Tradition meets ­modernity

Ancient harvesting methods co-exist with modern sustain­able energy technologies in Ethiopia. In the harvesting season, oxen tread grain ­beneath the wind turbines. Photo: Bollinger-Kanne
Ancient harvesting methods co-exist with modern sustain­able energy technologies in Ethiopia. In the harvesting season, oxen tread grain ­beneath the wind turbines. Photo: Bollinger-Kanne

After the coastal states Egypt and Morocco, Ethiopia is Africa’s third largest wind power user. Neighbouring Kenya is also preparing to harness more of the wind.

Walking through the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, one notices diesel generators rattling outside of many shops. A photo­grapher has to send customers to his competitor because he has not protected himself against power cuts like many other shop owners. There is no system for back-up power at his shop.
The state-owned Ethiopian energy utility EEPCo is located just a few steps away. Unlike Kenya’s largest majority state-owned energy utility KenGen, EEPCo manages the whole country’s energy supply and therefore operates all the wind farms. That includes the 34 wind turbines of Adama 1, which have been ­rotating at a height of around 1,800 m three kilo­metres from Adama since 2012 with a total capacity of 51 MW.

With this wind farm, Ethiopia has overtaken its neighbour Kenya in terms of wind energy in one fell swoop. Last year, another 120 MW was added at the Ashegoda wind farm 775 km north of Addis Ababa, taking the East African country to number three on the continent. In its 2013 market analysis, the ­German Energy Agency (dena) specified Ethiopia as a future market for onshore wind.

Things are happening in Kenya

By comparison, with 5.1 MW in the Ngong Hills outside its capital Nairobi, Kenya is a lightweight – in fact, along with South Africa, it is in the “Others” ­category in the Global Wind Energy Council’s (GWEC) 2013 annual report. Although the six 850 kW Vestas turbines in Ngong went into operation in 2009, it has taken years for KenGen to work on expansion. Plans for extensive use of geothermal energy in the East ­African Rift Valley take precedence. In the long run, it is not wind but geothermal energy that is to replace hydropower as the top electricity source.

In late July 2014, a Spanish consortium made up of Iberdrola and Gamesa completed the installation of 16 Gamesa turbines, each with a capacity of 850 kW, in Ngong. Nearby, TPF-Econoler of Belgium equipped a wind farm with eight 850 kW Vestas turbines. This increases KenGen’s generation capacity in Ngong to 25.5 MW. According to media reports, the inauguration ceremony for both projects is to take place in autumn.

General Electric is supplying some 38 turbines of 1.6 MW each for the wind farm on the Kinangop ­Plateau, which is 2,000 m high and located 60 km northwest of Nairobi. Installation started in May 2014. As local media reported in July, construction has been delayed because of a dispute about compensation for farmland that the Kinangop Wind Farm consortium intends to use. However, GE Renewable Energy’s General Manager Europe Cliff Harris firmly believes that results will be visible in February 2015.

Great potential – and high risk

The 300 MW wind farm project at Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya in particular demonstrates that transport logistics and financial risks play a key role when building wind farms – promising wind yields are not the only important factor. Because of lacking grid infrastructure and high costs and risks, the World Bank quit the project in 2012. “We were aware of these concerns,” project head Carlo van Wageningen of the Netherlands explained in a TV interview in late March. Van Wageningen’s consortium has now finalised the financing documents for a loan of € 623 million with the African Development Bank (AfDB), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and international lenders. Unlike the World Bank, the AfDB believes in the project that was launched in 2005, Van ­Wageningen states, pointing out the benefits of the future Lake Turkana Wind Power Project.

He says that the annual average wind speed on site is 11.8 m/sec, and the continual wind between 7 and 19 m/sec ensures that electricity yields near the base load range would be possible. At the same time, however, Van Wageningen warns that there is more to consider: “Although the financing is closed, we will not start work for the obvious reason that we do not want to bear the whole risk for being ready before the transmission lines for power distribution have been laid.” According to the plan, the 365 Vestas wind turbines will go online in 2016. Another major challenge is transporting turbines and rotor blades 1,000 km from the port of Mombasa to Kenya’s remote northwest.

The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project consortium includes KP&P Africa B.V., Aldwych International Ltd., Vestas Wind Systems A/S and a Norwegian, a Danish and a Finnish fund. The consortium is responsible for the financing, installation and operation of the wind farm. In its capacity as an energy company focussing on Africa, Aldwych will supervise the wind farm’s installation and operation, while Vestas will take on the maintenance and, of course, delivery of the wind turbines. Kenya Power (KPLC) will buy the electricity generated at a fixed price over a time span of 20 years. It is here that the Kenyan feed-in tariffs for wind energy will pay off; Ethiopia is still waiting for such a policy.

Logistical and technical challenges

Still, Ethiopia and Adama 1 will remain the ones to look up to in East Africa for the time being, especially some 153 MW are being installed nearby at Adama 2. Adama is located 99 km southeast of the capital and lies on the main road leading to Djibouti, the small country on Africa’s eastern coast where all goods including turbines and rotor blades are handled in the port. Heavy-goods vehicles then transport them to the wind farm. 

One morning, wind turbines on the hillsides outside Adama are at a standstill. There are problems with transmitting power via the national grid, according to engineers from Chinese turbine supplier ­Goldwind and operator EEPCo, who explain that during grid bottlenecks the electricity from hydropower plants has priority. After all, they provide approximately 90 % of the electricity produced in the country.

There is intense activity in the control centre. In the end, the computer screen shows that all wind turbines except two are once again sending electricity to the grid. Because remote switching did not succeed in restarting the last two turbines, service personnel need to head out in their 4 x 4 vehicle in order to switch them on again manually.

Experience stimulates growth

In Aysha, at the Ethiopian border to Djibouti, a 300 MW wind farm is in the works. It is slated to be completed by the time the five-year plan for growth and transformation expires in late 2015. However, negotiations are still on­going to finance the three project phases. “Our company and Dongfang of China will install 120 MW each,“ explains Senior ­Advisor Stephan Willms of Lafto Turbine Technologies, a German company based in Addis Ababa, adding that the local technology company METEC will be in charge of the remaining 60 MW.

According to press reports, the Chinese Export-Import Bank EXIM, which was already part of the Adama deal, is named as a lender for a project phase.  The parties that will be involved on the European side are still being discussed. After Adama and Ashegoda, the port of Djibouti has experience loading large wind turbines, which should make it easier to handle equipment for Aysha. In addition, roads and power transmission lines are already available.
For Ashegoda wind farm about 750 km needed to be covered on the road for ­Vergnet’s 30 GEV HP two-bladers with 1 MW of capacity each and the 54 Alstom ECO74 three-bladers with 1.67 MW each. As of the end of May 2014, almost all wind turbines of the wind farm are in regular operation, according to information from German project specialist Lahmeyer.

By 2030, Kenya and Ethiopia intend to increase power generation capacity by more than tenfold in order to make their vision of becoming emerging markets come true. While Kenya expects 3,000 MW of wind energy capacity to be built, amounting to a share of about 15 % in the generation mix, figures in Ethiopia reach up to 7,000 MW, which would raise the share of wind power capacity to more than 30 %. Wind farms ­already rank second behind hydropower plants. While the envisaged rise to more than 800 MW by late 2015 may seem to be an expression of very ambitious aspirations, doubling the wind power capacity within the next two years seems to be quite realistic. This would be quite in line with logistics experience, advances in ­installation and promising project financing negotiations.

In Kenya, the extent to which Turkana will be completed by the end of 2016, or how projects such as Kipeto (on the coast) and Isiolo will do with their 100 MW each, is as yet unknown. In order to attract more investors to the country and implement large projects, Ethiopia’s government will have no choice but to approve independent generation companies, in addition to EEPCo, and establish an energy market.

Josephine Bollinger-Kanne

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