Micro Hydro Power in Ethiopia - Analysis and Lessons Learned

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Micro Hydropower (MHP) was one of the earliest small-scale renewable energy technologies, and is still an important renewable, robust, and simple source of energy today. Generation capacities of micro hydropower plants range from 0.2 kW to 500 kW. They have the potential to supply off-grid areas with electricity at a reasonable price.


This report compiles the experiences and lessons learned from the four pilot MHP plants implemented by Energising Development Ethiopia in Sidama Zone in SNNPR .

Small Hydropower Schemes in Ethiopian context

The topography of Ethiopia, with mountainous areas coupled with numerous rivers and streams makes MHP development suitable. Out of this, about 15 % of the overall hydropower potential is from unregulated river run-off, usually in the category of pico, micro and mini hydropower plants. The total potential for micro hydropower (of size less 500 kW) is estimated to be 100 MW.
85 % of Ethiopia’s population is living in rural areas while only 10 out of 100 households (HHs) have access to electricity. Extending the national grid to isolated rural communities seems technically and economically not feasible in many cases. Due to its high potential, micro hydropower plants could play an important role to electrify off-grid areas. Though, the history of utilising hydropower in the country, i.e. as traditional "Arab axis mills" the development of MHP schemes is still limited in Ethiopia.

MHP Lessons Learned

External Stakeholders

  • Clearly identified roles and responsibilities among stakeholders.
  • Principles, priority and objective need to be clearly communicated to all stakeholders.
  • There should be a clear and transparent concept for cost-sharing mechanisms among public stakeholders.
  • Key stakeholder analysis and external stakeholder map with roles and responsibility is necessary to develop.
  • Cost should be shared between stakeholders to create ownership within the responsible government, community and other involved stakeholders.
  • The zonal and community stakeholders have to be involved from the beginning in the awareness raising.


  • A suitable policy framework is required for the success of MHP schemes. A governmental policy that supports MHP schemes, shall include:
    • Long-term objectives and strategies
    • Transparency, regarding development plans and financial mechanisms
    • An encouraging electricity pricing policy and funding mechanisms for off-grid electrification
    • General pricing principles for off-grid electrification
  • There should be a strong and long-term commitment to off-grid rural electrification.
  • The government should be involved on all levels in the decision making process starting from project planning, especially on the governments’ experts with relevant technical backgrounds.
  • Realistic targets should be set regarding the local conditions.
  • It is advisable to establish a common, unified monitoring system for MHP schemes by the government.
  • Responsible government experts should be involved in all stages of implementation. The reason was our lack of knowledge about the impact of involving partners from the very beginning.
  • Responsible government actors (Water and Energy Bureau, Cooperative Office etc) should be involved in the awareness creation from the early stage as they have the power to convince and force the community in every aspect.


  • When aiming to electrify an off-grid community, the following practices are essential for a successful implementation:
    • Set-up clear criteria for site selection (i.e. national grid extension plan, distance to grid, potential connections and power demand, hydropower potential, ability and willingness to pay of end-users, plans for productive uses)
    • The electricity tariffs need to be properly set-up according to the consumption
      • per household by number and type of electrical appliances and
      • for productive use per consumed kWh (meters are advisable)
  • Transparency of reporting
  • Complying with the legal requirements for transfer of ownership of the MHP at the end of the construction period is essential and needs to be aware of in advance.
  • Business models have to be developed and applied in the MHP sites based on the government cooperative business model, according to Ethiopian Government Cooperative establishment laws & regulations.
  • Before applying one model at all sites, it would be useful to try different models and choose the best one for further installations.
  • It is strongly recommended to integrate potential productive use in the initial design stage for local economic development and sustainability of an MHP scheme.
  • The focus should be on the installation of the system and on partners’ involvement.
  • Decision makers and the respected technical experts with relevant background have to be involved.


  • Participation of the community in plant management, operation and maintenance
  • Communities should be well prepared informed and organised and involved in the entire MHP process, from the idea until operation of the MHP plant.
  • A significant contribution by the local community, through labour and supply with raw material should be considered to reduce the costs.
  • To increase cost recovery, public institutions should also pay for their electricity consumption. For this reason, also public institutions should be involved from the beginning of the project.
  • For advancing appreciation, the exchange of experiences with other communities that are already operating their own MHP schemes should be conducted. Therefore, intended beneficiaries could visit other communities or villagers from nearby villages with successfully operating MHP schemes.
  • Awareness raising and sensitization of the community must include:
    • Water shared catchment area management and conservation
    • the importance of the efficient use of energy, including renewable energy
    • economic sustainable tariff setting for electricity
    • the importance of and potential for productive use of energy to improve economic results   
    • tasks and obligations of the community
    • limitations and expected benefits of MHP schemes
  • End users trainings, including safety trainings, have to be provided for the community
  • Trainings have to be provided early in the process, so that during construction the community could follow and participate as well as they could make close supervision on the construction and other issues
  • Community responsibility and contribution (labor work and money based support on their capacity) have to be addressed in the early stage to gather with the government responsible offices.
  • Selected households should be trained and supported in small income generation activities. The major productive uses are shops, restaurants, barber services, public TV and mobile phone charging.


  • MHP schemes should be owned and operated by the rural community that benefit from electricity supply, e.g. in form of a cooperative
  • The cooperative management has to be supported with different capacity building works (awareness raising, management training, financing and technical training for operators etc) which should help them to understand, operate and manage the system.
  • Every committee of the management team (technique committee, finance committee, audit committee and control committee) has to be trained for its responsible tasks to help them understand, operate and manage the MHP system.
  • Links between the cooperatives and other stakeholders (the Bureau of Water, Mines and Energy, cooperatives Office, administrators and companies who were involved in the construction) have to be created
  • The cooperative trainings should start in early stages of the project.
  • The responsibility for repairs and maintenance has to be clearly identified from the beginning. It has to be clear to the cooperatives/operators, who is responsible for repairing and maintaining the plants, including financing required repairs.
  • Tariff calculation need to be adopted regularly and arranged by the cooperatives, as the household consumption patterns change over time, e.g. as a result of electrification and economical results of productive end-uses.

Suppliers/Technology design

  • Capacity building work on components specially the electromechanical (generator and control systems) is advisable, as there are limited manufacturers in this sector and availability of spare parts and skilled man power is very limited as well.
  • Dump load should be avoided as much as possible. Therefore additional possibilities for using the electricity should be considered, such as water purification, water pumping, food drying, saw mill, grinding mill etc.
  • Every data selection should mention the author so in case of open questions this person can be asked
  • A higher total output can be achieved by increasing the design flow with an adequate raise of investment costs. The efficiency curve from cross flow turbines (like the T15) is quite flat. For this reason, the size of the MHP-System should not be based on the smallest discharge.
  • It is mandatory to consider the topographic condition, in order to optimize MHP components and its layout.
  • It is strongly recommended to do the design phase with an experienced partner.
  • During construction phase experienced MHP expert is important to maintain quality of the work.

Further Information