Potential of Solar Power in the land of 13 months of Sunshine: Ethiopia

Ethiopian Electric Power CEO - Eng. Azeb Asnake and Andenet Alemu - PhD at US ‪Ethiopia Business and Investment Summit Aug. 2014

With Ethiopian Electric Power CEO – Eng. Azeb Asnake at US -Ethiopia Business and Investment Summit, Houston, Texas, August 2014

Solar electric power technology also known as photovoltaics is a God sent to a country like Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a fast-developing country of 100 million people, 2nd most populous country in Africa, with ever increasing energy needs. Interestingly, the country has developed ambitious plans and projects centered around hydroelectric dam development, including the much talked-about Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Africa’s biggest wind power installation, several planned geothermal power stations and, to a lesser extent, solar energy. Most of these infrastructures represent utility scale projects with centralized power production. They are expected to generate much needed foreign exchange through the sale of electric power to neighboring countries, in turn accelerating the development of the Ethiopian economy and increasing even further the need for more energy. Power hungry economic projects such as the newly developed industrial zones, mines and other similar industries and projects such as the newly-built electrified railways are expected to benefit from the increase in supply of electric power.

What is not clear is how these projects will increase the supply of electric power to the Ethiopian households, whether inside cities, where the limitation is more on the power distribution side rather than on the power generation side, or outside cities, where an off-grid solution is more adapted. In this regard, solar electricity is perfectly matched to the realities on the ground since solar electric solutions can be scaled to virtually any size, from few kW household levels to several hundred-megawatt utility scale plants.

Science seem to have firmly established that drought conditions experienced in that part of the world are directly related to the El-Nino weather condition in the Pacific Ocean resulting from increased global atmospheric emissions caused by the worldwide industrialization drive of the past 150 years. The increasing frequency and intensity of such devastating weather condition and its predicted future catastrophic consequence impose an imperative on sustainability of future energy sources. This is exactly why Ethiopia has been at the forefront of countries advocating for global consensus to address an issue so detrimental to its own survival.

Thankfully, solar energy, which is widely seen as the main antidote for the cause of climate change, is starting to boom around the world. This is more so in developed countries that have friendly solar regulations such as the ability of sending back excess power to the grid and getting paid for it. Ethiopia doesn’t yet have such feed-in-tariff or net metering schemes which would be ideal for city based residential solar installations. With energy storage solutions becoming cheaper, solar-plus-storage, which is ideal for off-grid locations, will soon be highly competitive. Even without storage, solar solutions can already be deployed for use in agriculture (i.e. solar powered water pumps for irrigation), health centers, schools etc. as primary or secondary energy sources that could drastically reduce foreign exchange expenses on fuel imports used in diesel generators and improve the livelihood of the general population.

Ethiopia needs a well thought, visionary solar policy. With the right investment, it can completely transform the country’s energy infrastructure just as cell phones did in the telecommunication sector. Nevertheless, all solar panels, the central part of a photovoltaic solar electricity generating system, are not created equal. The performance, quality and reliability of the product will be deciding factors on whether a given solar installation will live up to expectation. Trusted independent expert council will be key in assessing, recommending or overviewing the selection of approved photovoltaic products or screening international solar project bidders. Ideally, a country like Ethiopia, which has a lot to gain from the widespread adoption of solar electricity, will be able to establish its own Photovoltaic Research and Technology Center to support home-based solar panel manufacturing plants that output products of the highest standard.

Andenet Alemu, PhD

Senior Solar Consultant, PMax Solar Inc.

Contact: info@pmaxsolar.com