Garbage for Electricity

Addis Ababa, the rapidly growing capital of Ethiopia, has had only one dump site for garbage. The Koshe dump site developed into a giant landfill over many years of unregulated dumping. A very literal mountain of garbage built up, filling roughly 36 football fields worth of land with waste. This problem came to a head when a garbage “landslide” wound up killing 114 people, many of them scavengers who had come to the dump in the hopes of finding something useful.

The dump was more than an eyesore. It was also a health hazard due to its creeping into populated areas, limiting living space where rapid expansion was a constant. The landfill also polluted nearby rivers, as well as the air with methane gasses from rot and decay.

The Reppie Power Plant

To solve this problem, Samuel Alemayehu put forth an idea for a way to transform the dump into a useful energy source. He proposed a plan to create a garbage incineration plant specifically for the purpose of creating electricity by burning the offending garbage. The Reppie Power Plant is meant to be the first of its kind, with others to follow as similar solutions in other cities.

“We believe these plants will create for African megacities a modern, multipurpose infrastructure… which will enable them simultaneously to dispose of waste, generate sustainable energy, clean, and reuse water, recycle valuable resources, generate industrial grade steam for use by other businesses, and, most importantly do all this in one facility located safely within city limits,” Alemayehu said.

A coalition of Ethiopia’s government and several international companies funded the Reppie Power Plant. It was modeled off similar plants from Europe and France, and the project was officially launched in 2017. The plant officially went operational the following year. The Reppie Power Plant is designed to process 1,400 tons of waste every day, which comes to roughly 80  percent of the city’s waste, all while producing 30 percent of the city’s electricity. It does this by burning the garbage to boil water, and the resultant steam turns massive turbines to produce the electricity.

The Reppie Power Plant is still operating, despite being shut down for three months in 2019 due to a dispute between contractors and Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP). It has also succeeded in inspiring other nations to adopt the same model. In Kenya, an incineration plant has been greenlit which is modeled directly off the Reppie Power Plant, with the equivalent of 197 million USD dedicated to the project. It is no surprise, since such plants simultaneously clear living space, eliminate sources of pollution and disease, eliminate eyesores and produce electricity. So long as it continues to operate properly, the Reppie Power Plant is likely to have a lasting positive effect in its own city and, as others follow its example, in other countries and cities around the world.

– Mason Sansonia
Photo: Flickr