Ethiopia: A Journey from water tower to water power

His Excellency Mesfin Gebremariam Shawo, Consul General of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in Mumbai

Ethiopia has continued developing its immense potential of renewable energy sources such as hydro power, wind, solar energy and geothermal energy. Ethiopia is celebrating the 6th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The anniversary has already been underlined by the renewed vigour of the public and the Government in reaffirming its unreserved support for the largest hydro-electric power project in Africa. It also identified that the key instrument to realize its vision is to expand its energy development strategy. Entire world is looking at it as a milestone in overall development of Ethiopia. The soon-to-be completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which will be the largest hydroelectric power plant and among the largest reservoirs in Africa.

Ethiopia has connected its power grid with Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti and currently exporting 195 MW of electricity to the three neighbouring countries. The potential of the sector has created huge opportunities for the country to export electricity to neighbouring countries and boost regional integration. Ethiopia would be completely transformed country in future to come. Senior journalist Sitaram Mewati in candid talk with H.E Mesfin Gebremariam Shawo, Consul General of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in Mumbai.

What is Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, why is it needed?
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia which is currently under construction. The GERD has become a symbol of Ethiopian nationalism or “renaissance”. The energy resource is a key for overall development of any country. The dam is needed in order to meet the rising demand of electricity and a need of the hour to produce enough energy for betterment of any country.

How big it would be on completion?
When completed, the dam will be the largest- hydroelectric power plant in Africa as well as the seventh largest in the world with capacity of At 6,450 MW. The project involves the construction of a main dam in Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC), with 2 power stations installed at the foot of the dam. The project is completed by a 15,000 m3/s capacity concrete spillway and a rockfill saddle dam 5 km long and 50 m high, both located on the left bank.

Where GERD is located?
GERD is located approximately 750 km north west of the capital Addis Ababa, in the Benishangul – Gumaz region of Ethiopia about 20km (12 mi) east of the border with Sudan along the Blue Nile.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam under construction

What are the sources of power generation?
Ethiopia as a nation is the source of several river basins that are helpful to develop electric power- clean power generation. It generates 89% of its electric energy from hydro power plants and the rest is covered from wind power, geothermal, solar power and diesel. There are also huge potentials of non-renewable energy resources such as natural gas and coal energy in the nation. For instance, the Nile, the longest river in the world, gets about 85 per cent of its waters from the Blue Nile which originates from Ethiopia.

What is the reason for planned increase the power supply?
As the result of economic growth and development, there is a heavy demand for power supply. In this regard, the government planned to provide sufficient and reliable power supply by accelerating and completing the construction of hydroelectric power and other renewable energy projects such as wind, geothermal, solar and biomass.

Will GERD help poverty alleviation?
It is a need of the hour in meeting power demand is quite significant to sustain the current double-digit growth of the country. It would alleviate poverty in a meaningful manner. The GERD will be vital for energy production and a key factor for food production, economic development, and poverty reduction in Ethiopia and the Nile Basin. Hence, Ethiopia has decided to provide lasting solution by developing numerous power projects as much as possible before the demand catches up and hinders smooth flow of development activities.

What is your targeted energy, source of generation of power and time of completion?
The Ethiopian Government, under its latest growth and transformation plan (GTPII -2015/16-2019/20), envision transforming from a developing country to a middle income country by 2025. Ethiopia has a potential to generate over 60,000 MW of electric power from hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal sources. Currently we have approximately 4284 MW (Hydro 3810 MW, Wind 324 MW, Geothermal-7MW & Diesel-143MW) of installed generation capacity and the current GTPII has a target o increase generation of capacity to over 17000MW by 2020.This will help our country to continue its economic growth and enable us to become a regional renewable energy hub in East Africa.

shawo team
His Excellency Mesfin Gebremariam Shawo, CG of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in Mumbai along with his team member Teramed Adane – Third Secretary (Left) and Temesgen Hordofa – Consul & Charged Affair (Right)

The time frame and capacity for power generation is already earmarked. The construction of GERD is expected to generate 6,450 MW. It has reached 58 percent of its production and it has not encountered any obstacles. Moreover, more than 16,000 km high voltage transmission lines have been stretched. The work on this project is going on extensively and speedily. The lines that are under construction will be stretched to reach 27,000 km at the end of GTP II (2015/16-2019/20).

Any plans to export electricity to neighbouring countries?
Yes of course. We intend to export power to seven neighbouring countries after the completion of the GERD. Re cently, we have signed a deal with Tanzania and Kenya for the purchase of 800MWof electric power. The master plan of electricity and energy aims to boost power exports from 223MW a year now to at least 5000 MW. We plan to increase its power exports to Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan and establish grid links to south Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.

We have commenced this proposed project which would generate more than required power. Once the project is completed we would have excess power available with us. We are currently working to export electricity to neighbouring countries which is executed on the basis of the master plan. Around 2,000km line that connects Ethiopia-Kenya-South Sudan-Rwanda. Besides, Ethiopia has connected its power grid with Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti and currently exporting 195 MW of electricity to the three neighbouring countries. The potential of the sector has created huge opportunities for the country to export electricity to neighbouring countries and boost regional integration.

Is investment opportunity available in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia offers a great deal of opportunity for clean energy production which has become vital in the current global environment. It creates a new investment opportunity with high returns. Ethiopia has planned to be one of the middle income countries by 2025. Hence, to achieve this goal, we have focused on industry-led economic development. We also identified that the key instrument to realize our vision is to expand energy development strategy. In the journey from water tower to water power. The increasing demand of power to commensurate economic growth the country has been pursuing necessitates huge investment in the energy sector.

What would be the approximate project cost of GERD? What is the role of local people in developing GERD?
The estimated project cost of GERD is approximately more than four billion and seven hundred million dollars. The people and Government of Ethiopia are funding the project, which will not only serve Ethiopia, but also Sudan and Egypt as well. Ethiopian are considering GERD as a boon for their country. The citizens are evidencing vigorous participation both at home and in the Diaspora. Ethiopians are contributing in kind and buying the Renaissance bond (the security bond the government floated to the public aiming to raise finance for the construction of the project). The citizens are coming in large way to support the project for earlier completion.

Was there any negativity from any quarters in GERD?
It has been six years now, since the construction of (GERD) was launched. Ethiopia has defied challenging political pressure of foreign governments and NGOs that had actively campaigned against the construction of some of hydro power generation dams, including GERD, for unknown reasons. They even succeeded in curtailing foreign financing for the projects. Ethiopia has been decidedly working to overcome foreign pressure and protect the GERD and other similar projects from any difficulty through the contribution of people. The problem was alleviated by the cooperation of the people and the government.