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Biomass energy in Ethiopia

Overview of Biomass Energy Resource in Ethiopia

The energy sector remains heavily dependent on wood for fuel. Despite the poor
documentation on the production and consumption of wood fuel (EFAP, 1994) estimated
that wood provided 78% while dung and crop residues providing 16% of the energy
required. However, national figures conceal considerable regional and local variation in
both supply and consumption patterns. This could be due to the varying fuel wood prices
and costs of supplying alternative energy sources which also have large influence on the
consumption pattern and the level of biomass consumption.

Biomass energy is an important source of energy for majority of the world’s population.
The use of biomass energy is expected to increase in the near future, with growth in
population. In many developing countries (particularly sub-Saharan Africa), traditional
biomass energy dominates national energy statistics, leading to significant negative
impacts on human health and the environment. There are, however, opportunities for
developing improved and modern biomass energy technologies, which offer substantial
benefits in terms of enhanced quality of energy services and reduction in negative health
and environmental impacts. In addition, the sustainable harvesting of biomass resources
is essential for ensuring the continued availability of this important energy source
particularly for the world’s poor. Biomass energy use can be categorized into three
clusters, namely: traditional, improved and modern biomass.

Biomass, which includes wood, charcoal, animal waste and agricultural residue, is the
most widely used form of energy in Ethiopia. Nearly 90% of Ethiopia’s current total
energy demand is met using biomass fuels. Within the household sector, the contribution
of biomass fuels is close to 97%. Given the fact that rural incomes are generally low and
biomass fuels are collected ‘freely’ in most rural areas, it would be very difficult to
switch to modern fuels. The importance of biomass energy in the rural sector is unlikely
to diminish in the foreseeable future.

According to estimates made by a recent study, at the national level, there appears to be a
surplus of woody biomass supply. However, the same study revealed that there is a
severe deficit of supply when the data is disaggregated to lower local levels. According to

this same study, 307 Woredas (districts) out of the total number of 500 Woredas are
consuming woody biomass in excess of sustainable yield.

Among the key issues that characterize the Ethiopian energy sector, the following are
some that stand out:

(i) the fact that the sector relies heavily on biomass energy resources,
(ii) the fact that the household sector is the major consumer of energy (which comes
almost entirely from biomass) and,
(iii) The fact that biomass energy supplies are coming mainly from unsustainable
resource base (which has catastrophic environmental implications).

Biomass Energy Resource Potential and Distribution

Wood, agricultural residues, animal waste and human wastes are considered as major
biomass resources. The total energy that can be derived annually from these resources is
estimated to be about 101,656.77 Tcal. Out of this, the share of the woody biomass is
estimated to be 79%, followed by animal waste 11 percent, crop residue 8 percent and human
waste 2 percent. Fuelwood and tree residues provide the only means of lighting to the vast
majority of the rural population located in areas remote from modern fuel supplies. The
efficiency of fuelwood and twigs as a source of light, when compared to other sources of
energy, is weak.

The contribution of dung and crop residues for the total energy consumption of rural
households is around 18% of the total rural energy consumption. The total dung that can be
produced annually from the current livestock and poultry population is about 27,835,022.62
tonnes. From this, about 111,284.42 Tcal of energy can be derived annually. Studies also
indicate that from current population level of the country, 7,048,500 tonnes of human waste

Ethiopia’s biomass energy resource potential is considerable. According to estimates by

Woody Biomass Inventory and Strategic Planning Project (WBISPP), national woody
biomass stock was 1,149 million tons with annual yield of 50 million tons in the year
2000. The figures are excluding other biomass fuels such as Branches/Leaves/Twigs
(BLT), dead wood and homestead tree yields. Owing to rapidly growing population,
however, the nation’s limited biomass energy resource is believed to have been depleting
at an increasingly faster rate. Regarding the regional distribution of biomass energy
resources, the northern highlands and eastern lowlands have lower woody biomass cover.
The spatial distribution of the "deficit" indicated that areas with severe woody biomass
deficit are located in eastern Tigray, East and West Harerghe, East Shewa and East
Wellega Zones of Oromiya and Jigjiga Zone of Somali Region. Most of Amhara Region

is moderately deficit with a small number of Woredas with severe deficit are along the
crest of the Eastern Escarpment.

Most of the developing countries are suffering from what many call the energy crisis, which
is characterised by depletion of locally available energy resources and dependence on
imported fuel. In fact, the energy crisis is believed to be the second most serious problem in
these countries next only to the food crisis. What is more, the energy crisis is exacerbating
the food crisis by increasing the rate of deforestation and thereby causing degradation of
farmlands. Furthermore, dependence on imported fuel is weakening the capacity of the
concerned countries to buy food whenever the need arises. All these situations apply to
Ethiopia. Traditional fuels contributed 99.9% of the rural energy consumption, with fuel
wood being by far the most important source (81.8%), followed by dung (9.4%), crop
residues (8.4%) and small amount of charcoal (EPA, 1997a: 107).
On the whole, over 95% of the domestic energy needs are met from bio-fuels thereby
contributing to deforestation, loss of soil nutrients and organic matter. Some reports raise this
figure to 97% (Anderson et al., 1999:68). In any case, Ethiopia is one of the countries that
rely extremely on the biomass (Table 1). According to the Table, 86% of the total and 97% of
the household energy consumption depends entirely on the biomass. Furthermore, biomass is
expected to retain its dominant position in the coming decades (Table 2). In fact, its
contribution in rural areas is estimated to increase from 66% in 1992 to 68% in 2014.

There is a huge energy resource potential in Ethiopia, which, if utilized, could minimize the
present energy crisis prevailing in the country and enhance the process of rural electrification.
The total exploitable renewable energy that can be derived annually from primary solar
radiation, wind, forest biomass, hydropower, animal waste, crop residue and human waste is
about 1,959x103 Tcal per year (EEA, 2002).
Out of this, the share of primary solar radiation is about 73.08 percent, while the share of
biomass resources is about 12.8 percent (Table 3).

Challenges/Issues Affecting Exploitation of Biomass Energy Resources in Ethiopia

More than 80% of Ethiopia’s 80 million people live in rural areas. The vast majority of
these people are dependent on traditional fuels (wood, dung and crop residue), often
using inefficient end-use appliances. For many, this combination of fuels barely allows
for fulfillment of the basic human needs such as proper nutrition, warmth and light, let
alone the possibility of harnessing energy for productive uses which might begin to
permit escape from the cycle of poverty. Thus, the most important challenge that hampers
the development and exploitation of biomass energy resource emanates from its very
nature. That is, it does not lend itself easily for applications beyond basic physiological
needs of cooking, heating and lighting. Among other factors and key issues that adversely
affect the exploitation of biomass energy resources in Ethiopia are the following:

• Unsustainable biomass resource base: although biomass is said to be a renewable
resource, the rate of extraction usually exceeds that of planting, resulting in
increased environmental degradation, which in turn leads to persistent poverty.
• Lack of coherent policies: Well-thought and coherent policies that guide activities
in the biomass energy sector are lacking.
• Lack of institutional capacity: Capable institutions with clear mandates and long-
term oriented programs of action are lacking.
• Wasteful energy utilization: Biomass energy use is characterized by energy-
inefficient utilization in the household sector. Previous energy efficiency
improvement efforts are confined to urban areas at the expense of rural areas
where the majority lives.
• Free-good nature of biomass energy: In most parts of rural Ethiopia, biomass is
still a ‘free-good’ that can be obtained by free (no cost) collection. This is known
to have served as a disincentive to consumers to conserve biomass energy.
• Land tenure: In Ethiopia, land is publicly owned with farmers having user rights.
This is believed to have reduced farmers’ appetite to invest in longer-term land
development including tree growing.
• Subsidized kerosene: Understandably, kerosene, as a cooking fuel, is subsidized
on equity and environmental grounds. Such subsidy is well known to have
distorted the market against biomass fuels.
• Health Issues: biomass fuels such as wood and its derivatives are used widely in
developing countries like Ethiopia, especially in rural and poor urban areas. This
biomass is composed of complex organic maters, carbohydrates that contain
carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and other elements in trace amounts. Smoke emission
from these domestic fuels is the major source of indoor pollution, especially in
rural and poor urban communities. This smoke contains pollutants and
particulates that adversely affect the health of women. It is reported that these
pollutants are the major causes of chronic bronchitis and lung diseases. This
prolonged smoke exposure associated with biomass usage also has a huge long-
term effect on eyesight of women and infants. Studies have shown that wood,
charcoal and dung produced unacceptable levels of indoor air pollution during

cooking and baking. These findings also have shown that changing from biomass
fuel to other types of energy (kerosene, and gas) without proper ventilation or
control of smoke related emissions will not necessarily remove health risks in
women. A further concern related to indoor pollution is the level of carbon
monoxide production during cooking and baking. A report has shown that there is
some evidence that carbon monoxide exposure result in higher fetal COHb
(Carbon monoxide–hemoglobin interaction). This has a greater effect for pregnant
women that will result in a low birth weight and fetal damage due to carbon
monoxide exposure.
• Environmental Issues: The wide spread use of wood cutting for fuel is the
primary cause of deforestation in Ethiopia. About 95% of the total energy
consumption in Ethiopia mostly comes from biomass fuels. Historically Ethiopia
was one of the “forest” rich nations in the world. In just the past 50 years the land
covered by forest has dropped from approximately 50% to less than 3%. Some
experts attribute this mostly to forest clearing for cultivation and cutting woods
for fuel. The current rate of deforestation is estimated to be 200,000 hectares
(500,000 acres) per year. In fact a recent National Geographic Magazine stated
that at the current rate of deforestation, Ethiopia could lose all its natural forest in
20 years. In some areas even small bushes now have to be used as firewood. As a
result of this relentless deforestation large areas are now exposed to heavy soil
erosion. In fact at this current rate of deforestation, it is estimated that fertile
topsoil is lost at a rate of 1 billion cubic meters per year resulting in a massive
environmental degradation and serious threat to sustainable forestry. Due to this
forest degradation, increasing numbers of Ethiopians have become vulnerable to
the effects of drought. The severity of the devastating droughts and the resulting
famines in 1972/1973 and 1984/1985 can be attributed directly to an accelerated
deforestation due to wood cutting for fuel and land clearing for cultivation. The
continues wide spread practice of burning dung, burning crop residues for fuel,
and deforestation for fuel wood will undoubtedly will increase and hasten the
susceptibility of open land to erosion. Deforestation cannot be reduced without
providing alternatives to the current way of cooking that also addresses related

health issues. It is very important that whatever the alternatives are, they must
provide better livelihood and sustained income generation to support the family.
Otherwise the people will continue the status quo and continue this relentless
deforestation that endangers their life and the eco-system beyond repair.

Table 1. Forest fire statistics of Ethiopia for the period 1990-2000.

Total no. of fires on Total area burned Area of forest burned

Year forest and other
wooded lands (ha) (ha)
1990 4 1 072
1991 2 153
1992 1 32
1993 20 3 159
1994 1 1 550
2000 > 120 95 000

Source: paper records of the Ministry for Agriculture, Addis Ababa.

Mechanisms for avert such unsustainable Energy Use are: current strategy or
programs that our government or other groups have put in place to address deforestation
and forest degradation:

 Ethiopian Forestry Action Program,1994

 Forest conservation and development proclamation no.94/1994

 Forest Policy of 2007

 Forest Proclamation of 2007

 National Forest Program

 Participatory Forest Management

 Eastern Africa Bamboo Project

 Non Timber Forest Products Research and Development Project

Conclusions and Recommendations
4.1. Conclusions

Rural areas in Ethiopia are characterized by either low-density settlement with relatively
large distances between households, or villages with fewer inhabitants. This has hindered the
use of modern sources of energy. Leaving rural inhabitants, to continue on the course of the
current use pattern of traditional energy sources, is bound to have highly negative
consequences for the rural economy at large, as well as the environment and the ecosystem
balance. Fortunately, the natural resource base for the generation of modern sources of
energy is plenty. There are also favorable economic, environmental and energy policies.
The following points summaries the issues that could be considered as opportunities for rural
electrification in Ethiopia:
 Ethiopia has several rivers that carry huge amount of water (the country
stands only second in Africa next to the Democratic Republic of Congo).
The country has exploitable potential of 40,000MW hydropower of which
only 2% has been utilized so far.
 Ethiopia has exploitable resource of 106GW solar energy with an average
isolation of 5kwh/m2/day.
 The country has exploitable reserve of 10,000MW wind energy with an
average speed of 3.5-5.5m/s, 6 hours/day.
 The economic, environmental and energy policies issued recently
encourage use of renewable sources of energy and attract the private
 The huge market (Ethiopia has 67 million population making he country
the second in the sub-Sahara Africa next to Nigeria).
There are also factors that hinder rural electrification in the country. These include the
 Low purchasing power owing to the poverty prevailing in the country.
 Low managerial capacity and experience for mobilizing communities and
potential investors.
 The widespread misconception about the private sector.
 Unfair regulations that discriminate against technologies that are
especially suited to rural areas.
4.2. Recommendations

Assessment of Ethiopia's natural resource base and government policies relating to the use
and management of energy resources indicates that the country has a huge potential for rural
electrification through the stand-alone system. There are, however, formidable challenges
like low purchasing power, unfavorable public attitude towards the private sector and unfair
regulations that work against development and dissemination of renewable energy
technologies. It is thus recommended that the government, non-governmental organizations
and the public make concerted efforts to overcome these challenges by using more flexible
approaches to improve the current dreadful state of rural electrification in Ethiopia.

Since the government cannot simply afford to electrify rural areas of Ethiopia where
85% of the total population reside, maximum effort must be exerted to change the prevailing
attitude towards the private investors and help the private sector in all possible ways beyond
designing policies. The following statement is worth remembering: “The most promising way
forward for self-sustaining dissemination of PV systems in Ethiopia is through private sector
promotion of solar lanterns and solar home systems (SHSs) as has happened in Kenya”
(ESMAP, 1996). The statement applies also to the dissemination of other technologies for
rural electrification.

Aklilu Dalelo, 2001. Natural Resource Degradation in Ethiopia: Assessment of Students’ Awareness
and Views. Flensburger Regional Studien, Band 11, Flensburg 2001
Anderson, T. et al., 1999. Rural Energy Services: A Handbook for Sustainable Energy Development. IT
EEA (Ethiopian Electric Egency), 2002. Rural Electrification Symposium Proceedings, March 1-5,
EEA, n.d. Power Sector Policy and Legal Framework, Project Profile, Licensing Information and Procedure.
Addis Ababa
EPA (Environmental Protection Authority), 1997a. The Conservation Strategy of Ethiopia Volume I:
The Resources Base, Its Utilisation and Planning for Sustainability, Addis Ababa
EPA (Environmental Protection Authority), 1997b. The Conservation Strategy of Ethiopia Volume II:
Federal Policy on the Environment, Addis Ababa
ESMAP (Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme), 1996. Ethiopian Energy Assessment,
Report No. 179/96
Förch, G., 1989. Wasserwirtschaftliche Probleme eines Entwicklungalandes, aufgezeigt am Beispiel

Äthiopiens, Wasserwirtschaft 79 (1989), 10
Tegegne Gebre Egziabher, 1995. Population and Renewable Resources in Ethiopia: With Emphasis on Forest,
Water and Rangeland Resource. – In AKLILU KIDANU (ed.): Proceedings of a Workshop on Integration of
Population, Environment Equitable and Sustainable Development Issues into the Curriculum of the Demographic
Training and Research Centre of the Institute of Development Research at Addis Ababa University, April 18-19,
1995, Addis Ababa

References and Links to Further Reading

• ENEC/CESEN (1986): Cooperation Agreement in the Energy Sector, Main

Report, Addis Ababa, September 1986.
• Woody Biomass Inventory and Strategic Planning Project (2004): The Main
Features and Issues Related to the Ethiopian Domestic Biomass Energy Sector,
Executive Summary, Addis Ababa, December 2004.

Woody Biomass Inventory and Strategic Planning Project (2005): A National Strategic
Plan For The Biomass Energy Sector, Addis Ababa, March 2005.