On the continent, Ethiopia has sold the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project as a great success, financed by locals, that will yield a lot of energy for the country.

By Wangechi Kiongo (International Rivers) |

The Nile River is the source of life for about 300 million residents of Africa in 11 different countries. Over the years, many dams have been built along the river, varying in size and capability; most have been small enough not to raise eyebrows and political upheaval (Rania, 2015). The politics around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), however, which is about 70% complete (Zegabi, 2016) and is projected to hold around 70 billion cubic meters of water, have become more complicated.

The Ethiopian government remains firm in its intention to complete this dam. On the continent, Ethiopia has sold the project as a great success, financed by locals, that will yield a lot of energy for the country. The dam is expected to allow Ethiopia to export 200, 500 and 200 MW of power to Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti respectively (Sanyanga et al, 2016); increase access to energy; and benefit both the downstream countries of Sudan and Egypt. However, the silver lining around the growing Ethiopian hydropower cloud is already tainted by myths and misconceptions.

Myth: GERD is a sensible way to solve Ethiopia’s energy problems

Ethiopia generates 99% of its electricity from hydropower (Davis et al. 2013). Such hydropower dependency is risky in the face of an increasingly volatile climate, especially given the projections of decreased rainfall and higher frequency of droughts in East Africa (Williams and Funk 2011). The predicted increase in hydropower variability increases the vulnerability of the national energy system. It would thus be advisable for Ethiopia to diversify its sources of energy, such as into solar and wind, rather than to continue to grow hydropower (Kammen 2015). The average solar radiation in Ethiopia is 5.2 kWh/m2 per day; less than 1% of this renewable resource has been exploited (Power et al, 2009; Derbew, 2013). A market analysis completed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) as part of the Project Development Programme (PDP) East Africa has identified 52 MW of solar PV off-grid market potential in Ethiopia alone (Power et al, 2009).

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