Friday July 11th 2014

Insight Areas

Renewable Energy Potential in Ethiopia



Total installed electricity capacity (2008): 929 MW

  • Hydro-electric: 84.36%
  • Conventional thermal: 14.85%
  • Geothermal: 0.79%

Total primary energy supply (2009): 32,678 ktoe

  • Biofuels and Waste: 92.0%
  • Petroleum Products: 7.1%
  • Hydro-electric: 0.9%

Ethiopia relies heavily on a limited set of renewable energy resources to meet its requirements: principally biomass for thermal energy in the residential and commercial sector and large hydropower for electricity. It has yet to develop its other renewable and non-renewable resources in significant scale.

One of the defining characteristics of the energy sector in Ethiopia is its overwhelming dependence on biomass energy. Biomass energy, consisting of wood, charcoal and agricultural residues, provides 92% of the total final energy consumed. The main uses for biomass energy are for residential and commercial cooking. Biomass residues are also used in the sugar and tea industries. More recently, liquid bioenergy in the form of ethanol has started to be used as a gasoline (E10) in Addis Ababa. Per capita consumption of bioenergy in Ethiopia is about 1 tonne; annual consumption of biomass energy exceeds 80 million tonnes.


Ethiopia does not produce fossil fuels and imports all its requirements. The annual import of fossil fuels now stands at 2 million tons.

There has been some exploration for oil, but no commercial deposits have yet been found.


Demand for energy is growing rapidly in Ethiopia. Electricity consumption on the national grid has grown at more than 12% annually, petroleum consumption at 11% and biomass at 6%. Access to sustainable and improved energy services are, however, still very low with only 41% of the population having access to grid electricity. Per capita electricity consumption is only 35kWh and per-capita consumption of petroleum fuels is 23kg. These figures compare unfavourably even to Sub-Saharan Africa levels.

The national power utility maintains two different power supply systems: the inter-connected system (ICS) and the self-contained system (SCS).  The ICS is the national grid, and uses power sourced from hydroelectric, geothermal and diesel plants.  The SCS consists of mini-hydropower plants and isolated diesel generators spread across the country.


Ethiopia relies principally on biomass for thermal energy in the residential and commercial sector meaning about 200,000 ha of forest cover is lost annually because of the population’s need for firewood. With it, about two billion square meters of soil is lost annually due to erosion. Farm yield potential is therefore reduced by 2% every year. This is fatal for such a poor country, which is still not able to cover its own food demand.

If Ethiopia carries out its current energy development plans, the country will soon be more than 95% dependent on hydropower. Extreme hydropower dependence leaves Ethiopia’s power sector vulnerable to drought, an increasingly risky scenario due to climate change. Falling reservoir levels will affect Ethiopian electricity consumers and export revenues.


For Ethiopia as a whole, the yearly average daily radiation is 5.26 kWh/m2. This varies significantly during the year, ranging from a minimum of 4.55 kWh/m2 in July to a maximum of 5.55 kWh/m2 in February and March. On a regional basis, the yearly average radiation ranges from values as low as 4.25 kWh/m2 in the areas of Itang in the Gambella regional state (western Ethiopia), to as high as 6.25 kWh/m2 around Adigrat in the Tigray regional state (northern Ethiopia).

Current uses of solar energy are for off-grid rural applications in homes, rural telecoms and in the social sectors (water pumping, health services, schools). Solar energy is also becoming an important alternative to water heating in the major cities. The current total installed photovoltaic power in Ethiopia is about 3.5MW, three-quarters installed in telecom stations (mostly in mobile towers but also in other stations). Solar water-heating installations are in a thousand or so units in Addis Ababa and the major cities.

Ethiopia also has exploitable reserve of 10,000 MW of wind energy, with an average speed of 3.5 – 5.5 m/s, 6 hours/day. Small towns, villages, farms and other scattered loads in remote areas provide ideal situations in which electricity generation from wind is convenient compared to conventional diesel generation or grid connection. The available information identifies two basic zones with homogeneous periodicity separated by the rift valley. In the first of these, covering most of the highland plateaus, there are two well-defined wind speed maximals occurring, respectively, between March and May and between September and November, according to location. In the second zone, covering most of the Ogaden and the eastern lowlands, average wind velocity reaches maximum values between May and August.

Wind-power generation is now considered a viable supplement to hydropower on the national grid and two wind farms are now under development in the north and central parts of Ethiopia, with combined capacity of about 170MW. There are plans to develop six more wind farms, with total capacity of 700MW.

Bioenergy uses in Ethiopia are generally not sustainable: according to a recent study, in more than two-thirds of districts bioenergy uses surpass sustainable yields. Bioenergy contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, due to deforestation and non-renewable use of biomass, in addition to other local environmental problems it creates. There is significant potential to diversify bioenergy sources into liquid biofuels and energy recovery from urban domestic and industrial waste. The export of biofuel could be an important source of foreign currency for Ethiopia, where there is currently no significant fossil fuel production.

Ethiopia has geothermal power potential estimated to range from 700 to 5000MW. One small geothermal plant (7MW) was developed in the mid-1990s but has ceased production after a few years. The current power system expansion plan indicates that a 70MW geothermal plant will come online by 2015.

Up to 90% of the electrical energy produced in the country comes from hydropower plants. The reasons for this are found in the climatic and geographic conditions of the country: Ethiopia has a comparatively mild and rainy climate, and the presence of the Blue Nile is a major contributor to the country’s water resource.

With an estimated 159,300 GWh/year of unexploited potential, hydropower is the most economically viable energy resource for Ethiopia, but only 5% of the available potential is utilized. The government has now made considerable commitment to accelerate the development of hydropower resources with the view to increase output to 40GW (or about a quarter of the total potential available) by 2015 to 2020.   Hydropower plants in Ethiopia are large and getting larger; projects now under construction include two hydropower plans with capacities of 1800MW and 5200MW. There are fewer than 50 micro hydropower plants in Ethiopia, with combined generating capacity below 10MW.


The electricity losses through transmission and distribution in Ethiopia are around 20%, which is much higher than the international average of 12-13%. Most of the loss happens during distribution from the national grid to end users. The World Bank is financing projects to promote efficiency and the automation of distribution.

Low energy consumption and the use of renewable energy are important indicators for an environment-friendly and sustainable energy supply. A major problem is that biomass, which covers the majority of Ethiopia’s primary energy demand, is used in a very inefficient way, leading to deforestation and further environmental problems like soil erosion. Hence, the lack of access to modern energy services leads to traditional biomass use, and biomass use in turn leads to unsustainable environmental harm.

Excerpt from Country Energy Profile of Ethiopia on

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