Clean energy solutions for rural development in Ethiopia: Combining forces across key energy actors

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By Dr Claudia Ringler

In Ethiopia, key uptake partners are making use of research carried out by the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains in driving the country’s rural energy transformation. Several representatives joined the Initiative in February 2023 at a NEXUS Gains outreach event on “Strengthening women’s access to rural energy sources and technologies: A research for development .”

Initiative co-lead Claudia Ringler spoke with three of these partners to understand more about their work to expand rural energy development in an inclusive and sustainable way, and how NEXUS Gains supports them to achieve this. Ato Berhanu Woldu is in charge of Rural Energy Technology Development at the Ministry of Water and Energy; Nabil Ishak is the Managing Director of Solar Development PLC, and Tesfaye Hailu is the Director of Power for All Ethiopia.

Ato Berhanu Woldu

How is the Ministry of Water and Energy supporting the development of rural energy technology?

We are driving the extension of clean energy in rural areas. Ethiopia has made clean energy access for all of its people a national priority, as reflected in the National Electrification Program. We support both on-grid and off-grid solutions, including around 200 decentralized rural energy systems, micro hydropower development, the dissemination of solar home systems, the promotion of solar productive use technologies, biogas technology development, and the promotion of clean cooking technologies in rural areas.

What is your relationship with CGIAR and now NEXUS Gains?

Previously, CGIAR and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) supported the Government of Ethiopia’s energy strategy by assessing the potential of renewable energy technologies in the country’s energy mix. New linkages focus on accelerating access to clean energy technologies by farmers and on improving gender equity. The National Electrification Program calls for clean energy for improving agricultural productivity, for targeted assistance to safety net beneficiaries, and for ensuring gender equality in access to electricity services.

How can you use NEXUS Gains research in your work?

NEXUS Gains helps us identify entry points for gender equality through improved energy access through the development of rural energy technologies. Until now, there had been close to no information and no metrics on how women and men benefit from different energy sources and technologies. NEXUS Gains has identified two types of metrics and ways to better reach women in rural areas in support of the National Electrification Program goals.

Nabil Ishak

What is your role with Solar Development PLC?

I lead several private sector enterprises that work to accelerate the diffusion of solar energy technologies in Ethiopia. While most of our sales are for solar-roof systems in urban Addis Ababa, and the implementation of electrification projects for institutions such as health facilities and schools, we are looking for ways to bring more solar energy technologies for productive uses into the reach of rural people with a special focus on women and youth. We identify the needs of the women and youth by encouraging them to get involved in the initial stages of our market development studies before we seek solutions.

What solar energy technologies are we talking about?

In rural areas, the only available solar energy technology for productive use is solar irrigation pumps. We estimate that, across all implementers, around 20,000–25,000 solar irrigation pumps have been sold in Ethiopia to date, and we have more demand for solar water pumps than we can supply. There are also some pilots in the country on other solar energy technologies, including solar cold storage (supported by GIZ), solar driers, solar millers, solar milk machines, and even solar egg incubators (supported by Precise Consult).

What is your relationship with CGIAR and NEXUS Gains?

We are directly engaging with NEXUS Gains to gain new insights on how to reach and benefit poorer and women farmers. As an example, we support the Ethiopian Solar Energy Development Association with their rural demonstration days. Research under NEXUS Gains suggests that women farmers currently have no agency or decision power over solar energy technologies, such as solar lighting or solar irrigation pumps. But there are ways to start raising awareness with women farmers – for example, through providing information on demonstration days or through rural health extension officers. These officers already link rural women with clean cookstove promotions and vendors.

We are also collaborating with NEXUS Gains on a Green Climate Fund concept note on a gender-responsive Productive Use of Renewable Energy (PURE) facility, providing information on past economic analyses of profitable solar energy technologies in the Ethiopian context.

I also appreciate that the Initiative has brought people from different energy sector aspects together, such as ourselves, energy associations – including the Ethiopian Solar Energy Development Association – and the Ethiopian Women in Energy Association.

Tesfaye Hailu

Can you tell us about Power for All?

Power for All is a global campaign established in 2015 by leading civil society groups and international institutions. It advocates for policies and investments that accelerate access to distributed renewable energy (DRE) for the 1.2 billion people worldwide who lack access to electricity, as well as many more with poor quality or unreliable grid connections. The key objective is to empower these populations by facilitating access to clean DRE solutions to provide power to 400 million households and businesses by 2025, focusing on developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Coalition partners include influential groups such as The UN Foundation, Practical Action, World Resources Institute, CGIAR, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank, and major environmental NGOs like the World Wide Fund for Nature, Oxfam, and ActionAid. They also include private sector groups, forming a diverse coalition of business, civil society, and international institutions united in accelerating DRE adoption.

How do you link with IFPRI and NEXUS Gains?

In May 2023, Power for All signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with IFPRI and Purpose Black, an Ethiopian company that aims to modernize agriculture by reaching 1 million farmers with mechanization, including solar irrigation technologies. The MoU was signed in support of the solarization of irrigation in the clusters where Purpose Black operates.

With Purpose Black and IFPRI, we designed a questionnaire to help us understand current awareness of solar irrigation pumps among farmers, and identify characteristics of farmers who might be most interested in and able to adopt this energy technology. The survey covers five regions in Ethiopia: the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, Southwest Ethiopia, Sidama, Oromia, and Amhara – where the survey is ongoing. Power for All analyzed the and shared the results with our key stakeholders. When the survey data is completed in the Amhara region, we will have another round of consultation. We hope to repeat this data collection with NEXUS Gains after a first round of solar pumps is installed to assess changes in water use, agricultural productivity, and income generation.

Do you use NEXUS Gains research and information directly?

Yes, it could not be more direct. We directly collaborate on research and outreach products. Power for All has already had experience working with CGIAR, whom we consider a trusted research and development partner. NEXUS Gains’ work shows the urgent need to accelerate rural energy and water access to address large negative impacts on GDP from climate change and we collaborate on tools to assess solar irrigation suitability in Ethiopia and across Africa. We hope to continue our collaboration with the Initiative for years to come.

Further reading

Dr Claudia Ringler is the Unit Director for Natural Resources and Resilience in the Transformation Strategies Department at IFPRI, and NEXUS Gains Co-Lead.

This work was carried out under the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains, which is grateful for the support of CGIAR Trust Fund contributors: 


Header image: Setting up a solar-powered water pump to pump groundwater in Ethiopia. Photo by Maheder Haileselassie/IWMI.

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