Is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam really functional?

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Fri, 09 Jul 2021 - 12:10 GMT

FILE - Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) satellite view – REUTERS

FILE - Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) satellite view – REUTERS

CAIRO – 9 July 2021: Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) began in April 2011 and the pilot operation of two turbines producing 750 megawatts was due to take place 44 months later in 2015.

 

As reported by the BBC, 4.9 billion cubic meters of water are enough to test both turbines. Up until now, no electricity has been generated because the turbines were not installed in the first place, as indicated by Water Resources Professor Abbas Sharaky in a TV interview mid-June.

 

Ethiopia had held back that amount of water in 2020 but had to release some of it in 2021 to elevate the middle wall by 30 meters. Yet, it added eight meters merely making the height of the wall 573 meters instead of 595 meters, the professor clarified.

 

As a consequence, it will not be capable of reserving the planned 13.5 billion cubic meters in the current flood season. The maximum that can be held back is four billion cubic meters making the total amount in the reservoir just eight billion cubic meters.

 

The idea behind the second filling is testing the second set of turbines. Nevertheless, neither the first nor the second sets of turbines have been installed for no obvious reasons.

 

As for why Ethiopia failed to raise the middle wall, it is because on the right and left sides of the dam, there are 13 tunnels, where the turbines should be installed. There has to be gates installed at the openings of such tunnels, Sharaqy explained noting that the opening of each tunnel is six meters wide and 30 meters high.

 

If the gates are not installed now, the tunnels will be flooded when the level of water reserved exceeds 11 billion cubic meters and installing the gates will not be possible. Sharaqy mentioned the June 2021 statements of the Ethiopian irrigation minister who said that five gates had been installed and that the rest would be put into place before the flood season starting in July.

 

The water resources professor criticized the Ethiopian minister's statements pointing out that such work should have been done in February. That is because not installing the gates means that the middle wall cannot be heightened so that the water held back does not flood the tunnels lacking both gates and turbines. Also, even if the gates are installed in time and the wall is raised, it had to be left for a while to harden. Otherwise, the flood water will sweep it away.

 

That is not the only peculiar issue about the dam. At first, the reservoir's capacity of the dam was set to be 11 billion cubic meters. It was later enlarged to become 74 cubic meters. Also, the plan was to generate 5,200 megawatts using 15 turbines. Then, it became producing 6,000 megawatts through 16 turbines. Now, the plan is installing 13 turbines to generate 3,000 megawatts. Such shifts in the design and capacity of the hydropower project makes the studies based on which it was built, its safety, impact and even functionality questionable.

 

What is stranger is that Ethiopia eyes building three other dams, which along with the GERD are estimated to hold back 200 billion cubic meters of Blue Nile water. That will leave nothing to Egypt and Sudan whose annual shares are 55.5 billion cubic meters and 18.5 billion cubic meters, respectively.

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