Ethiopia off the Grid

It is normal for the family of Fikerte Negash, who lives in Akaki Qality District at a condominium site locally named Gelan, to have electricity cut off every other day. When the power goes off, it can stay this way from half a day to the extent of leaving the family in the dark for three to five consecutive days.

This has made things difficult for the family who need the electric power for several activities including to watch TV, to cook, to preserve perishable foods in the refrigerator and of course to get light during the night time.

“The others can be a luxury, but the refrigerator is a must,” said Fikerte, a housewife with three kids, asserting that she needs to put perishable items in the freezer, especially meals for her children.

Living in a two-bedroom condo, she moved to her current house two years ago after getting it in a raffle, leaving her former residential area at Lem Hotel, off Haile Gebrselassie Avenue, where she lived for four years as a tenant.

“The problem has been recurring ever since we moved here,” Fikerte, who is one of 2.3 million Ethiopian Electric Utility (EEU) customers in the country, told Fortune.

Even if they apply for maintenance, they are getting an interim solution which does not last for long; rather the problem recurs after one or two days.

This is happening in a country which is generating a total of 4,238Mw from 13 hydro, six diesel, one geothermal and three wind farms. And one that has a per capita electric energy generation of 112.61KW an hour up from 75KW an hour in 2012.

The amount of electric power the country generated in 2013 was 2,268MW.

Even if the country can manage to increase its electric power generating capacity, it still has a gap in meeting the demand of many people, including the 60-year-old retired teacher, Alemayehu Assefa.

Because of the under voltage electric power coming to his house, Alemayehu claims that his family cannot use stoves and baking ovens.

“Our smart meter always automatically turns off, as the power it gets is below the standard,” said Alemayehu.

This is not the only challenge for Alemayehu, who resides in Nifas Silk District Wereda 01, locally named Gabriel Mazoriaya, for the past five decades, but also continuous power outage is an addition.

“Only being capable of giving light, it, furthermore, goes off at least once a day and stays off for up to three consecutive hours,” said Alemayehu.

Since the beginning of this summer season, the problem has become more critical. And it is not a challenge only for residents in Addis, but also in regional states, including Tigray, Oromia and Amhara. Amarech Derse, a resident in Adama, 100km southeast of Addis, is one such person, who faces three to four-day blackouts.

“We are very challenged to get our mobile phones charged,” she said. “Now we have almost transformed to using traditional ways of energy sources.”

She asserted that they are using kerosene and stoves with charcoal and they bake Injera with a wood-burning stove. For the residents of Adama, about four megawatt of electricity is distributed, but still, the residents complain about the continuous power outage and a shortage of electricity.

But this is not acceptable for the power generator and supplier wing, the Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) that was formed after the split of the former Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) into EEP and the Ethiopian Electric Utility (EEU), for a better management of the energy sector. The former is mandated with the task of network construction and generating energy, while the latter is responsible for distributing generated power and selling electricity to users.

“During the peak hour, the maximum power usage at the national level is only 2,000MW, which is less by half from the supply,” said Mekuriya Lemma, head of strategy and investment at EEP.

On top of his comment, the country exports electric power to Kenya, Djibouti and Sudan. In 2011, the country exported 331GWh of electrical energy to Kenya and Djibouti, but this number almost doubled to 700GWh in the year of 2016, exporting power to the two nations and Sudan.

EEP has a one-generation system; the Inter Connected System (ICS), the main grid system. Out of the total electric power, 89.6pc of it is generated from hydroelectric power.

To transmit this power, EEP has 163 transmission substations, increasing from 125 five years ago.

Therefore officials from EEP claim that the problem does not have an attachment with power supply, rather an issue with distribution lines.

Old and poorly maintained distribution lines and transformers, overloads and load imbalances in the distribution transformer lines, fuse boxes, and low quality of power cables are the major factors for the recurrent power outage, according to Tigabu Atalo, an electrical engineer and power and energy consultant with over a decade of experience in the power sector including in the former EEPCO.

As a result, the complaint from electric power subscribers keeps recurring. To make it worse, the demand for electricity is picking up as the population of the country is expanding by 2.5pc in average annual growth and 310 new investments have been joining the sector annually over the past five years. Both are pushing factors for the surge in electric power demand.

“Unless Ethiopia addresses the current poor situation in the distribution sector, all the investment talks will be lip service,” said Tigabu.

The major contributor to the rise in demand of the electric power is the development of industrial parks. Four industrial parks are already built, and 11 are in the pipeline.

These industrial parks according to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn need a total of about 4,000MW of electric power.

“The industrial parks need electric power equivalent to what the country is currently generating,” said Hailemariam while addressing the Parliament one and a half months ago.

But this is not a concern for EEP, according to Mekuria, who believes the country is generating power driven by the demand.

“We always make sure that the supply does not exceed the demand, as this pattern is too costly,” said Mekuriya.

The country has a potential of generating 45,000MW from hydropower, 1.3 million megawatts from wind and 10,000MW from geothermal power.

“It would be unwise if we generate all the power need to the industrial parks now,” said Mekuriya. “It costs us 0.6 Br for a kilowatt if we don’t utilise the generated power.”

While forecasting the demand of power in the country, EEP benchmarks two things – the existing demand and the expansion of industries, and calculating the annual demand to know the actual demand, according to Mekuriya.

As the nearest hope, Genale Dawa III Dam, which generates 258MW, is expected to start supplying power to the national grid starting from next year. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with 6,000MW generating power has progressed half way.

But as a sustainable solution for power outage and accessibility, EEU in its turn has commissioned a new study which includes restructuring the institution.

“The study also focuses on upgrading power distribution stations to distribution centres depending on the demand in 14 towns including Addis Abeba,” said Gossaye Mengiste, CEO of EEU.

During the just-ended fiscal year, the Utility built 12 more districts in the country, pushing the total number of districts to 412.

EEU is also building a technologically advanced centre at the cost of 60 million Br. The Centre will monitor the entire activities of the service provider stations across the country.

It is expected to be finalised and will launch service in the coming Ethiopian New Year, according to Gossaye.

But as a long-term solution according to Tigabu, EEP needs to upgrade the capacity of the substations so that what is produced can be delivered. A lot is going on but is slow, late or not sufficient. He further suggested that EEU also needs to expand the distribution network, and rehabilitate all the old ones; it also has to be proactive to do the maintenance before a complete shutdown happens.

“The Utility needs strong support from the government technically and financially as it is not in a position to cover its own expenses including maintenance from the revenue it is collecting, let alone to make future investments,” said Tigabu.

Considering electric power is a binding constraint in the industrial sector, the government established a separate directorate under the Industrial Park Development Corporation (IPDC). On top of that, the industrial parks will have their own industrial power managers.

As an immediate solution on their side, small households like Fikerte’s are using their own means to get energy including using renewable energy sources such as solar power to get light and to recharge their mobile phones, but still, she hopes things will change in the course of time.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.