The Ministry of Water & Energy (MoWE) is evaluating a feasibility study for the construction of five small scale hydro-power generators, which could be built and managed by private investors.
Four cooperatives, and a private investor from the Southern region have already been selected by the Ministry's Rural Electrification Fund (REF) to invest in the studied sites.
The feasibility study, conducted by the Water Works Design & Supervision Enterprise (WWDSE) for close to two million Birr, assessed the potential energy that could be produced from five different rivers; in Amhara, Benishangul, Gambella, Oromia and the Southern Regional State. The study also included a cost feasibility analysis and designs for the five hydro power plants.
Small scale hydro-power plants generate up to 10Mw of electricity, and can light up anything from a single home to an entire village. Unlike the bigger hydropower plants, the small scale ones do not necessarily need a reservoir to store water, according to Mebrate Tafesse (PhD), chief executive officer of WWDSE.
Instead, an open masonry channel-like structure, called a wier, which diverts the water to the pipe (penstock), is to be built. The pipe would then facilitate the flow of water down to the turbine. This wier has the additional advantage of collecting sediment, according to Mebrate.
"The cost and impact to the environment is smaller, when building to a small scale," Mebrate said.
The MoWE commissioned the study a year ago, after frequently being approached by different cooperatives and individuals who wanted to invest in electricity generation. The requests had been coming in for the past four years, according to Samson Mamo,technical officer for the rural electrification fund, under the MoWE.
Initially, the MoWE called for a study of the construction of micro-hydro power projects on the five rivers, which could generate a maximum of 1,000Kw.
The study by the Enterprise, however, found that most of the rivers had a much larger potential and fall into the category of small-scale hydropower, rather than micro, according to Betemariam Asefe, hydropower engineer at WWDSE, who participated in the study and design project.
The one with the highest potential is the Teski River, near Dangla, in Amhara regional state, which has the potential to produce 8.5Mw. This can provide electricity for up to 56,600 houses, each with two bulbs and an electric plug, the study found.
Following a long way behind is the Yabus River, in Asossa Zone, Benishangul regional state, which has the potential to produce 1.41 Mw and provide electricity for 9,400 houses. Dilla River, in Western Wollega zone, Oromia, comes in third, with a potential of 1.3 Mw to serve 8,400 houses. All three rivers flow into the Abay basin.
Zey River in Gambella and Tum River in the South, however, make it into the micro hydropower category with a potential to produce 170Kw and 1,000Kw, lighting 1,100 and 6,700 homes respectively.
Overall the study found that the project was feasible cost wise as well. However, WWDSE refused to disclose the amount of money it would take to build these small scale hydro power generators, since the projects may later be handed to private contractors through a tender.
Investors can manage the supply of electricity on their own for now, since the locations are in off-grid areas, according to a former GIZ expert, who formerly worked on the project. Investors would have to pay the Ethiopian Electric Agency, the regulatory office in the sector, when they supply energy privately.
There are around 50 private investors involved in the generation and supply of energy, according to data from the Agency. When EEPCo comes into the area, however, the investors will have to either sell the energy they generate to it and get connected to the grid system, or be out of work all together.
"Currently, the situation is not promising, as EEPCo prefers to install its own electric system, rather than include small scale power into the grid," the expert told Fortune.
However, a draft feed-in-tariff, whereby private investors can sell the electricity they generate to the national grid, is currently being considered by the council of ministers. This feed-in-tariff obliges the EEPCo to buy from those private investors, if they are already available in the area it is expanding.
The tariff will pay 0.08 dollars for a kilowatt hour of hydropower generated, according to the draft proclamation.
Of the rivers under study, Teski has the potential to generate 7.1 million kilowatt hours of energy annually, whilst Tum, with the smallest potential, can generate 1.53 million kilowatt hours of energy.
A technical committee at the REF is evaluating the final report of the feasibility study. Once it finishes, it will be looking for financiers to assist the private sector.
Should any of the four cooperatives and investors be dissatisfied with the study and decline to invest, the REF will either look for another investor or commission the construction itself, according to Samson.