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Ethiopia as a nation stands a chance to climb out of poverty, and more can be part of solutions to Africa’s Energy Poverty, by building its economy around hydropower Energy.
Africa’s poverty has many aspects but most of our difficulties can be attributed to Energy Poverty. The term ‘Energy Poverty’ is coined by Robert Freling, Executive Director of the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF.org).
What is Africa’s Energy Poverty?
According to Thomas L.Friedman, “……in highlighting the issue of poverty and disease in Africa, they have brought some much needed global aid debt relief. But there is one problem in Africa that almost never gets spotlight, and that is Africa’s shortage of light. If you look at satellite pictures of planet earth, taken at night, it is quite stunning: little lights flicker across Europe, the Americas and Asia, while vast swaths of Africa are simply pitch – black.” AIDS has its champions, as do waste water purification, malaria treatment and the alleviation of poverty. But the problem of Energy has no champions. No one wants to embrace power plants, which are either dirty politically or just plain dirty. Worse, they take years to finance and build and you can’t see the results of your investment for a long time.
Energy, in fact, is Africa’s oldest orphan. But how, one wonders, will the tides of poverty: HIV/AIDS, Unsafe drinking water, malaria be turned back in Africa for good, without enough energy to turn on the lights?
Lack of access to electricity is not affordable in today’s global economy. As Africa is in the track of development, business companies should compete, connect and collaborate with the rest of the world every moment, which makes dependence on electricity more fatal than it used to be.
According to the World Bank, the Netherlands today produces as much electrical power annually as all of Sub-Saharan African nations put together, excluding South Africa: 20 giga watts.
But despite this staggering power gap, the problem of Energy Poverty rarely gets discussed. Universal Access to Electricity was not even one of the eight Millennium Development Goals/MDGs that were set out by the UN and the world’s leading development institutions in 2000.
The MDGs range from eradicating extreme poverty to providing Universal Primary Education, all by 2015 as listed below:
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality rates
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development
How are we going to eradicate poverty without eradicating energy poverty? Solving this problem is indeed, a great opportunity for any country that rises to the challenge.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss briefly, that Ethiopia has the potential resource to convert this difficulty of Africa in to opportunity by building sustainable hydropower plants.
How can Ethiopia be part of the solution to Africa’s Energy Gap?
While Ethiopia has the potential to produce hydropower energy, it is also sustainable in respect of emitting green house gases and also it is a renewable resource. Ethiopia has huge water resource and favorable topography for hydropower energy generation which is not utilized yet.
Of course, as much as 92% of the technical potential for hydropower remains undeveloped in Africa.
So, Ethiopia can build hydro power plants and fulfill its domestic energy consumption and provide energy to rest of Africa’s ready market.
Doing so, Ethiopia and rest of Africa benefit by partnership and collaboration. Moreover, the world as a whole benefits as this enhances Africa’s energy and reduces the release of pollution, by replacing the use of oil and natural gases partly. We can learn success stories of some of the world, for example, countries such as Quebec and Norway have built their economies around hydropower, and have a long history of development and management of hydropower operations.
That is why Ethiopia should envision and plan to utilize its considerable hydropower resource as a major vehicle to advance its economy and development.
Is Hydropower Energy a Feasible Energy Source to the Future of our World?
The global hope of our future is green revolution based on clean energy.
A green economy is defined by the United Nations Environmental Programme(UNEP) as one that results in improved human well being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.
Practically speaking, a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emission and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Sustainable hydropower, perhaps well beyond other potential sources of electricity, has significant potential to support progress towards the MDG’s. Hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy in the electricity sector, controlling 16% of the worldwide electricity supply as of the end of year 2008(Kumar et al 2011).
Hydropower offers energy, water, poverty alleviation, green house gas reduction, proven technology, long life span, flexibility, reliability, and local economic simulation.
However, not without negative impacts such as loss of biodiversity and fisheries and in some cases resettlement and loss of livelihoods arising from environmental changes. But these can be solved by proper investigation, careful planning and design. Therefore, with careful planning hydropower energy can help address the global hope of green economy by providing sustainable energy which meets all the values of green economy described above.
Finally, Ethiopians as citizens should be committed to materialize such goals of developing huge hydropower plants as Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam/GERD and others. Government also should give space for private sectors participation. Higher education institutes should inspire the youth to study hydropower and to do relevant researches.
As human resource is vital in today’s global development we need to have more and more scientists, more and more engineers and more and more hydropower experts.
(….Some ideas and inspirations are from the famous author Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded…)