The wind farm is contracted to Vergnet Groupe by the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) and financed by the French bank BNP Paribas through soft loan. The loan of approximately 210 million euro was facilitated by the Agence France de Development.
With an installed capacity of 120 megawatt, along with an annual energy production of 400 to 450 GWH, the Ashegoda wind power project is the very first of its kind in Ethiopia.
Marc Vergnet owner and president of the Vergnet Groupe told Capital that his company is doing its best to expedite the project which is expected to be the biggest wind farm in Africa.
According to Mr. Vergnet, his company will install the 120 wind turbines with their blades that generate one megawatt of power each. He said that the wind turbines are especially designed to connect to a weak power grid that intermittently interrupts with power failure.
He said that the 120 wind turbines that are going to be installed are already on the project site, the concrete work is completed and the blades that rotate to generate the power have arrived in Djibouti. The blades cannot be transported to the site yet as the bridges on the way from Djibouti-Mile to Woldiya via Chifra are out of service due to the latest heavy rains.
The blades are thirty meters long, weigh four tons and will be transported by special trailers, designed to easily curve on compact roads. Other routes than the Chifra road are too long, but for now, the company is focusing on other installation works on the site.
The Vergnet Groupe won the tender launched in 2008 by EEPCo to install the wind farm and signed an agreement in October 2009. But finance and other logistical problem led the company to only start the project in February this year.
The company installed over seven hundred wind turbines all over the world, but mostly in Africa including Kenya, Nigeria and Eritrea. Vergnet is also hoping to clinch another wind power project in Mauritania soon.
“Our wind turbines have two blades while the conventional ones have three. Ours, however, are easier to install compared to those that have three blades and need special cranes,” the president explained, adding that his blades have a self erecting capability, are easy to maintain and have an expected life span of twenty years. He further said that the towers are strong enough to resist typhoons that travel over three hundred kilometer per hour.
The company held talks with a local engineering company in Tigray to explore ways of cooperation in manufacturing some parts of the windmills. Moreover, it will send EEPCo engineers to France for training on the turbines once installed. There will also be an onsite training facility available for students of Mekelle University.
There are currently three hundred people employed on the Ashegoda project. Fifteen of them are from France. The wind farm is also expected to employ over hundred people constantly after installation is completed.
In Ethiopia during the rainy season the country sees low wind and in the dry season the potential of wind becomes high. This creates favorable conditions to use both. Combining the two, wind and hydropower, will add value to the hydropower plants by elongating their operational time.
In Ethiopia, Adama (Nazaret) has the best wind resources with 9.3 meters per second, followed by Ashegoda 8.5 meters per second and Harena 6.9 meters per second, annual wind speeds on forty meters above ground.
Currently, approximately 25 per cent of the Ethiopian population has access to electricity. The Government has launched a universal electricity access program to be executed by EEPCo with the aim to increase access to 50 per cent by 2010.
Mr. Marc Vergnet, whose first passion is working in water and energy in rural areas, said that his company succeeded in manufacturing boreholes or wells that are reliable and economical. The president also said that his company is planning to be involved in the water sector in Ethiopia. He said that his specially designed manual pumps – his own design – can pump up water from as deep as hundred meters whereas the conventional manual pumps can only go down to thirty meters.
“We can install the water pumps in just one week,” he said adding that his pumps could also be easily maintained by women in rural areas.