Africa's biggest wind farm has begun production in Ethiopia, aiding efforts to diversify electricity generation from hydropower plants and help the country become a major regional exporter of energy
Africa's second most populous country, plagued by frequent blackouts, plans to boost generating capacity from 2,000 MW to 10,000 MW within the next three to five years.
Much of the increase would come from the 6,000 MW Grand Renaissance Dam under construction on the Nile. Experts put Ethiopia's hydropower potential at around 45,000 MW and geothermal at 5,000 MW, while its wind power potential is believed to be Africa's third-largest behind Egypt and Morocco.
The US $290 million Ashegoda Wind Farm was built by French firm Vergnet SA with concessional loans from BNP Paribas and the French Development Agency (AFD). The Ethiopian government covered 9 percent of the cost.
"Various studies have proved that there is potential to harness abundant wind energy resources in every region of Ethiopia. We cannot maintain growth without utilizing the energy sector," Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said in a speech at the launch.
The 84-turbine farm — straddling a sprawling field of grassland dotted by stone-brick hamlets more than 780km north of the capital Addis Ababa — is part of a plan to mitigate the impact of dry seasons on the country's dams.
At present, Ethiopia's energy resources are almost completely derived from hydropower projects. "It compliments hydropower, which is seasonal. When you have a dry water season we have higher wind speed," said Mihret Debebe, CEO of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation. "There is harmony between the two sources of energy."
Last week, Ethiopia also signed a preliminary agreement with Reykjavik Geothermal, an Icelandic company financed by American shareholders firm, for a $4 billion private sector investment intended to tap its vast geothermal power resources and produce 1,000 MW from steam.
The signing ceremony officially launched the establishment of Corbetti Geothermal Power as an Ethiopian based company for geothermal development and operations. Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) agrees to buy the energy generated by the company for the coming 25 + years. After signing the largest direct investment in the sector, CEO of EEPCo Mihret Debebe said geothermal power plants offer alternative energy for power hungry industries in the country.
Round the clock energy provision makes seamless geothermal power plants attractive to industries seeking uninterrupted power supply. Corbetti Geothermal Power is estimated to generate over 1000MW electric power once it completes its two phase construction.
The first phase of construction is expected to generate 500MW within five years and the remaining would come in the next 8 years, according to the agreement signed between the company and Ethiopian government.