Energy and War: Every Solar Panel's Step Closer to Peace

Dec 11 , 2021
By Mikael Alemu

Without adequate energy supply, there is no sustainable economic development, leaving many youths unemployed. The road to a long-lasting peace has solar panels installed on both sides of it, at every junction and on the roof of every community hall, school and factory shed, writes Mikael Alemu (@mikael_alemu), co-founder and CEO of ’10 Green Gigawatt for Ethiopia.’

One may argue that war is the natural state of Homo Sapiens. This thought is too sad, simple, and ignorant. A well-known German political economist has written that wars are a product of a fundamental class struggle, and every armed conflict is an extension of economic conflict between workers and capitalists. Almost a hundred million people have died because of this bearded man, so he must know a thing or two about war.

Most African wars are caused by ambitions and fueled by unemployment, poverty, and inequality. Electrical energy does not light ambitions, but lack of it is a reason for everything else. No energy means fewer good jobs as we need energy to power machines, and we need machines to bring value and we must add value to be paid. No electricity means lacking education and healthcare as we need lights and boilers and cold storage to execute even the simplest of medical procedures. No energy means inadequate information diffusion as our TVs and phones need electricity to work. All of this together means a bleak future as there is not much to look forward to without education, healthcare and information.

Every second, Ethiopians live without electricity and half of those who are formally considered to have access to it are not using it because it is unreliable. The extreme energy poverty of Ethiopia makes our country ripe for conflict as there is a large supply of jobless youth with a bleak future. An obvious solution is to build an energy-abundant Ethiopia, and we do not need to import oil or coal to achieve this. We have abundant sun, engineering talent, and global experience to launch an energy revolution.

Today, Ethiopia has less than five gigawatts of electrical energy generation installed, and the average Ethiopian consumes only 130Kwh of electricity a year. Compare this to Sudan (395), Algeria (1,727), Vietnam (2,745), South Africa (3,795), China (5,297), Russia (7,026), or Canada (16,648). We might not be able to reach the level of energy generation of the oil-rich Canada. Still, I can hardly see why Ethiopia should not aspire to get to the energy supply level of the small Asian tiger called Vietnam.

Vietnam – population of 96 million – has 56 gigawatts of generation installed (plus 13 gigawatts imported), with a quarter of that coming from solar energy and over a third from hydroelectric power. All of the country’s districts are connected to electricity, with 98.7pc of rural households having access to electric power. In five to seven years, Vietnam plans to increase the generation capacity to 60 gigawatts.

Vietnam is not Switzerland or Canada. It had been colonised by the West for almost a century and experienced very turbulent 60s, 70s, and 80s, including an infamous war with the United States. On the other hand, Vietnam’s economy is growing very fast (at eight percent annually). New energy-intensive industries (a quarter of the labour force) are developing fast, and the agriculture sector is getting more advanced each year. There are many reasons why we would want to follow their lead.

To reach those levels, Ethiopia must add another 81.2 gigawatts to its five gigawatts of energy generation. This goal may seem unattainable, but it is not. Ethiopia has enough sunlight to produce several times more power than it will ever need. Ethiopian highlands enjoy mild temperatures and radiant sun – an ideal combination for the photovoltaic process.

About 260 gigawatts of renewable energy generation were built in 2020 globally, according to the International Renewable Energy Association's annual report. Ethiopia represents 1.5pc of the world’s population. If we build 1.5pc of the world’s energy generation every year (four gigawatts a year), we will bridge the gap between us and Vietnam in a mere two decades.

We must build many gigawatts of energy generation every year as we do not have another way out of our conflicts, poverty and inequality. The only way to uplift a depressed post-war population is by providing means for the economic development of every region, including those affected by war. The road to a long-lasting peace has solar panels installed on both sides of it, at every junction and on the roof of every community hall, every school, and every factory shed.

Let us join efforts in implementing this bold vision.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 11,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1128]

Mikael Alemu (@mikael_alemu), co-founder and CEO of '10 Green Gigawatt for Ethiopia' (

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