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.
In addition to being the least cost electrification pathway to address part of the energy access challenge around the world, decentralized/distributed energy solutions have also become a means to support the grid reliability and security dilemma. As opposed to centralized systems, decentralized/distributed energy solutions are also better suited to tackle emergency scenarios such as the case in Tigray given the energy production is local.
Despite the clear potential, Ethiopia's energy policy circle has never been as supportive to decentralized/distributed energy solutions particularly the private sector oriented approaches or interventions, and we have a good case at hand to reflect and make policy corrections.
If they are lucky enough, the only light I envision in Tigray during this difficult time is the solar lanterns in the rural households distributed through prior government initiatives and informal channels. Had the policy environment been supportive enough to decentralized/distributed energy solutions, not just the energy situation but also the overall recovery would have been much better and faster than it is now.
Somehow, this is not a good precedent and the utilities need to take more proactive measures to protect the power infrastructure and strengthen the stability and security of the national grid at large. Beyond that and learning from this terrible experience, the country need to support decentralized/distributed energy solutions particularly encouraging realistic private sector participation in the sector before the next wave of unforeseen emergency surfaces again.