ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: June 17 By Barry Malone (Reuters) – Ethiopia said on Wednesday it will distribute 4.5 million free energy-saving light bulbs in response to a worsening power shortage that is crippling businesses and slashing export revenues.
Ethiopia started rationing power in March and major towns are now without electricity every second day.
“We will distribute 4.5 million of the bulbs to domestic customers,” Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) spokesman Misikir Negash told Reuters.
“It will cost us 40 million birr ($3.5 million).”
The move will save 82 megawatts a day, he said.
Only about 23 percent of the Ethiopian population has access to electricity and demand grew by 24 percent this year alone, according to EEPCO.
Ethiopia depends on hydropower and poor rains have caused the shortages. The country’s rainy season runs between June-August after which supply should return to normal.
Cement factories have had to close for one month due to the power shortages, slowing a construction boom in the capital. Exporters say their businesses, which were exempt when rationing began, are now short of electricity.
Ethiopia’s export-based economy has been hit by falling prices for its commodities and a reduction in remittances, which have in turn caused a shortage of foreign currency.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has warned that foreign reserves are at $850 million versus a target of at least $1.2 billion.
Ethiopia is pinning hopes of meeting its power demand on ambitious hydro dam projects.
The government’s head of information, Bereket Simon, told Reuters three dams due for completion next year will provide an extra 1,200 MW.
“Once these projects are complete, we believe it will give us at least a cushion for our own power supply and maybe the ability to become an exporter,” Bereket said. (Editing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura)