Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Ethiopia's Renaissance Project to Transform Its Energy Resources

By Julia HeymanPublished November 9, 2015

In 2011 Ethiopia embarked on a six-year project that has the potential to transform Africa's energy resources. It's called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam"”and the name certainly fits.

By Julia Heyman, 11/9/15

In 2011 Ethiopia embarked on a six-year project that has the potential to transform Africa's energy resources. It's called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam—and the name certainly fits. 1,800 meters long and 170 meters high, the dam has a volume capacity of 10 million cubic meters and upon its completion will be the largest dam on the continent. More than 8,000 laborers on the project work to reach the set July 2017 completion date.

One of the most remarkable and equally admirable features of this project is that the dam is funded entirely by the Ethiopian government and people with no foreign investment. And it doesn't come cheap--the nearly $5 billion price tag is financed by a combination of bonds to Ethiopian people, both in the country and abroad, and tax collection.

The Grand Renaissance Dam presents remarkable impacts for Ethiopia. When completed the dam is estimated have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts. It has a capacity to handle a flood of approximately 19,370 cubic meters per second and is estimated to reduce 40 kilometers of flooding in Sudan. The dam is also designed to provide irrigation to a large amount of new agricultural lands. Because of Ethiopia's geographic location on the globe, the country loses about 19 billion cubic meters of water to evaporation. The Grand Renaissance Dam is designed in a way to conserve about 6 billion cubic meters of water from evaporation, improving water conservation.

Apart from the immediate environmental impacts of the Grand Renaissance Dam, the project will also serve as a valuable piece of the country's economy. Construction alone creates about 12,000 jobs for Ethiopians. The dam will provide the country with much-needed energy, but also will provide Ethiopia with a valuable export commodity. The World Bank estimates that the export of electricity could earn the country $1 billion annually. Several other countries in the region, including Rwanda and Kenya, have already arranged to buy thousands of megawatts of power from Ethiopia when the dam is complete, and many more countries are expected to do the same.

Despite the benefits, not all neighboring countries are happily awaiting the opening of the dam. Egypt and Sudan have been vehemently fighting the construction of the dam, as they lie downstream, and thus believe their stream of the Nile will be negatively affected. 90% of Egypt's water supply comes from the Nile, and the country worries that the construction of the dam will create a permanent loss of river flow volume. Due to the potential effects on Egypt, the country has insisted that they be a part of the planning, demanded that Ethiopia halt construction of the dam until negotiations have been settled, and even gone as far as to discuss ways to impair the project. More recently the discussion has been more civil, and Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan have reached agreements about how the dam will be run.
The lack of energy in Africa has severely stunted the continent's development. Energy and electricity are the building blocks for industrialization, and are critical for improving quality of life. Without sufficient energy and electricity no meaningful advances can be made in infrastructure, manufacturing, or overall development. The name "Renaissance" couldn't be more accurate—hopefully the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be a turning point where major industrialization and development for not only the country, but the entire continent, is discovered.