capacity of 7.3 MW and was upgraded in 2018. The country also plans to develop more geothermal projects, such as the Corbetti and Tulu Moye geothermal plants, which will have a combined capacity of 1,000 MW and are expected to be operational by 2025.

While these renewable energy projects are expected to boost Ethiopia’s green energy capacity and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, they also face some challenges and drawbacks. Some of these include the high upfront costs, the lack of adequate infrastructure and transmission lines, the intermittency and variability of renewable sources, the environmental and social impacts of the projects, and the regulatory and institutional barriers that affect the sector.

Therefore, Ethiopia needs to address these challenges and balance its interests and obligations to achieve its renewable energy goals and aspirations. The country also needs to engage in constructive dialogue and cooperation with its neighbors and partners to resolve the Nile dispute and ensure the equitable and sustainable use of the shared water resources. By doing so, Ethiopia can become a regional leader and a global example in green energy development and peacebuilding.

Source: EVWind

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