SWIFT response to energy challenges in Ethiopia

A UK-ETHIOPIA collaborative project aims to deliver a game changing solution to improve energy access and food security in a rural and off-grid region in Ethiopia through the use of satellite data.

The project, funded through Innovate UK Energy Catalyst Round 9, involves a cross-sector consortium including Crop Health & Protection (CHAP), LENKÉ: Space & Water Solutions, Arba Minch University and CABI.

In Ethiopia, rural communities make up 70% of the population yet currently have less than 20% energy access compared to urban areas. The need is accentuated by the current energy crisis, with increasing fossil fuel costs crippling the use of stand-alone diesel generators for irrigation. This, coupled with extreme drought, has made it near impossible for many farmers to grow and harvest crops, resulting in significant food insecurity across many parts of Ethiopia.

One of the challenges of providing electricity to rural communities is estimating the energy demand for the likes of irrigation. For mini-grid developers and renewable energy providers, having access to accurate demand forecasting technology is critical to avoiding under or over investments.

This project therefore focuses on estimating energy demand for small-scale hydro, wind and solar mini-grids that would power irrigation systems in rural areas by utilising LENKÉ: Space & Water Solutions’ state-of-the-art technology, SWIFT (Soil Water Index Forecast Technology). SWIFT is developed by modelling a combination of satellite, climate and statical data to predict soil moisture concentration at different soil depths.

CEO of LENKÉ, Dr Lensa Jotte, said: “The objective of this project is to provide a decision support tool for the application of renewable, affordable, and sustainable energy sources to off-grid, marginalised communities in Ethiopia.”

“We will use earth observation data to identify, plan and monitor mini-grid installation. The upscaled SWIFT will act as a powerful tool within the growing Ethiopian energy market in order to de-risk mini-grid investment in communities.”

Senior International Business Development Manager for UK Agri-Tech Centre CHAP, Dr Jenna Ross OBE, said: “I am proud to be leading a fantastic international multidisciplinary team to deliver this game changing solution that will improve energy and food security in Ethiopia.

“The project will be targeted towards Garda Marta, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region, a community based 140km from Arba Minch town. Historically, farmers in the area have used diesel pumps to drive irrigation, however, due to the current energy challenges and extreme droughts, have been unable to afford this. The impact of this is significant, with many farmers unable to harvest their crops for the last six seasons leading to sever food insecurity.”

An associate researcher at Renewable Energy Technology Research Center at Arba Minch University, Eng. Beyene Feye, said: ‘‘The project will contribute a significant role in response to the sustainable development goal of zero hunger and access to affordable energy. The adoption of renewable energy sources such as small/mini-hydro, wind and solar are identified as eco-friendly energy sources, and optimal utilization of these resources can minimize environmental impacts.

“The proper design and optimisation of energy sources by using on-ground truth data can be validated via the application of cutting-edge technology of SWIFT. I am delighted to be a part of this fanciful international team with diverse education background working on the same goals to solve the problems of rural communities.”

Research Scientist and Programmes Manager with CABI, Dr Negussie Efa, said: “The project aligns very well with the government’s aspiration and plan to mitigate challenges related to reliance of the agricultural sector on rainfall, as well as complements the green economy development efforts of the country. The project will be piloted among a farming community who have been experiencing frequent crop failure due to shortage of rain and are in dire need of interventions that promote affordable energy sources and irrigation technologies.

“It is my sincere belief that bringing together international and local teams of experts will undoubtedly lead the project to success. The lessons and experiences from the pilot area have great potential to be scaled up and out to other regions or the country.”

To find out more about this project, contact CHAP at enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk or visit www.chap-solutions.co.uk