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Could the Red Sea be a natural dam for Eritrea?

Since independence, Eritrea has built over 300 dams for agriculture and potable water reservoirs. Photo: Eritrean agriculture dam.

Could the Red Sea be a natural dam for Eritrea?  

Eritrea spent US$320 million importing diesel, petrol, furnace and gas to meet most of its energy needs this fiscal year. The government spending large sums of its budget towards importing its energy needs is a telling sign of how limited its options are in creating renewable energy internally. But with the rising global oil prices putting a strain on the economy, the government seeks to cut back on imports in favor of developing clean and affordable energy solutions domestically.

One interesting idea that has been circulating of late is damming the Red Sea. In a recently published thesis for the International Journal of Environmental Science and Development, Hossana Solomon, an associate professor of Economics at University of the Virgin Islands, believes damming the Red Sea can solve Eritrea's growing energy needs and could be a source of potable water.

The scheme behind it is simple, too. Since the land from the port town of Tio to Marsa Fatima is moderately sloped, Solomon believes an open canal could be dug to create a salt river that flows into the Danakil Depression. Once the seawater enters the depression, the force of water going downstream will rotate turbines in electric generator plants to produce power. After the exhausted water produces energy, Solomon says it can be desalinated to produce fresh water through reverse osmosis.

Critics argue the concept would be too expensive and could affect the mobility of sea life. But Solomon disagrees. He believes they can design a gate at the entrance in such a way that fish or other aquatic animals would not pass into the salt river. He also points out that costs will be relatively low, since much of the infrastructure needed is already provided by the topography of the area.

While Solomon's concept may seem like an expensive scheme, it's important to note that traditional renewable sources such as solar and wind cannot keep up with annual increases in energy demand and are far more expensive to build and maintain on larger scales. This leaves the country with few options of affordable renewable energy sources that can meet the country's growing demands.

Solomon's idea has the potential of being a game changer for Eritrea. If feasible, it can save the country hundreds of million of dollars annually, alleviate poverty, create potable water and provide renewable clean energy for the foreseeable future. The Eritrean government should initiate a feasibility study of this concept, and international organizations, concerned with global warming and poverty alleviation, could be able to assist and participate in financing such study.

Percentage of population in East Africa with access to electricity. Credit: World Bank 2013/Fikrejesus Amhazion

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Could the Red Sea be a natural dam for Eritrea? Reviewed by Admin on 4:00 PM Rating: 5


  1. After such a rotting week, it is refrehing to read some good news! I am not an expert in such maters to comment but my question is could the government accelerate the installation of solar system to all educational establishments and government offices?That is untill this thoery is put into action!!

  2. I think decentralizing the source would solve the blackout problems,but as for producing energy in Eritrea Geothermal is the best and renewable energy source.

  3. I agree with solomons idea ,Infact the sea water that flows downstream could produce geothermal energy if it pass into nearby active or dormant volcanic sites.This could avoid the energy needed for desalination since the end products are _energy +steam+salt. My point is ,hydropower and geothermal could be done on the same water with out waste of anything.I believe it could be done.

  4. there is more than enough resources in the red sea for Eritrea. all you need is to make peace with the US and share some of this wealth by letting them have their corporations explore and make it useable. there is a proven natural gas and oil commercial grade, geothermal, fish and all kind of sea foods if havrvested with the latest technology not only satify the needs of Eritreans but also it can me us wealthy. just open the doors to the people of who have the know how and make peace among each other and people who have interest in the resources.

  5. I think it is possible. The dissalinated water can then be pumped up up-stream to fill reservoirs, which can be used for drinking and to cultivate the disrt.

  6. Hi,
    I have been doing some research in which Renewable energy fits best to Eritrea. I am very pleased with Dr. Solomon Research, However there are a couple factors he didn't Mention. First one is The Depression is in the border of Eritrea and Ethiopia, Without consulting with Ethiopia the plan will not work because, They are some mining projects in Ethiopian side. It will be very hard to contain the flooded water in Eritrean Territory. The Second one is The Shallowest area is where the Colulli potash is. Does the Mining or Hydro electric weigh more?

  7. I couldn`t agree with Semira more. When I first read the article Dr. Hossana wrote I was intrigued and did some research on the topic. I found out that the same idea was proposed and studied by electrical and geothermal engineers in Eritrea some 20 years ago and they found that it could create a lot of problem with our neighbor Ethiopia and the people living around that area. Furthermore it was not economically feasible to carry out such a grand project. Other renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal are more ideal for Eritrea with far less risk.

  8. EzTe, Economically, Hydro is the cheapest, However, we do not have the natural resources. I don't know if you are familiar with CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) it is a newer technology. I think that would fit better to Eritrea. If you have any new Ideas or findings please share I am always interested in Renewable energy.

  9. The article has gross misstatements, and a total disregard of the biggest hurdle. (It carried over from the writer mis-credited for the idea.)

    First, the idea of a Red Sea canal to generate power using pumped storage system in the Danakil Depression is not new. Indeed it is almost 100 years old. The idea was explored and extensively reported in 1936. (See, for instance "Italians Revive Inland Sea Plan," The Bend Bulletin, June 10 1936.)

    Second, the inland sea will form in the Danakil Depression, most of which is in Ethiopia. The canal will connect the Red Sea with the Danakil. For the project to have a meaningful potential, the water has to reach and flood into the Danakil. The lower reservoir of what will be the Danakil Sea is enormous. The plan is attractive beyond power generation. The water which evaporates from the depression bed has the potential to transform the Danakil Desert into a moist green ecosystem.

    Obviously, the hurdle is not the money required to put it all together. A project like that can pay for itself. Digging a 20 miles-long access canal from the Red Sea to the rim of the Danakil depression is feasible enough. But like everything else with the charged and insensible politics of the region, the premium is Peace. Do not even dream such a project without first overcoming the hurdle, which is not financial or technical, but political.


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