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.
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.
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 bold 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.
Utilizing alternative renewable sources is made possible by hydroelectricity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
HYDROPOWER IN AFRICA’S FUTURE
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 the GERD, three of them will occur in Ethiopia, two in Angola, and one in Mozambique.
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.