The full-scale impact of the conflict in Tigray is yet to be uncovered. However, it gets concerning for every sensible individual as time goes by. My only hope is that we all reach out to those at risk of starvation and health related emergencies to control and minimize the humanitarian damage.
Among others, this conflict clearly exposes the often lightly-discussed topic: Energy Security not just in Tigray but throughout the country more so in the urban centers. Leaving who takes responsibility to history, I cannot imagine staying in the dark for a quarter of a year after being fully dependent on grid power for almost every livelihood activity. During this testing time in Tigray, in most instances, no power directly translates to no water, no cooking, no grinding mills, no communication, no medication, no public services and many other basic needs. Worse, probably no kerosene or diesel fuel alternatives either due to the transport access limitation. Apparently, no basic light in towns even the dirty one throughout until the utility restored the grid supply. As I write this note, Humera and Welkait areas remain in the dark, and the utility just announced restoring the grid supply to Axum, Shire and the neighboring towns well behind Mekele areas.
As someone who has been working in the transmission, distribution and substation infrastructures, I am equally concerned to the safety and hardship the utility personnels and men in uniform have to go through to bring the badly needed power supply in such a dramatic speed.
After being resistive for energy security calls, Ethiopia realized the vulnerability of its hydro dependent grid when faced with climate induced droughts (happening every now and then), and there has been a relative policy changes to diversify the energy mix through complementary investments of geothermal, wind and solar resources. Yet, the current situation in Tigray is another indicator that the energy security is still at stake and it is in the country's best interest to reform the energy sector further; Putting decentralized/distributed energy solutions at the core.
With an electricity access deficit of close to 60 million people, Ethiopia seems determined in its effort of electrifying the whole nation by 2025. The National Electrification Program is in its third year implementation deploying all available access pathways.
The government plans to reach 65% and 35% of the population through on grid and off grid access pathways respectively leveraging a combination of both public and private sector business models. Despite the good intention of engaging the private sector, it has been systematically impossible for the private sector to invest in the energy sector. Following the enactment of the public private partnership proclamation in 2018, there has been a good deal of interest from the private sector to invest in the utility scale solar and geothermal energy areas. In addition to limited finance, private sector investment has been effectively constrained due to the regulatory environment in the off-grid sector, however.
Although private sector players are active in East Africa region powering communities, facilities and households, Ethiopians were allowed to wait for far too long. After many years of spending public money in the energy sector, the government realized that electrifying Ethiopia only through public money is far from achievable. Yet, the whole intention of allowing the private sector to invest in the small-scale off-grid energy access is still dragging its foot.
Left with a decade to meet SDG 7 goals, the current pace of electrification through to the last mile is far from sufficient. The world has to do better.
Among the SDG 7 targets, achieving universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy services (Target 7.1) is the one that has the most profound implication for Ethiopia having only 45% and less than 5% access to electricity and cooking services respectively.
SDG 7: Target 7.2 calls for substantial increase of the share of renewable energy in the energy mix. The most predictable positive development in Ethiopian Energy system is the fact that almost all grid supply (except backups) comes from renewable sources. Many key projects from multiple sources are under development to minimize the current hydro dependency. There are also interests and signals to shift the transportation and industrial use to electric sources albeit at early stages.
SDG 7: Target 7.3 calls for energy efficiency improvement. For Ethiopia, although the energy intensity (units of energy per unit of GDP) slightly declines over the years reaching 9.7(MJ/USD 2011 PPP) in 2017, it still needs a significant improvement even to hit the global average of 5.0 the same year. In my view, the historically low electricity tariff in the country has played a significant role for the inaction or lower efficiency performance.
The report provides policy recommendations based on best practices as identified by national authorities and the international community as insights to emulate.
In reference to the best practice insights provided, based on the publicly available rate of access and informed by the country practice, this article will shade some light on the Ethiopia case as a matter of bringing the topic to the larger public attention. Hoping it would drive further discussion and action. Given the significance, this review will focus only on target 7.1. You are advised to read the full report for a complete picture of the progress of all the energy targets.
Before you continue reading this article, you are, again, advised to quickly go through part I of this series to understand the overall background.
There has never been a time electricity has indeed become essential service to our survival than today. Yes, it has been proved and called upon again and again that modern energy service in all its forms is fundamental to societies’ social, economic and environmental progress. In the face of COVID-19, it has even become more essential to our survival.
Now, we are in an urgent call to sideline policies, regulations, directives and working procedures to ensure hospitals, clinics, health centers and medical storage facilities are powered with the available energy sources. Most of the rural health centers in Ethiopia are either powered by off-grid power sources or not powered at all. That means, there is a strong chance that they receive unreliable power supply during the night or not having any power supply at all. Backup generators are key.
It is time to enhance cooperation in mobilizing available Diesel generators in government, NGO and business offices in the urban centers and where there is a relative grid access, and the government taking the responsibility of refueling, mapping locations, transporting and onsite installations. If some can forgo house rents, salaries, building facilities and homes why not generators in our backyards, doing nothing now any way.