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How viable is hydropower in Africa

After a significant decline in the 1990s, hydropower development has increased during the previous two decades. The population of Africa is quickly expanding, although only one-third of its citizens have access to modern energy. Given that just 8% of Africa’s enormous hydro resources have been explored, this presents an investment opportunity for all types of power technology, particularly hydro. Africa’s greatest potential hydropower source is the Nile, which is the longest river in the world. The Nile passes through a variety of environments over its nearly 7,000 km journey from its source in the African Great Lakes to its delta in Egypt, including mountains, tropical forests, desert, savannahs, and wetlands, many of which are rich in species. Its drainage basin is shared by 11 nations and covers nearly a tenth of the continent of Africa. People who lived close to the river have depended on it for thousands of years. Rainfall patterns have guided the development of agriculture, and people have constructed minor dams to use the river’s water for irrigation of crops. Governments have recently begun exploiting the river to generate electricity.

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But despite its length, the Nile only transports a little amount of water because it frequently passes through dry regions with little in the way of rainfall or groundwater seepage. The biodiversity of the river is also threatened by climate change, which is changing the seasonal cycles of the Nile, increasing the likelihood of droughts, and increasing the evaporation from its lakes. Environmental considerations like these must be taken into account when planning a sizable hydroelectric dam on a significant river like the Nile, notwithstanding the possibility that doing so could delay construction or increase initial costs. The proposed design should incorporate the results of research into how a region’s water cycle interacts with biodiversity and local people’s daily life.

Internationally compliant environmental assessments can alleviate some of the conflicts related to dam construction, such as those involving changes in water flow. For the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a sizable hydropower facility being constructed on the Blue Nile, one of the river’s two main tributaries, assessments have been made. However, detractors claim that the analyses are inadequately detailed and fall short of global standards.

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Given that the continent’s population is expected to exceed four billion people by the end of the century, rapid population expansion is expected to put further strain on energy services. Electricity is hard to come by and distributed unevenly. Electricity is nearly universal in countries with strong economies like Egypt, yet it is still scarce in nations like Chad, Liberia, and South Sudan, where just 1.5% of the population has access to it. Step outside of the continent’s cities, though, and the situation is just as gloomy: only 27.8% of rural villages are electrified. African governments are increasingly resorting to hydropower sources to promote development and enhance people’s lives and livelihoods in the face of widespread energy poverty.


Utilizing water’s kinetic energy to produce electricity is the basis of hydropower. A conventional hydroelectric plant consists of a plant that generates electricity, a reservoir where water is stored, and a dam that regulates water flow (smaller projects rely on pumps or river flow to generate water movement). A generator is spun when a dam opens, releasing water that pushes a turbine’s blades as it passes through an intake. The quantity of water and its pace of movement both affect how much electricity is produced. The importance of hydropower in expanding access to electricity is being recognised by African governments, who are including it in broad energy plans. By offering important power, storage, and flexibility services, hydropower and pumped storage continue to be instrumental in our fight against climate change. Here are just a few advantages hydropower can offer as the US moves toward 100% clean electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

One source of renewable energy is hydroelectricity.

Without limiting the amount of water, hydroelectricity harnesses the energy of flowing water to generate power. Thus, all hydroelectric projects, regardless of size—small or huge, run-of-river or accumulated storage—fit the definition of renewable energy. While large hydropower facilities like the Kariba and Cahora Bassa Dams on the Zambezi River have benefited the economy, they have also harmed freshwater ecosystems, which has impacted fisheries. “In the case of the Zambezi River, the economic losses of reduced prawn fisheries have been estimated at US$10 to 20 million per year, without compensation for the affected fishermen,” says one expert. Even decades later, the severe effects in some situations are still not effectively addressed. In Africa, more than 500 million people lack access to modern energy services. It also means that there won’t be any effective lighting and no refrigeration for food or medicine. Accumulation reservoir-equipped hydroelectric power plants provide unparalleled operational flexibility because they can react quickly to changes in the demand for electricity. Hydroelectric power plants are more effective and cost-effective in enabling the use of sporadic renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, due to their flexibility and storage capacity.

Enhancing the attractiveness of private investment in hydropower in Africa

Energy security and price stability are supported by hydroelectricity.

Unlike petroleum or natural gas, river water is a domestic resource that is not impacted by changes in the market. Additionally, it helps to maximise the usage of thermal power plants due to its cost-benefit ratio, efficiency, flexibility, and reliability as well as the fact that it is the only significant renewable source of electricity. Large hydropower projects have the potential to play a significant role in Africa’s sustainable economic growth. They are a fantastic complement to thermal plants that have shorter useful lives since they can produce more power more reliably than solar and wind while also offering benefits like flood control, irrigation, and a continuous water supply. Hydropower facilities can also function as “peakers,” storing water in their reservoirs and providing energy during times of high demand or when intermittent sources like solar and wind are not working. However, they are difficult tasks with a variety of limitations and difficulties.

Drinking water is stored in part thanks to hydroelectricity.

Rainwater is gathered in reservoirs at hydroelectric power plants and used for agriculture or human consumption. By storing water, they guard against the depletion of the water tables and lessen our susceptibility to floods and droughts. To achieve increased efficacy, infrastructure and political problems must be fixed, as well as insufficient institutional competence and weak institutional cooperation. The study also highlights the importance of including climate risks in hydropower and infrastructure development, taking into account the location of dams and how anticipated rainfall patterns can affect the power supply. Smaller hydropower projects are seen by many public and private parties as Africa’s future. These smaller projects don’t require the construction of massive dams because they can be powered by a river’s current.

The stability and dependability of electrical systems are improved by hydroelectricity.

To satisfy peak demands, maintain system voltage levels, and promptly resume supply after a blackout, electrical systems depend on quick and flexible generation sources. More quickly than any other energy source, hydroelectric facilities may pump energy into the electricity grid. Hydroelectric systems are particularly well suited for dealing with changes in consumption and providing ancillary services to the electricity system, maintaining the balance between the supply and demand for electricity. This is because they have the ability to quickly and predictably increase production from zero to maximum levels. By doing this, the negative effects of resettlement on the environment and society are lessened. Small hydro plants spread out geographically can also provide some protection from drought situations. Smaller projects also have the advantage of being less capital-intensive, which makes it much simpler to secure funds for their construction. The 445 KW run-of-the-river Rubagabaga Hydropower Plant in north Rwanda is an illustration of a small-scale operation that is successful. This is the first hydroelectric plant in East Africa that was built with very minimal mechanical assistance. It uses a containerized turbine and generator. This ground-breaking enterprise, a public-private partnership, has so far enabled more locally initiated industries and produced over a thousand employment.

Clean and affordable energy for today and tomorrow is provided by hydroelectricity.

Hydroelectric improvements are long-term investments that can help different generations because they typically last 50 to 100 years. They have very cheap operating and maintenance expenses and are easily modified to integrate more modern technologies. Even more modest initiatives referred to as tiny hydro projects, harness hydropower and connect to mini-grids. Mini hydro projects can therefore be built in isolated, rural regions that are not serviced by the grid and have the potential to be an important tool for development through promoting business ventures. It is challenging to maintain and monitor grids in these rural locations due to a shortage of technical resources (including specialists and spare components). Therefore, it is crucial that training, maintenance, and knowledge transfer to local community members are included while building mini-hydro projects.

A key tool for sustainable development is hydroelectricity.

The best example of sustainable development is seen in hydroelectric firms that are created and run in a way that is financially feasible, environmentally responsible, and socially responsible. That translates to “progress that meets people’s needs today without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on the Environment and Development, 1987). Nevertheless, hydropower presents an essential way for Africa to give its citizens access to clean energy despite its difficulties. Less than 90% of the hydropower potential of the continent has not yet been used. However, public and commercial partners are collaborating across Africa to change this and increase awareness of the contribution that hydropower can make to sustainable development. The sustainability of our planet, in the long run, depends heavily on energy, or Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7. Due to its demonstrated scientific and technological ease and comparatively low cost per MW investment, hydropower in particular commands the lion’s share, especially in developing countries.

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Africa has enormous hydropower potential outside of the Nile. The Congo, Niger, Orange, and Senegal rivers are just a few of the significant waterways that have not yet been used to generate energy. Despite a spike in 2009 when several plants started producing, the development of hydropower plants has slowed down since 2010. Nevertheless, additional facilities are planned for Africa’s major rivers, notably the Congo. Together, they would be able to produce over 27 gigawatts of power if they were all constructed. By 2030, six plants with a combined peak power output of more than one gigawatt should be operational. In addition to GERD, three of them will occur in Ethiopia, two in Angola, and one in Mozambique. Even though Africa is in dire need of electricity, its 54 nations are rising to the enormous challenge and working together on a regional level to enhance generating capacity, with hydropower projects taking centre stage in their plans. To support energy production projects from the earliest planning phases all the way through to construction and operation, governments are increasingly turning to investors in the private sector. Africa’s largest private infrastructure investment fund manager, African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM), is one of many players supplying governments in Africa with private sector capital as well as financial, technical, legal, and structuring expertise to help close the energy infrastructure gap.

Large dams, in the opinion of many energy experts including EPA, are essential to resolving Africa’s energy supply crisis. But they also bring a complicated collection of environmental and societal problems. International hydropower associations and development banks are striving to create sustainability criteria, which will serve as guidelines for evaluating the continent’s water resources and energy requirements, and may influence future hydropower plans for Africa. It is envisaged that with these criteria in place, Africa will be able to increase its energy output while simultaneously guaranteeing the integrity of its water resources and safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. The future of Africa’s people, energy, and water could hinge on what happens in the following few decades.

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