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Progress report on Africa’s hydropower development

Did you know that two-thirds of the planet’s renewable electricity generation comes from hydropower’s installed capacity? According to the 2018 Hydropower Status Report by the International Hydropower Association (IHA), this capacity continues on a growth path, increasing by 21.9GW in 2017 to reach 1,267GW, producing an estimated 4,185TWh.

While the total installed capacity added last year was lower than the 31.5GW recorded in 2016, importantly, $48 billion of final investment decisions were committed to hydropower projects in 2017 – nearly double the amount recorded in 2016. This indicates a strong pipeline of projects in the future. For Africa, as well as other regions, hydropower development offers governments the opportunity to boost clean electricity production, widen access to electricity and improve livelihoods. To date, however, only about 7% of the continent’s economically feasible hydropower potential has been tapped.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 3, 2018. You can read the full digital magazine hereor subscribe here to receive a print copy.

In 2017 Africa added 1.9GW in installed capacity – less than a tenth of global growth. This brought the continent’s total capacity to 35.3GW, including 3.4GW in pumped storage, with the electricity generated from hydropower now reaching an estimated 131TWh. While growth is uneven, many African countries are embracing hydropower. In DRC, Namibia, Zambia, Ethiopia, Togo and Sudan, the sector accounts for over 90% of electricity production.

At 3,822MW, Ethiopia has Africa’s largest total installed hydropower capacity. It also has the second highest hydropower potential in Africa, at up to 45,000MW according to government estimates. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam currently under construction will have an expected installed capacity of 6,450MW on completion, making it the largest hydropower project in Africa. Writing in the 2018 Hydropower Status Report, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, Hon Seleshi Bekele, argues that hydropower development serves as an “entry point” for regional collaboration and integration, industrialisation and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and specifically SDG 7.

“The role that energy, or Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, plays is immense in the overall future sustainability of our planet. Particularly, hydropower has the lion’s share, especially in developing countries, due to its proven technical and technological ease and relatively low cost per MW investment,” he writes.

With a view to delivering its commitments under the Paris Agreement, the Ethiopian government has initiated a Climate-Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy to protect the country from the effects of climate change and to build a green economy. This has led to the identification and prioritisation of more than 60 initiatives to achieve development goals while limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The minister argues that hydropower based development “provides a gateway to economic transformation through industrialisation, urbanisation as well as through the provision of access to modern energy to rural areas”.

Elsewhere in Africa, major developments in 2017 in Angola included the commissioning of two power generating units for the 2,070MW Laúca hydropower station, and a second power station at Cambambe. The development of hydropower is considered a national priority for Angola, as reflected in its energy security policy and its overall 2025 strategy.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the government has developed a regulatory framework for the power sector to encourage investment as it seeks to double power generation by 2020, with on-grid capacity scheduled to reach 4,060MW. The Soubré project located at Naoua Falls on the Sassandra River is the country’s largest hydropower project at 275MW, having been commissioned in 2017.

In Sudan, the 320MW Upper Atbara and Setit project has been completed, and this will also provide bulk water supply and storage for over 300,000 hectares of land. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, the first unit of the Kariba South extension project has been commissioned, with 150MW expected to come onto the grid during 2018.

One of the considerations impacting national policy on hydropower development – and an increasingly important factor for investors – is a determination of the carbon footprint of hydropower vis-à-vis other energy sources. With this in mind, the 2018 Hydropower Status Report includes the results of a study of the greenhouse emissions (GHG) of nearly 500 reservoirs. The study used the GHG Reservoir (G-res) Tool, which helps companies to assess net GHG emissions.

According to IHA analysis, if hydropower was replaced with burning coal, approximately 4 billion tonnes of additional GHG would have been emitted globally in 2017, and emissions from fossil fuels and industry would have been 10% higher. In addition, using hydropower instead of coal last year avoided the generation of 148 million tonnes of air polluting particulates, 62 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide, and 8 million tonnes of nitrogen oxide.

While beneficial in terms of clean energy generation, hydropower facilities’ projects are, nonetheless, susceptible to the impacts of climate change due to their dependency on precipitation and runoff, and exposure to extreme weather events. With this in mind, IHA, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have been coordinating the testing of a set of new Hydropower Sector Climate Resilience Guidelines.

The aim of the guidelines is to provide practical and workable international good practice guidance for project owners, governments, financial institutions and private developers. The guidelines will incorporate climate change resilience and hydrological risk management into hydropower project appraisal, design, construction and operation, resulting in more robust and resilient projects across Africa, among other regions.

There is increasing evidence, as demonstrated in the Hydropower Status Report, that hydropower is a vital energy source to lead low carbon development in Africa, in pursuit of universal electricity access. IHA will continue working with its partners to promote sustainability and support the growing needs of the continent. The next World Hydropower Congress is in Paris in May 2019. Visit www.hydropower.org/congress to find out more about the congress. ESI

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 3, 2018. You can read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

About the author

Cristina Diez Santos, hydropower sector analyst at IHA, focuses her work on building and sharing knowledge on sustainable hydropower development. Cristina holds a master’s degree in civil engineering and a master of advanced studies in sustainable water resources from ETH Zurich.

The 2018 Hydropower Status Report can be downloaded free-of-charge at www.hydropower.org/status2018


Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.