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Guest blog: Cameroon’s engineers are paving the way for small hydropower

Across Cameroon, there are estimated to be 200 potential sites suitable for small hydropower, which could offer remote communities access to off-grid electricity. However, of a total capacity of 615 MW, only 1 MW has so far been exploited. IHA member Manjong Nelson is one of a number of homegrown engineering talents building their expertise to develop this untapped resource.

Dubbed ‘Africa in miniature’, Cameroon is located in the central African region with a population of 23 million and a total installed power capacity of 1,536 MW. Only 48 per cent of the population have access to the electricity grid, 70 per cent of whom live in urban areas. The people who do have access to the grid suffer from ‘load shredding’, a phenomenon of frequent power cuts, which can last hours and even days in some parts of the country.

Cameroon is rich in hydropower potential, with an estimated resource potential of 20 GW. However, at 1,152 MW, less than six per cent of this potential has so far been exploited.

There is also vast potential for small hydropower, which Cameroon’s Ministry of Mines, Industry and Technological Development defines as a maximum capacity of 10 MW. With over 200 potential sites across the country, the capacity for small hydropower is estimated at 615 MW, but only 1 MW has been exploited.

With a centralised power system and very little access to electricity in the country, over the past decade Cameroon’s government has focused on creating an off-grid electricity supply system to meet the demand of small communities and reduce losses due to long-distance transmissions. Small hydropower has since become of significant interest to the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), the government body in charge of rural and off-grid electrification.

In this context, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which plays an active role in developing small hydropower in many parts of the world, organised a capacity development training programme on small hydro development in Cameroon, in partnership with the Global Environment Facility.

The three-week capacity development training programme brought together key stakeholders from the public sector, such as the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation, the Rural Electrification Agency and the Electricity Regulation Company, and representatives from the private sector.

The programme consisted of two weeks of coursework at the National Advanced School of Engineering Yaoundé and a week of fieldwork at two potential small hydropower sites in Bafang and Manjo, in the west of Cameroon. The aim of the training programme was to improve the skills of national and local engineers, students and experts in the field of small hydropower.

Among other topics, the course addressed hydrological measurements, flood estimation and power evacuation, to name just a few. Fieldwork helped the students develop technical and design parameters and to practically apply the knowledge acquired during the two weeks of classroom learning. 

The training programme complements the Small Hydropower Technology Centre UNIDO established at the National Advance School of Engineering with a view to making the most of Cameroon’s small hydropower potential. The technology centre will serve as a hub for developing small hydropower in Cameroon.

Efforts like these to build and share knowledge on the tools required to exploit small hydropower are of critical importance to the future of energy development in Cameroon. With the support of our international partners, Cameroon’s growing hydropower sector can enhance energy security for communities and businesses across the country.