Once the face of poverty and hunger, Ethiopia is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. And with 100 million people, Ethiopia will soon be one of the ten most populous nations on the planet. For the last decade, the country has been experiencing an average annual economic growth rate of 10 percent.
While the skyline of it’s capital, Addis Ababa, is punctuated with cranes and construction, Ethiopia faces critical challenges as it endeavors to elevate the well- being and livelihoods of its majority rural population. About 65 million businesses and Ethiopian households lack access to reliable electricity. All of the major population centers receive electric service, but that amounts to just 23 percent of the total population.
The Vision: 2025
The Government of Ethiopia has a goal to rapidly accelerate access to electricity to the entire population of its country by 2025. While expanding the national power grid is critical and considered the most effective path it is clear that for the rural population, there must also be more effective and aggressive off-grid alternatives.
A team from NRECA International began work in October last year on the Ethiopia National Electrification Strategy. Funded by the World Bank, this strategy will support rural economic growth by expanding access to electricity in Ethiopia’s rural and remote areas. Members of NRECA staff are consulting with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity and other energy-related agencies to develop the strategy for electricity in Ethiopia. We are studying the country’s energy sector and presenting strategic alternatives to improve the efficacy of the ongoing investment program in rural electric infrastructure. The team will build on Ethiopia’s past electrification efforts, including laying the foundation for an extensive rural electric network.
The electrification challenges facing the Government of Ethiopia are many. Specialists lack the basic technology to collect population data and are unable to ensure that the information is shared efficiently. Consequently, efforts to determine the most cost-effective and efficient ways to rapidly increase access to significant numbers of consumers are stymied.
Drawing from NRECA International’s on-the-ground experience and plans formulated in partnership with the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEP), the Ethiopia Electric Utility (EEU), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the team is also assessing the best possible process and methodologies to develop a long- term off-grid renewable system to reach the millions who live in the rural areas of the country.
Through the USAID’s Beyond the Grid Program, the NRECA International team aims to accelerate the provision of off-grid electric service to complement the government’s planned grid expansion program. Ultimately, this program envisions a nationwide effort to electrify the country’s rural areas using primarily off-grid renewable resources. This speaks to the focus of our international program: ensuring reliable and affordable access to electricity. NRECA International proposes to design, procure and construct solar-diesel hybrid power generation systems to provide reliable energy service to various rural homes and businesses in the country. This flagship project will demonstrate the fuel saving potential of these systems that draw power from the region’s abundant sunlight.
Bringing Opportunities: The Smaller Picture
We continue to march forward with the Government of Ethiopia to assist it in reaching its challenging energy goals. Our team is committed to help identify the gaps in their current energy framework and offer solutions to overcome them.
The contrast between two rural households, one with electricity and one without is stark. In the evening, the household with electricity is stirring with activity. Children are reading, their mother is busy sewing the fabrics she will sell at the market and their grandparents are listening to a public health announcement on the radio. In contrast, the kerosene lantern in the household without electricity emits a dull light that is inadequate for reading or precision manual work such as sewing. Also, it’s too dark and too unsafe to venture outside and the family retires early after a fairly unproductive evening.
The gift of power for the millions of people living in the region can mean enhanced food security and agricultural productivity, access to clean water, higher incomes, better education opportunities and improved health outcomes.
Sadly, living in darkness is all too common. Around the world, more than 1 billion people—roughly the population of India—are still living without access to electricity, unable to reap the many life benefits that it brings.
The NRECA International Foundation believes that access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is vital to ending extreme poverty, promoting shared prosperity, achieving improved educational results and attaining better health outcomes. Power is about more than just lights.