HomeIndustry SectorsGenerationRegional cooperation catalyst for hydropower development in East Africa

Regional cooperation catalyst for hydropower development in East Africa

In East Africa, the distribution of energy resources in the region is spread unevenly. While some power trading agreements already exist, the volume of electricity exchange has not been significant.

This article originally appeared in Issue 3 2016 of our print magazine. The digital version of the full magazine can be read online or downloaded free of charge.

Until recently, governments in the region were only planning for the development of their power systems at the national level, aiming to meet the projected growth in demand with domestic sources alone. Now, in order to meet the rapidly growing demand for electricity, governments have collectively recognised the need for effective and integrated regional planning.

The Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), was established in 2005 to coordinate regional development and ensure access to electricity across the region. The EAPP was initially founded by seven countries – Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan – and has since been joined by Tanzania, Libya and Uganda.

The development of further crossborder interconnections between the EAPP countries will improve energy
security in the region by allowing countries to optimise their use of domestic energy resources, while providing energy balancing services that can also compensate for seasonal variability, fuel shortages, or delays in generation expansion.

This vision for an integrated grid and energy market is now becoming a reality. Major transmission interconnections are already under construction. The first phase of a new transmission line, connecting Ethiopia to Tanzania via Kenya, is expected to be completed in 2017. Some EAPP countries have abundant hydropower potential, including Ethiopia (45GW), Democratic Republic of Congo (45GW), Uganda (3GW) and South Sudan (3GW), although there are some challenges to develop these resources effectively due to the upfront capital costs associated with hydropower projects.

Nonetheless, the hydropower potential available in the region far exceeds the current and medium-term demand forecasts. Therefore, there is a strong business case for investments, both in hydropower projects and the
transmission infrastructure, which will enable these projects to have a transformative impact across the region.

Ethiopia a driving force for regional development

Ethiopia’s hydropower potential, estimated at around 45GW, is among the largest in Africa. Large-scale hydropower projects in Ethiopia are driving investment in new interconnections across the EAPP. As these hydro schemes will generate more electricity than is required to meet Ethiopia’s national demand, export markets will ensure their long-term financial viability.

Ethiopia already exports power to Djibouti via a 230kV line completed in 2011. This 283km interconnection has a transmission capacity of up to 60MW. In 2013, Ethiopia and Sudan completed a 100MW capacity transmission line. Ethiopia has also signed power trading agreements with Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and Yemen. Construction has already started on a 1,045km, 2,000MW capacity transmission line between Ethiopia and Kenya, which will deliver electricity from major projects such as the 6,000MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). It is scheduled to be completed in late 2018.

Some caution has been expressed by Egypt in relation to the filling and operation of the GERD reservoir, and further information has been requested. Nonetheless, an agreement between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan signed in March 2015 included an assurance from Ethiopia that the project will not
significantly decrease the availability of water downstream.

Meanwhile, the 1,870MW Gilgel Gibe III project, situated on the Omo River, brought the first two of its ten 187MW units online last year. The remaining eight units are expected to be put into service during 2016.

Hydro remains part of Kenya’s diversifying energy mix

The Kenyan government predicts that peak demand in the country will grow by around 15,000MW before 2030 – 13 times more than the present figure. Currently, hydropower accounts for approximately 49% of the total electricity generating capacity in the country.

More than half of Kenya’s installed hydropower capacity is located at the Seven Forks scheme, a cascade of five stations situated in the Tana River basin. Kenya’s hydropower potential has been estimated to lie between 3 and 6GW.

It is spread across all five of the country’s major river basins: the Lake Victoria basin (295MW), Rift Valley basin (345MW), Athi River basin (84MW), Tana River basin (570MW) and Ewaso Ngi’ro North River basin (146MW). Two sites, the Mutonga (60MW) and Low Grand Falls (140MW) are among the most promising for development in the near future. Nonetheless, the government has prioritised the development of geothermal, wind and nuclear resources as outlined in the 2011 Least Cost Power Development Plan.

Consequently, it is projected that hydropower will account for only 5% of the country’s total installed capacity in 2030. There are currently at least six hydropower projects under construction in Kenya, including the 5.8MW Gura, 1MW Chania, 5.6MW North Mathioya, 2MW South Amara, 1.8MW Lower Nyamindi and 1.5MW Iraru projects. Most of these stations are expected to come online either later this year or during 2017.

New development nearing completion in Sudan

Hydropower is the largest source of electricity in Sudan, accounting for almost 75% of the country’s electricity generation. The Sudanese government is planning to reach more than 4GW of total installed capacity by 2030.

While cheaper coal-fired stations are expected to make up a substantial portion of new capacity, there are also plans to develop three new hydropower plants on the Nile River. The 135MW Atbara and Setit dam complex is scheduled for completion in 2016. This project will consist of two dams, forming a reservoir with about 2.7 billion cubic metres of storage capacity.

Untapped potential in South Sudan

South Sudan has an estimated hydropower potential of around 3GW, none of which has yet been exploited. The young country currently has a very small installed power capacity, estimated at around 24MW. South Sudan’s power supply derives primarily from diesel generation, still only available in a few towns. Less than 1% of the country’s population has access to electricity. According to the government’s Infrastructure Plan for South Sudan, 336MW of diesel power (in sets of up to 5MW) and 40MW of hydropower will be installed by 2020. An additional 115MW in diesel power and 300MW of hydropower are expected to be installed during the 2021–25 period.

Rwanda focused on carbon reduction

Rwanda’s economically viable hydropower potential is estimated at 400MW, primarily in the form of
smaller stations, each less than 5MW in capacity. The country’s total installed capacity is currently 160MW, including 100MW of hydropower. The remaining 60MW consists mostly of diesel-fired generators.

The government is aiming to increase the country’s total electricitygenerating capacity to 563MW by 2018, including imports. In its Energy Sector Strategic Plan, published in 2015, the government outlines plans to reduce the carbon intensity of centralised energy by replacing diesel generators with renewable technologies. Developing the country’s transmission network is also a priority for Rwanda, not only to widen access to energy but also to enable cross-border power trading.

Multinational projects move forward

Indeed, Rwanda is currently involved in the development of two multi-national hydropower projects. The 145MW Ruzizi III plant is being built on the border with the DRC, while the 80MW Rusumo Falls is situated on the border with Tanzania. Burundi is the third partner in both projects. The majority of Burundi’s existing power generation capacity is provided by hydropower. There are currently three hydropower stations under construction in the country.

Tanzania diversifies energy mix to safeguard against drought

Tanzania currently has around 562MW of installed hydropower capacity, accounting for over one-third of the country’s total electricity-generating capacity. Recent drought has resulted in load curtailment and power outages in the country.

To meet rising demand, Tanzania will need to reach almost 9,000MW in total installed capacity by 2035, according to the government’s Energy Supply Master Plan. New capacity will consist primarily of hydropower and coal-fired stations, although natural gas and other renewables will also be included in the mix.

Uganda prioritising hydropower to meet rising demand

Uganda has substantial domestic energy resources. Currently, hydropower accounts for over 80% of the country’s electricity generation, with the three largest hydropower stations totalling more than 600MW in installed capacity.

Peak electricity demand is set to increase by more than 1,800MW by 2030, according to the government’s
Power Sector Investment Plan. That represents an annual growth rate of 5.9%. In order to meet the rising demand, the government is looking to hydropower to supply the majority of the country’s new capacity.


Major transmission and generation projects are now realising the goals of the EAPP. Large-scale hydropower projects in particular are driving increased integration in the region, as these projects depend on strong international agreements for their financial viability.

Looking forward to an increasingly interconnected world, these issues will come under the spotlight at the 2017 World Hydropower Congress, which will be held in Africa for the first time on 9–11 May. Organised with the support of the African Union Commission, UN Economic Commission for Africa and the World Bank Group, this event is intended to bring together a diversity of perspectives and examine how private and public sector initiatives can converge to deliver sustainable hydropower development.

Fostering dialogue among a diverse range of stakeholders will be crucial for creating enabling environments for hydropower development across sub-Saharan Africa. The region is now witnessing the increased participation of the private sector in hydropower development and operations via public-private partnerships (PPPs) and independent power producer (IPP) projects, and coordination at the highest level is essential to ensure the best outcomes for sustainable development.

About the author

This article, made exclusively available to ESI Africa by the International Hydropower Association (IHA), a non-profit organisation, draws upon IHA’s global database of hydropower stations, international and national governmental reports, academic papers and media reports.


This article originally appeared in Issue 3 2016 of our print magazine. The digital version of the full magazine can be read online or downloaded free of charge.

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.