Trams in Addis Ababa

Trams in Addis Ababa

Per capita carbon emissions in Ethiopia are a miniscule 0.1 tonnes, yet Ethiopia is planning rapid cuts in emissions. It is one of the most dynamic economies on Earth, with double digit growth rates. Most of its population still lack many basic services, including electricity. Demand for electricity is exponentially growing. Ethiopia is investing very heavily in new infrastructure, especially in renewable energy of many kinds.

The highly controversial 6,000MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is currently under construction on the Blue Nile, close to the Sudanese border. It is the largest in a whole series of large scale hydro projects across the country. There are inevitably social and environmental consequences, some of which will be negative, some positive. Many other forms of renewables have considerably less downsides; however this large hydro will form an important part of an expanding portfolio of renewables.

A few months ago the 153 MW Adama wind farm opened and is currently the largest wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa. More wind farms are rapidly being built, and as it tends to be windiest during the dry season when the hydro is producing less power they together make a good mix. Solar photovoltaics are also rapidly expanding, and are proving especially useful in remote off-grid locations where they can be used in local micro-grids and for directly charging batteries for phones and lights. Over the next few months a couple of 500MW geothermal projects are due to come on stream, which will mean Ethiopia leaps from nowhere to being one of the leading geothermal nations. Ethiopia has plans not just to supply its entire population with renewable electricity but to export large surpluses to neighbouring countries.

Addis Ababa is growing rapidly and old diesel buses and cars are a major source of pollution and congestion. However these problems are being addressed with the opening of the Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit System, a modern electric tram system involving both underground and above ground sections. Also this year a new electric railway has opened, linking landlocked Ethiopia with the port of Djibouti, reducing the numbers of trucks making their way across mountains and deserts to the coast.

Ethiopia has many challenges. Climate change and droughts threaten the country and this year being an el NiƱo year they are currently suffering. The population of Ethiopia passed the 100 million mark sometime in the last few months, up from under 20 million back in 1955, and 40 million at the time of the great famine of 1983-85. The rate of increase is now slowing. Ethiopia is not the best of democracies, but it has set itself some worthwhile goals in terms of achieving the sustainable development goals and rapidly rolling out renewable energy.

Environmental commentators have talked a lot about contraction and convergence, where all the reductions in emissions would be made by the industrialized rich world and the poorer countries would be assumed to be able to increase emissions, at least temporarily. Ethiopia proves that even those countries with the very lowest emissions can further reduce them and in the process develop modern profitable Cleantec economies. That is a lesson for many other countries to follow.


Wind renewables geothermal solar

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