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Occasional  Paper 28: Towards a Sustainable Power Sector in Ethiopia: The Potential Contribution of Renewables 

A Publication of AFREPREN/FWD and HBF – HA Initiative on

Renewables in Eastern and Horn of Africa

 Sponsored by



Workeneh Gashie

Executive Summary

Ethiopia has immense potential of renewable and non-renewable energy resources. The exploitable reserve potential of renewable resources such as biomass, solar, wind and geothermal energies is estimated to be 1,383, 7,432, 901 and 12 thousand of TJ respectively. The non-renewable exploitable potential resources such as coal and natural gas is estimated to be about 13.7 million tons and 160 billion m3, respectively. However, except biomass, which has been over-exploited for several years in its traditional form, most of the country energy resources have not been adequately assessed and have not yet been tapped.

This study was designed to propose elements that could contribute towards the development of alternative and more sustainable national energy sector in Ethiopia by assessing the current power and rural energy plans and the potential contribution of selected renewable energies such as geothermal, cogeneration, wind generators and solar water heaters to the country’s energy plan. To achieve this objective, data was gathered using a base line survey and desk review of documents. The base line survey was employed to assess the dissemination of small-scale renewable energy technologies and energy supply and consumption in the country. The document desk review examined the current power and rural energy plans in Ethiopia and the potential contribution of renewable energy to Ethiopia’s power and rural energy sub-sectors.

Excluding human and animal energy, the source of energy supply of Ethiopia can be categorized into traditional and modern energy sources. Traditional energy supply is dominated by biomass which consists of fuel wood, agriculture residue, charcoal and cattle and accounts for about 94.71% of the total energy supply wherein fuel wood is the dominant source of supply. The sources of modern energy supply are petroleum and electricity, and the former accounts for 87% of Ethiopia’s modern energy consumption. Electricity accounts for the remaining 13% of which large hydro covers about 97.8% of electricity supply. The country’s energy consumption is also dominated by biomass, which accounts for about 96.28% while the share of petroleum and electricity is 3.32% and 0.41%, respectively. The major energy consumer of the country is the household sector constituting about 93.53% of the total national energy consumption.

Electric power supply in Ethiopia is carried out by Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) through both self contained and interconnected systems with a total annual electricity supply of 2,316.4 GWh of which hydro plants account for about 2279.1 GWh. The existing transmission system comprises of 107 substations and 7,528 km transmission lines. At present, the existing customer is estimated to be about 800,000. With a population estimated at about 75 million, this figure indicates that the electricity coverage of the country is very low.

To overcome these acute power generating and supply systems related problems of the country, and also to meet power needed for development activities, especially for the industrial sector, the Government of Ethiopia has designed a five year power sector plan spanning the period 2005/06 to 2009/10. The Plan aims at adding 2,093 MW to the existing power supply mainly through large-scale hydropower plants. In the power generating plan, alternative resources such as coal and wind power are expected to account for 100 MW and 60 MW, respectively.

New transmission lines that cover 136,320 km are also designed to supply electricity to 6,000 rural villages and towns which are expected to serve 2,600,000 new customers. In general, the target of the Plan is to increase the electric access coverage of the country from 13% to 50% as well as keeping distribution balance among the Regional States. To strengthen its national electricity distribution system, there is plan to upgrade the current medium 15 Kv voltage levels for substation to a higher 33 Kv level. In power generation, the Plan has not incorporated solar resource because of the high cost of solar equipment used to collect and concentrate solar energy for power generation.

Different studies indicate that Ethiopia is endowed with substantial renewable energy resources. Hydropower resources suitable for small-scale hydropower includes pico/micro estimated to be about 26 to 38 times the existing power supply of the country. The solar potential of the country is also massive and can satisfy the future energy supply need of the country for several years. The identified geothermal potential that can be used to generate electric power is estimated to be about 700 MW to 3,000 MW, which is again much larger than the existing power supply of the country. Assessments carried out in four sugar factories of the country indicated that electric energy generated by cogeneration can be exported to the national grid or isolated grids in addition to meeting sugar factory power and heat requirements. However, due to shortage of finance, policy issues, lack of awareness of renewable energy users and developers, inadequacy of energy institutions and other related barriers, renewable energy resources of the country have not been used to fuel socio-economic development of the nation. As a result, rural Ethiopians, which account for about 85% of the total population of the country lack modern energy services. At present, access to electricity in rural areas is below 1%.

Rural energy plans in Ethiopia are formulated by the Ethiopian Rural Energy Development and Promotion Center (EREDPC) with the collaboration of regional state energy sector institutions. For several years, both EREDPC and the Regional States energy sector institutions have been weak in capacity in terms of trained and skilled human resource, finance, equipments and logistics and hence they could not be able to institute systematic and rigorous approaches in planning, selection and evaluation of rural energy programs and projects. As a result, activities carried out with regard to rural energy have been insignificant.

The major interventions that have been realized include the development and dissemination of improved stoves known as Lakech charcoal and Mirt Injera baking stoves. In the current five years strategic plan, EREDPC has designed comprehensive plan which includes:

  • a rural electrification program,

  • establishment of a gasification technology and coal cottage industry,

  • production and dissemination of improved kilns,

  • installation of wind pumps, solar cooker dissemination, plantation of bio-diesel plants,

  • adaptation of bio-diesel technology and

  • PV assembling technology plants.

However, development and dissemination of solar water heaters and solar driers have not been incorporated in the current plan. The main strategy employed to achieve the desired plan is building the capacity of energy institutions found at all levels and stimulate private sectors to be involved in the production and dissemination of efficient energy technologies.   

In order to overcome the major problems associated with electric power and rural energy planning and development, the author proposes the following recommendations to policy makers, among other stakeholders:

  • Need to establish strong and capable energy institutions

  • Providing attractive duty tax and other incentives to support renewable energy technologies development

  • Need to incorporate solar energy in power sector and rural planning

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