Eritrea are looking at wind energy

At the southern tip of the Red Sea, a constriction formed between two mountain ranges funnels wind onto the shores of Eritrea, a small African nation wedged between the sea and Ethiopia. The country has endured its share of hardships over the years, having won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after decades of struggle. But it can count among its blessings that relentless breeze.

A wind farm in Assab meets 25 percent of the town’s electricity requirements, said Semere Habtezion, Director of the Division of Energy in the Ministry of Mines and a former member of international scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Using wind energy to feed the Assab grid saved US$346,000 in imported fossil fuel over an eight-month period, said Habtezion, citing a study. Eritrea imports at least $100 million worth of fuel every year, which is a lot when the GDP per capita is $180 annually.

The country is still recovering from a 30-year war of independence and later border conflicts with Ethiopia; at times tension still flares. Aid workers pointed out that most of the country’s investments were diverted to defence. "One day we hope renewable energy will meet 30 percent of our country’s electricity requirements," said Habtezion.

Due to specific peculiarities of Eritrea’s local climate, there are areas of the country where mean annual wind speeds are measured at 8 m/s (at 10 m height) and above. The region with particularly good resources includes the southern coast from Tio to the Djibouti border. Other areas with potentially excellent resources include several passes in the Eritrean highlands. Those areas that have shown particular promise include passes north of Adi Teklezan (5-6 m/s at 10 m height), a pass in the far north of the country between Hiskib and Itaro (about 60 kilometers north of Nakfa), and the mountain passes at Dekemhare.

The Aseb area has the best wind energy resources in Eritrea. During most of the year cool marine air flows into the Red Sea from both North and South and then flows into the Sudan where it is heated over the Sahara desert. When this air flows into the Red Sea it is channeled and accellerated at both the Bab al Mandab straight near Aseb, and Gulf of Suez in Egypt. These channeled Red Sea winds have already been developed for utility scale wind electricity generation at the northern end of the Red Sea in Egypt. The winds in Eritrea are even stronger and more consistent than those in Egypt and could also be developed for electricity supply.

In the Eritrean Highlands, the area near Debresina has shown the greatest development potential to date. This is due to both the good winds speeds at Debresina, and its proximity to the electricity transmission lines being built between Asmara and Keren. The particular location that was investigated at Debresina is in a pass about 1 kilometer east of the village. Mean wind speeds from June to October appear to average between 7 and 8 m/s, while winds between November to May appear to average about 4 m/s. But the topography and wind dynamics in this area are complex and it is likely that there are nearby sites with even higher windspeeds.

According to these results, the Eritrean coastline has an outstanding wind resource, particularly in the Aseb area. Of the two sites monitored at Aseb, the Aseb Airport site appears to be the more promising. Existing data sources indicate mean annual wind speeds of over 9 meters per second at the Aseb Airport, with a theoretical capacity factor exceeding 50%. These values indicate that Aseb could generate over 200 kilowatts for each 20-meter diameter turbine installed at 30 meters height.

Due to the plentiful and inexpensive land resources in the Aseb area, a wind farm using available land could generate far more power than the current demand in the entire country. Without storage, Aseb could integrate only about 3 megawatts of wind power into the existing power grid (Van Buskirk 1997). Options for transmitting power generated at an Aseb wind farm to the more populated areas near Asmera are currently being investigated.

There are several factors that might justify Eritrea taking a relatively advanced position regarding wind energy development. First and foremost, Eritrea has some unquestionably favorable wind resources. The analysis presented here indicates that there are unusually high wind speeds along the southern coast. Other good sites have been found in highland passes in central Eritrea (see Appendix B). In addition, some of the physical properties of the wind flows at these sites increase its potential value. These include a highly periodic wind pattern with low variability and a positive correlation between wind power availability and electricity demand in the highlands.

Wind energy in Eritrea is an economically attractive option. In economically advanced nations, the main constraint on wind energy development is the competition from natural gas generators (Grubb and Meyer 1993). This is not the case in Eritrea. Because of the high capital costs of transportation and distribution facilities for natural gas, such generators are not expected to be an option for Eritrea within the next decade at least. In addition, diesel-generated electricity costs 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, while electricity generated at good wind sites should be significantly less expensive.

Currently, Eritrea’s economic development is constrained by the lack of long-term investment capital. Due to international concern about global carbon emissions, wind energy development is likely to provide access to grants or loans at subsidized interest rates that otherwise would not be available for electricity development. Also, since energy supply is one of the main constraints on national economic development, such investments would increase the pace of national reconstruction, further improving the economic situation in Eritrea.

Finally, Eritrea has already taken steps to perform an evaluation of wind resources. A major constraint on wind energy development is the wind resource assessment (Grubb and Meyer 1993), while lack of expertise is another major barrier in developing countries. This work, along with current monitoring activities and other work examining institutional barriers in Eritrea, are rapidly removing these impediments.

Due to these unusually favorable factors for Eritrean wind energy development, it may be to Eritrea’s advantage to plan a relatively high level of wind power penetration for the energy sector. What remain are questions involving the technical, economic and physical feasibility of wind energy development in the Eritrean context.

Potential Problems

In developing wind power for the electric grid in Eritrea, the primary considerations are economic. Currently, only the southern coastal region of Eritrea has been shown highly promising for wind energy development. Yet the main electricity load in Eritrea is currently in the central highlands region. Therefore, for extensive wind power development, either economical wind sites closer to the load center in the Eritrean highlands must be found, or transmission from the southern coast to Mitsiwa’e needs to be considered.

The main factors constraining Aseb wind power development are the relatively low demand and small size of the existing grid. Since the combined capacity of the Aseb power system is currently about 17 megawatts, the Aseb utility could accommodate only about 3 megawatts of wind. Due to the abundant wind resource at Aseb, this could easily be supplied by between 5 and 10 small to medium size turbines.

Another problem with the wind resource at Aseb is that the peak supply is in the winter, while the peak demand in the summer. One plan that would both further exploit the wind resource and level the seasonal loads is a cooperative effort with Ethiopia, in which winter wind power from Aseb is traded for summer hydropower from the Blue Nile region. However, this option may no longer feasible because of recent political conflict between the two countries.

Another option for distributing excess supply may be to connect the power system at Aseb to the national grid in the central highlands. Although this option is preferable in many respects, construction of transmission lines along the 500 km route may be prohibitively expensive and power losses unacceptably high. It may be possible, however, to find high-quality coastal wind power sites that are closer to the central grid.

Future Work

Based on the promising results obtained from this preliminary resource assessment, wind power could be an attractive future source of energy for Eritrea. To realize this potential, the following work needs to be pursued:

Complete the Physical Resource Assessment

Procedures adhering to international sampling standards for station monitoring and maintenance need to be developed and a data processing and distribution system needs to be established and institutionalized. Wind site prospecting should continue, with considerations for factors such as ease of access, distance to transmission and distribution facilities, logistical impediments to maintenance and technical support, land use and land availability, security, and local community reactions. The completed physical resource assessment should result in the identification of several candidate sites for future pilot projects. Progress is occurring on several of these fronts.

Since 1996, the Eritrean Department of Energy has been conducting a wind prospecting and wind survey program that has employed a variety of tactics to find and evaluate wind energy sites with high potential. Preliminary results of this program are provided in Appendix B. Although these spot measurements were not conducted as part of this thesis work, the results are linked to this study through the collaborative effort and are included for completeness.

Further funding for the coastal component of this assessment has been procured from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a joint program between the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Bank. This new project will include dedicated on-site monitoring, the results of which are expected in 1999.

Improve the Aseb power system

For full exploitation of the wind energy potential at Aseb, measures need to be taken to increase the reliability of the city power distribution system (Van Buskirk 1997). Although wind prospecting continues in the Eritrean highlands, further investigation into power transmission from Aseb to the highland is also warranted.

Implement pilot projects

One or more pilot projects should be implemented to demonstrate feasibility and to develop skills. A pilot project of this scale requires careful preparation and planning in order to be successful. Essential components in pilot project formulation and implementation include: cost and performance data from wind turbine manufacturers; information about current electricity generation; preliminary and final project designs; project evaluation criteria; financing options; operational procedures; and project staff training. The final decision on pilot project implementation is dependent on site assessment completion; however, as site evaluation awaits the year of data collection, pilot project formulation can proceed simultaneously. It is unclear at this point whether the GEF funded project described above will include pilot projects.

Conduct a thorough economic assessment of wind power integration

Wind data collected in the prospecting effort should be used to perform a detailed economic evaluation of wind power at each site. Prior to the availability of such data, any economic predictions are highly speculative.

Initiate a joint utility and government plan for wind development

Given the successful outcome of the previous stages, the government and utility can initiate an orderly plan and institute appropriate institutional mechanisms for the development of wind resources in Eritrea. Issues to be settled include: wind energy development priorities and policy goals; evaluation of wind power based on comparisons with competing fuel options; incorporation of environmental and energy security concerns; reliability; technical requirements; and social acceptability. In addition, possible institutional barriers of wind energy development in Eritrea should be considered.

If these steps are actively pursued, Eritrea will soon be in a good position to take advantage of its indigenous wind energy resources in an effective manner

“It’s a wind resource that is better than most wind resources in the U.S.,” says Robert Van Buskirk, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) who develops cost-benefit analysis models of energy policy. Earlier this summer, he spent four weeks in Eritrea to help the nation embark on a $3.8 million pilot project to determine whether a large portion of its energy can be derived from wind-powered turbines. As part of the project, Berkeley Lab has been contracted to help Eritrea create the most efficient procedures for implementing wind energy systems, as well as develop protocols that track the project’s progress.

It’s a big undertaking for a nation with a population of 4.5 million and an average annual income of $250 per person. The United Nations and an international consortium of donors called the Global Environmental Facility funds half of the nine-month-old project, while the Eritrean government provides the other half. But money isn’t the only obstacle.

“The barriers are mostly technical. We need to determine how to develop sustainable contracts between the people of Eritrea, companies that develop wind energy systems, and technical advisers,” says Van Buskirk, a member of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division’s Energy Analysis Program, which explores ways to introduce energy efficient technologies into society. “Getting these worlds to meet in an economically feasible way is difficult,” he adds.

In the project’s initial phase, engineers will soon install eight wind energy systems in six villages, some of which have never had electricity. These wind turbines will be used to pump irrigation water, provide electricity for everyday use such as lighting and making ice, and power desalinization plants that provide fresh drinking water to seaside fishing villages. Engineers will also build a multi-turbine wind-park that feeds into the electricity grid of the southern port town of Assab.

“In diffusing wind technology to Eritrea, we want to pilot test an array of applications because we won’t know which ones will work best,” says Van Buskirk.

Berkeley Lab scientists are also developing conceptual designs for six follow-up installations that include more expansive wind energy systems for remote villages, and a large wind-park for the central grid.

Ultimately, Eritrean officials would like to generate as much as 50 percent of the nation’s grid electricity via wind power. It’s too early to tell whether this goal is technically feasible, but Van Buskirk believes it may be economically viable. He estimates that wind energy will pay for itself in five years if it supplants Eritrea’s thirst for foreign fuel oil, which it currently uses as its main fuel for generating electricity. Eritrea’s quest for a greener energy program isn’t purely driven by environmental concerns either: the nation has worked to be as self reliant as possible since gaining independence, meaning it must find alternatives to imported oil.

Van Buskirk is uniquely qualified to help shepherd this transition along. Before joining Berkeley Lab in 1999, he worked for three years at the Eritrean Department of Energy’s Energy Research and Training Center, which he describes as the Eritrean equivalent of Berkeley Lab, albeit in one small compound. While there, he helped establish research programs in wind and solar energy resource assessment, and stove efficiency.

This latter program has evolved into another energy efficiency project. Eritrean villagers are adopting clean-burning cooking stoves that are three times more fuel efficient than traditional stoves. With help from Harvard University undergraduate student Elena Krieger, a former summer intern at Berkeley Lab who also recently traveled to Eritrea, Berkeley Lab scientists are developing ways to document the economic and health impacts of this program, which installs up to 10,000 new stoves each year. The Eritrean government helps fund the project by selling carbon credits on the international market, a process facilitated with help from Berkeley Lab scientists. These credits are earned because the new stoves emit less carbon, a greenhouse gas.

Van Buskirk has also helped several Eritrean students earn Master’s degrees in meteorology from San Jose State University. Two of these former students have recently developed computer simulations that assess the wind resources of Eritrea’s highlands and southeastern coast. The simulations were a feature presentation for a delegation of Eritrean experts and leaders who came to Berkeley Lab in January.

“I’m a communication bridge between this world and that world,” says Van Buskirk, adding that language and cultural barriers sometimes pose challenges. “When I go to some remote villages to discuss our work, a local staff member translates my words into the Eritrean language of Tigrinya, then a person from the village translates it into a local dialect, called Tigre.”

Such hurdles are easily justified, however, as remote villages stand to gain the most from new technologies. In rural areas that have never had modern luxuries such as electricity and running water, projects that raise living standards while decreasing labor often pay for themselves in less than one year.

“It’s an extreme case study in technology diffusion. We start with a place that is a world research leader like Berkeley Lab, and go to a place that is the largest socioeconomic distance from that, which is rural Africa,” says Van Buskirk. “The difficult part is learning how to adapt technologies to a socioeconomic world far removed from our everyday life. We need to create a context in which people can sustain efficient energy systems over the long term. And in terms of evaluating and creating long term sustainability, we find that the villagers, rather than the scientists, are the real experts.”

Other Berkeley Lab scientists and staff involved in the wind energy pilot project and stove replacement project include Bill Golove and Chris Bolduc, also of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California.