MARKING an important step in Djibouti’s ambitious drive to procure 100 percent of its power from renewables by 2020, the country broke ground on its first solar power plant in January.
Located in Grand Bara in southern Djibouti, the photovoltaic (PV) solar plant is being built in six stages, each adding 50 MW of capacity.
Construction work will begin in earnest in the first quarter of 2016, with the initial phase to be completed by the end of the year, the Oxford Business Group (OBG) reported Ali Yacoub Mahamoud, minister of energy, as saying.
The €360m complex is being developed by Switzerland-based Green Enesys, in partnership with the government of Djibouti, and is being financed through a programme partnership agreement.
Once completed, the 300-MW facility will be one of the largest of its kind in the region and the first in the country to connect to the national power grid. Electricité de Djibouti, the national utility company, has announced plans to sign a power purchase agreement upon completion of the plant.
Djibouti also signed an agreement with Canada’s SkyPower in October to develop a 200-MW PV solar plant, to be completed in four phases over four years. The project will cost a reported $440 million.
According to government officials, smaller solar power plants are also under construction around the country to supply off-grid electricity to 25 outlying villages within the next five years. Three such plants are already up and running.
The government’s goal of meeting 100 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 is within reach, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). In a recent readiness assessment, IRENA found the country could reach its target by investing in geothermal, wind and solar projects, while also strengthening its hydropower links to Ethiopia.
Djibouti currently imports 65 percent of its energy from hydroelectric power grids in neighbouring Ethiopia, though this reportedly totals just 120 MW and is accessible by only 55 percent of the nation’s 850,000-person population.
Going forward, Djibouti plans to leverage its own renewable resources, which include an estimated solar potential of more than 70 MWh per year and 1000 MW of geothermal potential, according to the ministry of energy.
‘The development of local renewable resources would provide an answer to Djibouti’s energy access, energy security and employment needs,’ Adnan Amin, director-general of IRENA, told media in mid-2015. ‘The falling costs of renewable energy offer an opportunity for Djibouti to rethink its energy strategy, develop policies and build institutions that would create jobs, bring power to those currently without it and deliver more reliable electricity services — all through clean, sustainable energy.’
In addition to shoring up energy independence, the realisation of Djibouti’s renewable energy goals would allow the country to expand its energy footprint beyond its borders.
According to the IRENA report, ‘Ambition for energy investment in the region is such that Djibouti can look beyond its regional role to become a transcontinental transmission hub for clean and low-emission electricity.’
Djibouti’s emphasis on renewables is also a reflection of the country’s vulnerability to climate change, particularly its susceptibility to drought, extreme temperatures, rising sea levels and flash floods. Between 2008 and 2011, droughts cost the economy an estimated 3.9 percentage points of GDP growth per year, according to the World Bank.
The government estimates that a 2°C increase in global temperatures – the target cap set by COP 21 – could cost Djibouti more than $5bn between 2010 and 2060, with the figure rising to $9bn if temperatures rise by as much as 4-5°C.
‘We can only win the fight against climate change by taking drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,’ President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh said at the COP 21 in late November.
According to the Djibouti government, with an extra $1.6bn of funding from the international community, Djibouti could raise its reduction target to 60 percent, effectively returning the nation’s emissions to 2010 levels.