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Ethiopia Sets Up The Largest Hydroelectric Power Plant In Africa

by Felix Omondi

Ethiopia Sets Up The Largest Hydroelectric Power Plant In Africa

Ethiopia is currently working on an ambitious hydroelectric power plant project called The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that is estimated to be fully completed and functioning within the next 18 months. It is estimated that the GERD power output will be 6,000 MW which will go a long way in boosting the power demand both within Ethiopia and to its neighboring countries.

Ethiopia Sets Up The Largest Hydroelectric Power Plant In AfricaThe dam is currently being constructed on the Blue Nile River near the Ethiopian – Sudan border. The dam reservoir is expected to hold about 70 billion cubic meters of water and flood an area of 1,680 square kilometers on the northwest parts of Ethiopia in the Benishangul-Gumuz region. The GERD when completed will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa and coming in at 13th or 14th place in the world. The GERD will hold the record for being the biggest hydroelectric power plant in Africa up to when (or if) the Democratic Republic of Congo completes its Grand Inga hydroelectric project which is estimated will be able to produce up to  40,000MW of power in total with a price tag of $80 billion for construction.

The GERD project has a price tag of 75.5 billion birr (about $3.9 billion US dollars), and so far the government of Ethiopia has raised 7.1 billion birr (about $367 million US dollars) from the sale of government bonds to the domestic investors over the last 3 years. The project has already consumed about 27 billion birr as of February 2014, with the project being at 30% level of full completion.

Ethiopia Sets Up The Largest Hydroelectric Power Plant In Africa

The site upon which GERD has been constructed was identified during the Blue Nile survey that was conducted by the United States Bureau of Reclamation from 1956 to 1964. The government of Ethiopia later conducted its own survey on the October of 2009 and August 2010 and finally concluded it will start the project. The first design for the dam was submitted on November 2010 and the Ethiopian Government made public its intention to construct the dam on   March 30th 2011 and on the following day it gave a contract worth $4.8 billion to the Salini Costruttori. On the 2nd of April the same year the late and former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi laid the dam’s foundation stone.

To facilitate efficient and fast construction of the GERD, Ethiopia Government had to setup a rock crushing plant and a small air strip near the site. According to the timeline planning of the GERD construction, the first two generators are expected to be up and running on the 44th month of construction. The construction of the GERD has elicited various criticisms and opposition with Egypt coming out strongly against its construction, amidst fears that it will gravely reduce the water supply downstream thereby grossly affecting Egypt’s irrigation plans and reducing water supply to Egypt’s Aswan High Dam. But Zenawi defended the project arguing that there has been a study (which was unnamed) that indicates that the project will not interfere with Egypt’s water supply. Ethiopia was expected to share the blueprint of the dam’s construction with Egypt on May of 2011 so both countries could deliberate on the matter.

Despite all the concerns, criticism and opposition we still cant deny that the 6,000 MW power output is coming at a time when the East Africa region is thirsty for electricity power supply given the ever increasing economic and industrial activities in the region. Khartoum in Sudan, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia have already been identified as target market for the power to be generated. The power export will also go a long way in balancing Ethiopia’s balance of trade with its foreign trading partners.

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