Perspectives: An Amazing Project

At PennWell’s POWER-GEN International event in December 2010, we celebrated excellence by recognizing 11 finalists at Power Engineering* magazine’s Projects of the Year Awards. Each finalist represented the best that the power generation industry had to offer in 2010.

The finalists included a brewery with an innovative way to generate electricity and a thirst to be environmentally responsible, a coal-fired plant that met complex logistical challenges as it worked to meet a consent decree with federal environmental regulators, a natural gas-fired microturbine that helps set the standard for how data centers can be powered, and a utility-driven innovation to help protect workers in nuclear plants from excessive radiation.

And because we announced the winners at POWER-GEN International, our scope was equally global in nature. One finalist was from Ethiopia, a second from the United Kingdom, a third from Japan, and a fourth from British Columbia.

One highlight of the awards ceremony was the winner of the award for the best renewable energy project. We selected a 300-MW hydro project built by MWH for Ethiopian Electric Power Corp. in Africa.

The Tekeze Hydropower project adds 40 percent more energy to the African country. It is located on the Tekeze River, a tributary of the Nile. The $350 million project is funded by the government of Ethiopia and owned by Ethiopian Electric Power. This was the largest public works project in Ethiopia’s history at the time of construction.

Tekeze Dam is the tallest arch dam in Africa at 188 meters. The dam is a double curvature concrete arch dam, a method of design that minimizes the amount of concrete used. This method creates a reservoir 70 kilometers long. An underground powerhouse containing four 75-MW Francis turbines is about 500 meters downstream of the dam. A 230-kilovolt double-circuit transmission line 105 kilometers long was built through mountainous terrain to connect to the national grid.

Local community infrastructure was greatly improved as a result of the project, including construction of more than 40 kilometers of roads and the first installation of communications links from the area to the outside world. Also as a result of the project, education was improved. The wife of a chief design engineer spearheaded efforts to build a new school near the village of Seboko. The school was financed by contributions from engineers, contractors, and staff working on the project; local residents; and a supportive local government.

On accepting the award, Meheret Debebe, the utility’s chief executive officer, said the project would bring reliable electricity to a town that sits close to the site where archeologists in 1973 discovered the 3.2-million-year-old fossil remains of “Lucy.” Lucy was considered at the time to be our earliest-known ancestor.

Mr. Debebe’s comments reinforced for me two notions: first, that electric power development can significantly improve the quality of life for those who receive it for the first time. Some 2 billion people in the world have no access to electric power. Educational attainment, standards of living, and longevity all are improved with the benefits of electric power. The Tekeze project not only will provide electricity for the country, but will also provide water for irrigation and fishing. And it does so in a renewable and carbon-sensitive manner.

Second, the project reminds me of the enormous capability humans have for adaptation and innovation. Our ancestor Lucy goes by a second name in the local dialect: Dinkenesh. Translated, the word means “you are amazing.” The Tekeze project proved to be amazing in its own right.

Guest Editorial
By David Wagman

David Wagman is chief editor of Power Engineering magazine,a PennWell publication.

* Power Engineering is a sister magazine of Hydro Review.

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