Published on December 4th, 2014 | by Glenn Meyers


AORA Slates First Off-Grid Solar-Biogas Hybrid Electricity Plant for Ethiopia

December 4th, 2014 by  

Electricity in many parts of rural Africa isn’t spoken about much because it doesn’t exist. That will soon change in Ethiopia, following AORA Solar’s agreement with the Ethiopian government to provide Africa’s first solar-biogas hybrid power solution for off-grid communities.

Too often, rural communities and villages in Africa have not been able to develop themselves due to inefficient access to electricity. This affects the daily lives of people in many ways, from lacking power to run schools, hospitals, and industry, to providing refrigeration for food processing and post-harvest storage. These communities are in need of more than part-time solar power for lights; they need holistic sustainable development.


The Ethiopian government has announced it is piloting AORA Solar’s solar-hybrid system as a part of its Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy Plan. AORA’s solution was selected because it is ideal for Ethiopia for several reasons:

  • 24/7 power: It can provide 24/7 uninterrupted power. During hours of sun, it functions on solar energy; at night or under cloud cover, it seamlessly transitions to running on biofuels.
  • Space efficiency: AORA takes up only 3,500 square meters, or 0.86 acres per module
  • Environmentally friendly: The system uses 8% of the water required for CSP projects, making it ideal for arid climates
  • More than power: AORA provides 100kWh of solar electricity as well as 170kW of thermal power
  • Off-grid compatibility: AORA functions independently of the grid, and does not require costly storage

Israeli-based AORA (also conducting research in the US) will be training and educating the local population to operate the Tulip, creating economic and educational opportunities for Ethiopians. Further, AORA’s system can provide utility-grade, uninterrupted electricity 24/7, which is necessary for schools, hospitals, factories, and other facilities to operate and develop.

AORA CEO Zev Rosenzweig said he is pleased to partner with the Ministry and looks forward to bringing the company’s technology to Ethiopia to provide the population with affordable access to power. “Such access will have significant social and economic impact on off-grid communities, helping to provide power to schools and medical facilities, refrigeration for food processing and post-harvest storage, groundwater pumping and much more.”

The project is tied to Ethiopia’s Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy, in which the country aims to enhance access to affordable and environmentally friendly renewable energy. The goal is to provide adequate uninterruptible and grid-independent power to support the achievement of middle-income status by 2025 while developing a green economy.

“We are transforming our Green Economy Strategy into action and are pleased to partner with AORA to help achieve our vision,” said H.E. Mr. Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy for Ethiopia. “AORA’s unique solar-hybrid technology is impressive and well-suited to provide both energy and heat to support local economic development in off-grid rural locations in Ethiopia.”

AORA Tulip in Almeria hi res

Construction of the first pilot plant is expected to begin by mid-2015. Following the trial, the Ministry intends to expand deployment of AORA installations for rural economic development to off-grid communities in selected areas of the country. The AORA Tulip technology requires less land per kWh to generate usable power and heat than other systems. Each Tulip station is small and modular, producing 100kW of electricity in addition to 170kW of heat, while occupying less than 3,500 square meters (0.86 acres).

AORA’s technology runs not only on solar radiation, but also on almost any gaseous or liquid fuel, including biogas, biodiesel, and natural gas. This enables a variety of operational modes – from solar-only mode, where electricity is supplied from ample sunlight, to hybrid-mode, where fuel helps generate full power when sunlight is insufficient, to fuel-only mode during night hours or heavily overcast periods. This guarantees an uninterrupted and stable power supply 24 hours a day in all weather conditions.

Images: AORA Solar

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

  • JamesWimberley

    Well, well, a commercial Brayton-cycle CSP plant already! They seem to have got it to work on a quite small scale, so it can be deployed in villages. The snag with using hot air as the working fluid is that it doesn’t lend itself to storage as well as steam or molten salt. The biogas backup generator is not really integrated but an add-on. I hope they are working on storage,

  • Larmion

    I’ve seen prices for Tulip being cited as $500.000 to $750.000. Let’s translate that into a cost per MW: $5.000.000, optimistically speaking.

    A modern wind turbine can be had for roughly $1.000.000 per MW. Add in a sizeable storage array and a small fossil fuel generator similar to the one included here and voila – far more power for a lower cost. Medium sized, 1MW wind turbines are still very easy to come by.

    Perhaps even PV could work out cheaper. At the end of the day, a CSP plant is just another thermal plant. Thermal plants need scale to be truly efficient and cost-effective, that has always been the case (hence the failure of small modular nuclear and the decline of small coal or oil fired power stations).

    • JamesWimberley

      A fair part of Ethiopia is on the Rift Valley. Judging by Kenya, the geothermal potential should be very large. Two wells at different locations in Kenya have tapped 30 MW of steam each (link). The state-supported or owned companies responsible have introduced a clever system: they develop the wells, them sell the steam to private-sector power generating companies, who face essentially no risk. Of course, geothermal is inherently a grid-scale technology, and does not solve the problem of access in remote villages.

      • Larmion

        True. The Rift Valley has wonderful geothermal potential, but that’s a subject for another article.

        The question here is whether or not the low cost of large scale geothermal or wind outweighs the cost of extending the grid. For the most remote communities, I strongly doubt it. For villages not too far from existing grid lines, it just might.

    • Zanstel

      You must accound the dispatchable cost. Wind are very unstable so you need a fuel plant for backup. Tulip includes this on the price.
      This plants generate heat too, so you must account this as a useful byproduct. Wind requires special places or costs high up.
      So, this technology has sense on sunny places with low wind resources and heat could be used economically.

      In respect with geothermal, this plants are built on a small scale to avoid the costs of long power lines. Power lines could be very expensive if you don’t have a good parallel infrastructure to help the maintenance.
      Development countries can use a different model because they don’t have a power distribution net. Completely local power is an alternative to more cheap power generation but sum net costs.

  • Uncle B

    Amazing the good modern science can do once the “American Golden Age” paradigm and values are dropped . . .

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