Renewable Energy in Djibouti

Djibouti, located in East Africa and bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, has a population of nearly one million people. In 2013, Djibouti announced Vision 2035, a comprehensive plan to use exclusively renewable energy and achieve universal access to reliable electricity. If successful, Djibouti would become the seventh country in the world and the first African country to achieve 100 percent renewable energy.

Djibouti’s Energy Infrastructure Today

Right now, Djibouti faces several roadblocks in its path toward renewable energy. For example, much of Djibouti’s energy comes from volatile imports. Around 65 percent of Djibouti’s electricity comes from Ethiopia. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), this reliance on imported energy leads to price volatility that can hamstring economic development plans. Much of Djibouti’s remaining energy comes from its own geothermal, solar, wind and biomass sources. However, much of this electricity is unreliable. According to USAID, 100 megawatts of electricity that Djibouti consumes, only 57 megawatts are available to serve the population because of underdeveloped energy infrastructure. In addition, only 60 percent of Djiboutians have access to electricity. There is a large disparity in access between urban and rural areas, with far more city dwellers connected to the grid than those in rural areas. In total, 110,000 households in Djibouti without electricity.

Potential and Progress

Despite these hurdles, Djibouti has a remarkable potential to increase domestic renewable energy production. Djibouti has the natural capacity to produce 300 megawatts of renewable energy annually—triple what it produces today. The country has abundant solar radiation for the creation of solar farms and many opportunities to harvest geothermal energy, such as the rifts of its two largest lakes, Abbe and Assal.

Since the 2013 commencement of Vision 2035, much of this potential has been actualized. The creation of the Djibouti Geothermal Power Generation Project, a power plant in Lake Assal, was announced in 2013. In 2018, construction began after $50 million in funding was secured by the World Bank and other financiers. Moreover, a $390 million solar farm is under construction in southern Djibouti as a result of a public-private partnership between Djibouti’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and Green Enesys, a German renewable energy firm. Djibouti is already beginning to reap the benefits of renewable energy investment projects. The World Bank reports a four percent increase in access to electricity from 2013 to 2017—the largest sustained increase in over two decades.

The Importance of Renewable Energy

There are many important benefits to Vision 2035 if it succeeds. Access to energy is essential to economic growth. The World Bank reports that reliable energy is critical for several aspects of development such as “health, education, food security, gender equality, livelihoods and poverty reduction.” Better electricity is vital for sustained progress in Djibouti.

Additionally, Vision 2035 offers a framework of sustainable development that maintains the integrity of Djibouti’s natural ecosystems. By harnessing energy from renewable sources, Djibouti can reduce poverty without depleting its forests or relying on imported coal or oil. By becoming the first African country to use 100 percent renewable energy, Djibouti has the opportunity to become a leading international voice in sustainable development.

– Abraham Rohrig
Photo: Flickr

Rising Tide: Five Development Projects in Djibouti
Djibouti is a small country nestled next to landlocked Ethiopia on the Horn of Africa. It lies on the western bank of the strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Despite its advantageous position, Djibouti is a poor nation: 41 percent of the population is poor; 23 percent live in extreme poverty. Unemployment reaches as high as 39 percent. These dour figures, however, may be on the verge of changing. The government, in conjunction with international partners, has embarked on a bold program of economic revitalization. Here is a sample of five development programs in Djibouti which could bolster its economy.

Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway
Financed by a Chinese bank and staffed by Chinese nationals, this 466 mile long, $3.4 billion transportation corridor has cut down travel times between Djibouti’s Red Sea port and the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, from three days by highway to a mere 12 hours. When first opened in late 2016, the electric trains only carried freight. It has since been opened to passenger traffic as well.

Ethiopia-Djibouti Water Pipeline
This 63-mile long pipeline runs from the Ethiopian town of Hadagalla into the interior of Djibouti, where it is expected to supply safe drinking water to 700,000 residents of Ali-Sabieh, Dikhil, Arta and Djibouti City itself. The Chinese firm CGC Overseas Construction Co. Ltd. laid the pipe itself with approximately $329 million in funding from the Chinese Import-Export Bank.

Renewable Energy
Several international firms have begun developing renewable energy plants in Djibouti. The Swiss-based firm Green Enesys is building a 300MW solar plant in the city of Grand Bara. Following its lead, Canadian corporation SkyPower reached a deal with the government of Djibouti to build a 200MW solar plant at a cost of $440 million. Solar is not the only game in town, either. Shanghai Electric is working on a 60MW wind farm as well.

Refined Petroleum Product Pipeline
In contrast to the renewable energy investments in Djibouti, a 342-mile long pipeline will form yet another link between Djibouti and Ethiopia. Scheduled for completion in 2018, the pipeline will connect the central Ethiopian city of Awash to ports in Djibouti and is expected to move 240,000 barrels of petroleum products per day. This pipeline, along with another planned to deliver liquefied natural gas, could help establish Djibouti as a major shipping hub for export goods from the African interior.

Djibouti City Multipurpose Port
Perhaps the centerpiece of the government’s plan for economic growth and most important of these five development projects in Djibouti, the multipurpose port under construction in Djibouti City may allow the country on the shore of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait to develop into a major transshipment hub for its region. In large part financed by China, this modern port facility will ultimately cost $590 million and facilitate both the import of goods from around the world and the export of petroleum and natural gas products from Ethiopia.

While the ultimate effect of these five development projects in Djibouti remains to be seen, particularly in terms of new jobs and opportunities for the unemployed or impoverished, early economic indicators are favorable. In 2016, Djibouti’s economy grew by 6.5 percent; projections for 2017-2019 run as high as seven percent growth. This new growth, driven by foreign investment in major capital projects, may yet improve the lives of many in Djibouti.

— Joel Dishman

Photo: Flickr