The biogas solution: Ethiopia’s path toward greener growth

Ethiopia's biogas testing laboratory
Ethiopia's biogas testing laboratory. Photo: Edda Zekarias/UNDP Ethiopia

At a warehouse in Addis Ababa, home of Ethiopia’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a group of experts is buzzing excitedly around a pilot ‘anaerobic digester’. This equipment is used to produce methane (biogas) from fermented organic waste (biomass) and is now able to produce localized and precise data on biogas production. This will in turn help optimize green energy technologies for use by households and businesses across the country.

“[It will ] help us understand the extent to which biogas can be sourced from organic human, animal or plant waste. This is very important because all biomass energy research conducted in Ethiopia up to now relied heavily on estimates drawn from similar research from India, China and other developing countries", explains Yeshak Seboka, Senior Energy Expert at the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity (MoWIE).

Highlights

  • Over 50% of Ethiopia has grid coverage but only 30% of the population can directly access electricity.
  • More than 80 percent of the country's energy comes from firewood and charcoal, largely responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.
  • With support from UNDP, 16 green technologies have been introduced in 91 districts.

UNDP procured the advanced technology as part of its ongoing support to Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy, aiming to achieve a middle-income economy with zero net emissions by 2025. With the help of the Norway Energy+ Initiative, over US$500,000 was mobilized to provide technical and financial resources for renewable energy prototype production, standard setting and quality control.

The data will specifically help rural farmers transition from fossil fuel and diversify their energy sources. More than 80 percent of Ethiopia’s current energy comes from solid biomass, such as firewood and charcoal, which is largely responsible for the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Recycling organic waste means farmers can access sustainable, affordable and clean energy to light their homes and to cook.

Once optimized and adopted, biogas technologies will ease the burden for women and children who spend up to 10 hours a week gathering wood in some rural areas, reduce indoor pollution and improve prospects for small farmers.   

The project also boosts capacities in the Government for evidence-based policy formulation and implementation, resource mobilization and knowledge management. This is critical in promoting adoption of renewable energy technologies by rural households and small businesses and will allow government stakeholders to better manage, plan and conduct technological research on energy development with the private sector and universities.

Back at the warehouse, Birhanu Woldu, head of the laboratory, points at a few additional machines that UNDP procured and installed. He is particularly fond of a ‘shaft cutting’ machine producing rotating cylindrical tubes used to absorb and transmit power to consumers. Another machine can produce turbines capable of generating 100 kilowatts of energy for up to 1,500 rural households. With this new equipment, Birhanu Woldu says, the laboratory can substantially increase both the quantity and quality of its renewable energy production to meet off-grid community needs.

A workshop attached to the laboratory manufactures hardware for solar panels, wind turbines, micro-hydro technology equipment and improved fuel-wood cookstoves for dissemination by women and youth-owned businesses, in line with government empowerment programmes. As part of the national framework on green technologies developed with UNDP's support, 16 green technologies have already been introduced in 91 districts.

Ethiopia’s ambitious energy policy aims to provide about 90 percent coverage by the end of 2020. As of now, the country’s grid coverage stands at 55 percent, but only 30 percent of the population have direct access to electrical power. Per capita electricity consumption is estimated to be 100 kWh/habitant, which is low when compared to sub-Saharan Africa’s average of 521kWh/habitant.

In the long term, the project aims to strengthen national capacity to tap into renewable energy resources available in the country and encourage technological innovation, optimization and adoption for a green economy.

Contact: Kidanua Abera, Programme Analyst - Energy and Low Carbon Development, Kidanua.abera@undp.org

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