Ethiopia’s rapid rate of urban growth is expected to lead to expansion of its secondary cities. Such growth will also create a rise in energy demand – a particular challenge for a country like Ethiopia where available power is already insufficient, and existing energy infrastructure is weak. Hydrological variability arising from future climate change, exacerbates the uncertainty around energy security, which could make Ethiopia’s major hydropower projects less viable. In light of this, the client – The Cities Alliance – wanted to investigate what sustainable, low-carbon energy options secondary Ethiopian cities could draw on to enjoy reliable, climate-resilient and inclusive growth.
Recognising the fact that adequate and reliable energy is at the heart of economic development, both at a city and national level, we unpacked the range of energy challenges facing Ethiopian cities. We interrogated the duality of Ethiopia’s massive planned hydropower expansion and the likelihood that much of the new power generated by large dams would be exported to secure vital foreign exchange. We also examined future challenges to hydropower from a changing climate and rainfall regime. Amongst other things, our research delved into the staggering reliance on biomass energy, as well as why Ethiopian secondary cities – which ostensibly have high rates of connectivity to the grid – still only enable Ethiopians one of the lowest rates of per capita consumption of electricity per year, relative to other East African nations. Our insights into Ethiopia’s complex energy landscape allowed us to recommend a transformative solution: a move towards decentralized energy decision-making as well as entry points for cities (and the private sector) to participate more actively in energy generation and supply.