How can Ethiopia achieve energy access for all?
Blue Nile Falls by hypertornado is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Blue Nile Falls. Image: Hypertornado, CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

With almost 90% of its electricity generated from hydropower – and another 7% from wind – Ethiopia could at first glance be called an energy success story. But a different set of figures tells another story. Approximately 70 million Ethiopians are without access to power from the grid, the third highest electricity access deficit in Africa.

And the problem isn’t spread equally. Almost all Ethiopia’s urban households – those 4.8 million people in its vast capital of Addis Ababa, along with 20 other cities with populations of more than 100,000 people – are connected to the grid. But barely more than a quarter of rural households have access to electricity services. That disparity is holding back Ethiopia’s economic progress and making life even harder for its poorest people.

The long-term goal of the UCL Energy Institute Pathways Project is to help alleviate poverty in Ethiopia by increasing its citizens’ access to electricity. The country’s government has set itself the ambitious target of achieving universal electricity access by 2025. Not only that, it wants to do so with no increase in greenhouse-gas emissions. This, it hopes, will help propel Ethiopia into the ranks of the world’s middle-income economies. 

There are many obstacles to reaching this goal. For example, Ethiopia is notably drought-prone – further exacerbated by the climate crisis – which creates vulnerabilities in an energy system so reliant on hydropower. Indeed, in 2009, there was severe load shedding from the grid due to water shortage in the dams. Mitigating this will require further development of renewable energy such as solar, geothermal and existing wind sources.

Barely more than a quarter of rural households have access to electricity services. That disparity is holding back Ethiopia’s economic progress and making life even harder for its poorest people.

Then there are supply pressures that will arise from the rapid scaling-up required to meet the 2025 target. And societal factors play a part, such as the need for Ethiopia’s governance and regulatory frameworks to operate efficiently, transparently and accountably.

Funded by the UK Department for International Development (now FCDO) under its Energy and Economic Growth programme managed by Oxford Policy Management, and operating in partnership with the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, the Policy Studies Institute and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, the goal of the Pathways Project is to steer Ethiopia’s transition to modern, clean energy. Specifically, we incorporate behavioural analysis into energy system modelling – putting stakeholders at its heart to achieve an unprecedented degree of inclusivity. 

In practice, this means we are using the tools of social science research, such as interviews, questionnaires and stakeholder workshops, to help define qualitative scenarios for both supply and demand, and to develop institutional frameworks. For example, one way to address the near-term supply pressures is through pricing mechanisms; another is through energy efficiency improvements. Here, there are significant knowledge gaps. We currently do not know enough about how behavioural issues can affect the overall demand for electricity – and how this will evolve in the future. 

The overarching goal of the project is to quantify the energy, economic and environmental impacts of the many possible developmental pathways for Ethiopia. And, of course, our models must be dynamic and responsive to emerging factors, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, which will unquestionably have an impact on the country’s electrification plan and its principal target of achieving universal electricity access by 2025.

Wind Farm Adigrat N.Ethiopia by Adam Jones

Wind farm outside Adigrat, Ethiopia. Image: Adam Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

It is also our intention that the insights the Pathways Project generates will be available to many others beyond the research team. For example, we aim to enhance the modelling and analytical capacity of Ethiopia’s academic and research institutions, development organisations and government institutions, such as the country’s Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity (MoWIE). 

We do this by working alongside Ethiopian policy analysts, academics and researchers, policymakers and government analysts. They will use and, to an extent, co-create the new data, modelling tools, research and policy notes that the project produces. And, of course, our conclusions need to translate into concrete action. We are continuously engaged with MoWIE to ensure that our analysis, and the tools we generate, are relevant to the country’s needs, and will inform government policies.

As we enter the delivery phase, it is an exciting time for the Pathways Project, and we are planning several dissemination activities during the first half of next year. These will target academics and policymakers across Ethiopia with the aim of convincing MoWIE to use our developed energy system model, OSeMOSYS-Ethiopia, and electrification tool, OnSSET-Ethiopia, for its in-house policy process. And we are supporting the development of a Master’s programme in Energy Systems at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, which will include a module on modelling. 

The end-goal? We want to offer near-term solutions and embed long-term expertise that will help Ethiopia achieve nothing less than its ambitious and transformational economic and social goals.

Dr Gabrial Anandarajah_How can Ethiopia achieve energy access for all?
Dr Gabrial Anandarajah

Associate Professor, UCL Energy Institute, The Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources 

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