Kenya and Ethiopia are main the vitality transition in East Africa

Neil Ford Reports on national and regional energy transition strategies in East Africa.

East Africa as a whole appears to be facing significant advances in electricity supply, not least because national strategies should promote regional integration into the sector.

Like Egypt, Kenya only wants more generation capacity from the technology that makes the most sense to support its goal of universal access to electricity by 2030. This partly explains why Kenya supported the development of a 1.05 GW coal-fired power plant in the port city of Lamu despite President Uhuru Kenyatta promising to produce 100% renewable energy.

While this project is increasingly unlikely to be built, new low carbon geothermal and wind power capacity has recently been completed. With an official electrification rate of 75% last year, the target for 2030 is possible, but still ambitious.

With its geothermal, wind, solar and large hydropower resources, Kenya is well positioned to create a balanced, low-carbon generation mix so that the loss of the Lamu coal-fired power station would not be insurmountable.

Geothermal energy alone accounts for 823 MW of the installed capacity of 2.7 GW. This makes Kenya the seventh highest national geothermal capacity in the world. How quickly local construction and operating costs for wind and solar energy fall can be determined by national policy, as the government’s rolling 20-year master plan is based on the most cost-effective development.

In contrast, Ethiopia’s rapid electrification and industrialization strategy is largely based on developing a single form of electricity generation – on a large scale. The government hopes that large hydropower projects can continue to drive rapid economic growth while bringing electricity to parts of the country that currently have very limited access. Such high ambitions have massive disadvantages.

At the center of this strategy is the 6 GW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project. However, this and similar projects come with their own environmental and financial risks. Ethiopia’s hydropower ambitions have also created tension with Egypt and Sudan, the states further downstream on the Nile.

Access to the waters of the Nile makes up a large part of Egypt’s identity and, more conveniently, of water supply. The Blue Nile, which rises in the Ethiopian highlands, accounts for 90% of the volume of the Nile when it reaches Egypt. Successive Egyptian governments have protested the GERD project and even threatened to bomb the dam.

Ministers from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt held talks to resolve the dispute, including in Washington in March, in the presence of the US Treasury Secretary and the President of the World Bank.

An agreement has not yet been reached but there is hope that a plan to gradually fill the reservoir could be adopted to avoid a sudden drop in water flow. The negotiators are also looking for mechanisms to mitigate the effects of the drought on water levels in the lower reaches of the river. In practice, this would require less power generation. It was hoped a US-brokered deal would be signed in early 2020, but it remained elusive at the time of writing.

In other parts of the region, the Tanzanian government’s goal of increasing national generation capacity from 1.6 GW to 10 GW by 2025 appears too ambitious. A big step would be the punctual completion of the 2.1 GW Rufiji hydropower plant. However, renewable energy development has been slow and little progress has been made in developing huge offshore gas fields in the south.

The government is interested in using the gas reserves to generate income from LNG exports and possibly to provide raw materials for power plants. However, the failure to reach an agreement with international oil companies on terms for development and the uncertain prospects for international demand have delayed this.

Uganda is trying to build on its previous hydropower projects by encouraging the development of geothermal and solar energy projects. Britain’s Bantu RG Energy hopes to build the country’s first geothermal system, a 10 MW plant in the Nebbi district.

On the subject of matching items

South Africa’s energy problems are triggering a rethink among the neighbors

North Africa: Renewable energies build on the existing heat capacity

Click here to see more articles from the Africa Energy Yearbook 2020

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