Generating power to transform Ethiopia

When completed, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will eventually generate 6000MW of electricity.


The basis of any country’s economic prospects is energy. Does it have adequate power supplies to fuel growth?

In the case of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, no effort is being spared to slash the current electricity deficit and ensure a surplus that will sustain investment and domestic consumer demand long into the future. The present 2000MW supply does not reflect the vast bounty available.  Only 35% of the population has access to grid power.

In the government’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), there is a high emphasis on hydropower resource development, but with an eye also on renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal given their cost competitiveness.

Power generation improved by around 230% between 2008 and 2012, with six hydroelectric and wind power projects coming online. These were Tekeze (2009, hydroelectric, 300 MW), Gibe II (2010, hydroelectric, 420 MW), Tana Beles (2010, hydroelectric, 460 MW), Amerti Nesha (2011, hydroelectric, 97 MW), Ashegoda (2012, wind, 30 MW), and Adama I (2012, wind, 51 MW).

It cannot be repeated enough, but Ethiopia has enormous potential for hydro-power and geothermal energy generation. This is crucial for industrialization of the country.  Several studies have so far been carried out to estimate Ethiopia’s potential and to develop short, medium and long-term investment plans for the power sector. The government is in the process of implementation.

According to the five-year GTP, the country’s installed electricity generating capacity is expected to reach 10,000MW 2014/15 financial year. By this time, electricity coverage is expected to reach 75%.

The centerpiece today is the $4.7 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which is being paid for by Ethiopians themselves. Formerly known as the Millennium Dam, it is being constructed in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, on the Blue Nile River, about 40km east of Sudan. The project is owned by Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) and ultimately will deliver 6000MW.

GERD is expected to be completed by July 2017 and will not only serve Ethiopia, but Sudan and Egypt as well. Both countries depend on the Nile River for their water although 85% of the river flows in Ethiopia.

The dam’s construction is expected to create up to 12,000 jobs. Approximately 20,000 people will be resettled during the course of the project.

The reservoir and dam will offer major benefits to Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. Egypt has for a long time held the major ownership of the water from the Nile River and prevented Ethiopia from constructing a dam. Egypt depends on the Nile for 90% of its water needs.

The main and saddle dams will also create reservoirs with an impounding capacity of 74 billion cubic metres. The regulated flow of water from the dam will improve agriculture and the impact from evaporation of water from the dam will be minimal compared with other dams in Ethiopia, which will help in water conservation.

A tripartite committee was formed in January 2012 to promote understanding and look into the benefits and impacts the project would have on the three countries.

Abundance of water resources, means that Ethiopia will become the top regional power distributor within the next the 15 years or so.

Potential hydro-power generation is estimated at 45,000MW while geothermal sources will add another 5000MW. The country is also suitable for exploiting renewable alternatives like solar and wind, particularly in the rural areas.

Closely associated with electricity, is the need to guarantee safe water supplies.

Ethiopia has huge run-off and ground water potential. However, it currently utilizes only a small portion.

Access to safe potable water in urban areas was 81.3% in 2012/13. Access in the rural areas was about 66.5%  during the safe period. The overall average of access to potable water supply was 68.45% in 2013/13.

A huge project deemed to satisfy safe water demand in the towns and rural areas was launched by the country’s first five year development plan. Accordingly, the national access to potable water supply is expected to be 98% by the end of 2014/15.