23 August 2014

Ethiopia: The Power Man Speaks of Power Cuts

There is a recurrent power interruption all over the country. Power cuts are affecting every household.

Factories and business enterprises are incurring losses due to the recurrent power outage in cities. Many argue that there is a power shortage and the country is facing a power crisis. However, the government denies that and claims that the cause for the recurrent power cuts is related to the country's aging power distribution system. Kaleyesus Bekele of The Reporter interviewed Alemayehu Tegenu, minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy. Excerpts:

The Reporter: Can you tell us about the power projects that the Ethiopian government is undertaking currently?

Alemayehu Tegenu: In an effort to ensure a sustainable power supply to the country, our government is building several power plants. The biggest project is the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which will have an installed generation capacity of 6000 MW. The second biggest power project is Gilgel Gibe III with an installed generation capacity of 1870 MW. The third power project is the Genale Dawa hydropower project with an installed generation capacity of 254 MW. The first three are hydro-power projects. We are also building a wind farm. The Adama II wind power project has an installed generation capacity of 153 MW.

We also have solar power projects. We are finalizing the building of 25,000 solar home systems. We have embarked on constructing another 50,000 solar home systems. We have also commenced work on a geothermal power project. It has the capacity to generate 70 MW. Drilling work is on as we speak now.

In addition to the hydro, wind and geothermal power projects, we are working on a project that enable us to produce power from solid waste. We are in the process of building a power plant in Addis Ababa that will produce electric power by using solid waste.

All the power projects have an aggregate generation of 8450 MW. This is more than what we planned in the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). In the GTP we planned to build power plants with a generation capacity of 8000.

How much power is being produced at the moment? What about the demand?

Currently, we generate 2268 MW. The majority of it is coming from the hydro power plants. Secondly, it is from wind farms. Places where hydro and wind energy did not reach, we use thermal energy. The demand for electricity is steadily increasing. But the energy that is currently being produced can meet the local demand.

Can you tell us the demand for electric power?

It is impossible to deliver all the energy demand at once. It is not like you demand today and get it the same day. What has been asked does not mean that it has to be delivered right away. A factory may ask for 100 MW but it might need it after sometime. There is a large demand and it is growing steadily. There is a demand for 2000 MW.

Can you tell me the demand growth rate?

The demand is growing at 32 percent annually.

What about the gap between the supply and demand?

It is difficult to put it in that way. The time when the power is actually needed determines the situation. When does the customer actually need the power. He may ask for power today but he might need it after a year or so. As I said earlier, it is impossible to deliver all of what has been required at once. But we are working to satisfy all the demand with time. We are working on projects that can meet the ever growing demand.

As you know there are recurrent power cuts in the country. Some say that there is power shortage. Other say that the problem is related to the inferior quality of the transformers. The Ethiopian Electric Services denies that there is power shortage. The enterprise claims that the problem is related to the distribution system. What is the real cause for the power cuts?

It is not only the Ethiopian Electric Services but our government believes that there is no power shortage. When we look at the power interruptions, we note that there is an ever increasing demand for electric power. The power utilization trend is changing. For instance, if you take residents of Addis Ababa, they used to use firewood to cook in the past. Now people live in the condominiums where it is not convenient to use firewood. So people now use electric power to cook. Today you do not see firewood being transported to Addis Ababa. Today the majority of the population need electricity for different purposes. The lifestyle of the public is changing. This has increased the demand for electric power.

Second, due to the favourable investment climate foreign and local inventors are investing in different sectors, including manufacturing. Big manufacturing industries are being established all over the country. These factories need a large amount of electric power. So overall, the demand for electric power is increasing.

Most of the existing power substations are old. The electric power distribution lines are aging. So is the network. The substations are overloaded. The transmission lines are unable to accommodate the ever increasing electric flow. Most of the electric transmission lines are very old. We have built new transmission lines but we did not build new transmission lines. So the old transmission lines are overloaded.

We did a very good job when it comes to building new transmission lines. We upgraded the transmission line carrying capacity from 230 KV to 400 KV. Now we are building a transmission line with 500 KV carrying capacity. We did well when it comes to building new transmission lines.

We built many new substations. On the outskirts of Addis Ababa, we built the Akaki substation, the Sululta substation and the Sebeta substation. We built hundreds of substations. However, both the new and the old substations are overloaded due to the ever increasing power demand.

If you take a road, it has a certain capacity of traffic accommodation. If the traffic flow is increasing substantially there will be a traffic jam. The mobility on the road will decline. To ease the traffic jam you need to build a new road like the Addis Ababa ring road or shortcuts. Likewise, when the electric distribution lines are congested you need to find a way to vent of the surplus. You have to ease the power congestion.

What is the government doing to reduce power interruption?

We are making various efforts to substantially reduce power cuts. We have divided the power cut mitigation project into three - short-term, mid-term and long-term plan. The first plan is to provide an instant solution. We are trying to avoid congestion of the distribution lines.

We are installing supportive electric transformers. We are replacing aging networks. We are maintaining loose lines. We are trying to avoid connections between electric lines and trees. These are the works comprising the short term plan.

In the mid-term plan we are upgrading the power substations. We are building new substations. For instance, the Akaki substation has mitigated the power congestion in the Akakai locality. As you know, Akaki town is an industrial zone. There is a large number of factories and the new substation has helped us a lot in reducing the high power congestion.

We did the same thing in Legetafo. We upgraded the existing substation in Legetafo. We were able to reduce the power congestion. We will continue upgrading the substations all over the country. That is our long-term plan. It will take a long time but it will strengthen the network so that we will keep doing that. Currently, there are ongoing upgrading works in the regional towns. We are strengthening the power network according to our short-mid and long-term plans. We use local capacity but we have also hired a foreign company that works on this project.

While we are working on the mitigation plan, we have established a system that enables us to monitor the power interruption. There is a command post that ensures that immediate technical solution is provided to the power cuts. We try to urgently maintain technical failures. We have established a system whereby we evaluate the process and rectify findings in the provision of maintenance services. We are trying to improve the service delivery.

It is impossible to bring the power cuts to zero with the existing distribution lines and network. There is no country where there is no power interruption. One may ask why this problem is happening now. The answer is that it is because of the change in the power consumption trend and expedited investment activity.

The former Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation is divided into two entities-the Ethiopian Electric Services that works on service delivery and the Ethiopian Electric which is responsible for the construction of power projects. The government gave a management contract to an Indian company (State Grid) to manage the Ethiopian Electric Services. The government again gave a contact to a Chinese company, Hydro China, to fix the power interruption problem. We were told that company (Hydro China) would accomplish the task within six months. Can you tell us the status of the work being undertaken by Hydro China? Also, what change did the Indian company bring about?

As you have said the former the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation is split into two entities. The Ethiopian Electric Services is responsible for the service delivery while the Ethiopian Electric works on the construction of power projects. Ethiopian Electric is being administered by Ethiopian staff while the Ethiopian Electric Services is managed by State Grid.

State Gird has embarked on the new job. There was transition period. The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation had 12,000 employees. This work force was divided into two. The employees who have disciplinary problems were identified and the rest who can discharge their responsibility were assigned. Assigning the employees by itself is a huge task. Now they have finalized this work and the employees have begun their work.

State Grid is providing technical solution to the power interruption problem. There is an improvement. We believe that things will change for the better. We have put in place a mechanism whereby we can evaluate the performance of the company.

Hydro China works on the mitigation of power interruption. As I mentioned earlier, we have set three plans. The Chinese company involves itself in these three plans. As part our short-term strategy we are installing supportive electric transformers. We have installed 248 transformers and 170 were installed by Hydro China.

We will continue installing supportive transformers based on the need assessment we undertake. We were able to reduce the high power congestion on many transformers. We were also able to reduce the power interruption in some areas as a result of the installation of supportive transformers.

But we see transformers explode in many parts of the city and it happens frequently. Many argue that the transformers are of inferior quality.

We test the quality of the transformers before we install them. In fact, we inspect the quality of all the equipment that we buy before we install them. There is no equipment that we install without testing it. The Indian company has deployed experts that do the inspection. However, when the transformers are overloaded they may explode.

Do you inspect the quality of the transformers produced by the Ethiopian Metals and Engineering Corporation?

We inspect all the transformers that we buy from abroad as well us from the local market. We do inspect not only the transformers but also the fuse boxes. Yes of course we do inspect the transformers that we buy from the Ethiopian Metals and Engineering Corporation like any other transformer. To answer your question, we do not install the transformers produced by the corporation without testing them.

The power interruption is affecting the community. The power interruption is costing factories and businesses dearly. What is your message to all those who are affected by the power cuts?

We have established a joint forum with large factories. We have deployed staff members who provide solutions to these factories. We try our best to exonerate the large factories (who plays a major role in the economic development of the country) from power cuts. Staff members are assigned to assist the factories. When there is a complete blackout these factories will obviously be affected.

When there is power interruption business enterprises will be affected. It is not only large factories that are affected. Small businesses are also victims. A barber who is dressing his customer hair will face a problems when the power is interrupted. We know the challenges the public is facing as a result of the power interruption.

Since we understand the problem the power cut is creating we are working hard to solve the problem. That is why we are installing supportive transformers. That is why we are building new substations and upgrading the existing ones.

I urge the public to immediately report when they face power cuts. They should not wait hoping that it will bounce back. There are call centers and we have increased the number of employees working in the centers. Still the phone lines could be busy at times. But you should keep trying. We will further enhance the capacity of the call centers. The public should notify us of power cuts and we should be able to provide solution immediately. We have joint forums with industrialists, small and micro enterprises and cooperatives. If there is a different issue we shall discuss and find solution.

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