Cameroon has the third highest hydropower potential in Sub-Saharan Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. Hydropower is currently the sole renewable energy source on the grid, accounting for 54 per cent of the country’s total electricity installed capacity, while the remainder comes from thermal sources. The country also relies on off-grid diesel generation and small-scale hydropower for rural electrification.
With a rising population and the acceleration of industrial development, electricity demand is expected to triple to 5,000 MW by 2020, as compared to 1,455 MW in 2014.
Increasing energy access is central to Cameroon’s goal to become a middle-income country and to reduce poverty levels below 10 per cent by 2035. In 2018, six out of 10 of Cameroonians had access to electricity, however access varies widely between urban and rural areas. To meet growing energy demand, the government has prioritised energy sector investment in the national budget and in its Vision 2035 development policy.
Domestic hydropower potential is estimated to be 23,000 MW, with 75 per cent of this capacity concentrated in the Sanaga River basin located in the north of the country. However only 3 per cent of Cameroon’s hydropower potential has currently been exploited. Forecasts estimate that hydropower will represent about 75 per cent of the energy mix by 2023. In order to mitigate regular power shortages induced by water variations and insufficient energy supply, the government intends to maximise its renewable energy potential and generate 25 per cent of renewable energy from variable sources like solar and wind.
The 200 MW Memve’ele hydropower plant is nearly operational with construction work completed in 2017. The project will be connected to the national grid once transmission lines are completed. As of December 2018, the energy evacuation line was 55 per cent executed.
The Lom Pangar regulating dam, built in 2016, has enabled the regulation of seasonal flow fluctuations in the Sanaga River basin. This has boosted the annual generation of the Edéa and Songloulou hydropower plants by 700 GWh from 2015 to 2017and made possible construction of the 30 MW Lom Pangar project to improve rural electrification in the eastern region; the hydropower plant is expected to become operational in 2020.
The 420 MW Nachtigal hydropower project, the largest independent hydropower project in Sub Saharan Africa, has been developed by the Cameroonian government together with the International Finance Corporation and EDF Group. With construction already underway, the project will augment the country’s electricity generation by 30 per cent (more than 2,900 GWh/year) when it begins operation in 2023. The combination of local and foreign currency financing is expected to minimise forex challenges and allow for low local tariffs, making the project economically sustainable.
Another major project under development is the 1,800 MW Grand Eweng project which will be the fourth largest hydropower plant in Africa following its completion in 2024. Other planned projects include Kpep (485 MW) and Makay (365 MW). With these projects, Cameroon will have added about 3,000 MW of hydropower capacity by 2025.
Cameroon’s energy sector holds promising possibilities of development and diversification to explore alternative sources of renewables across the country and utilise its massive hydropower potential. The realisation of Cameroon’s policy of economic emergence by 2035 will be greatly achieved from the ongoing hydropower development of the Sanaga River basin.
In April 2018, the National Electricity Transport Corporation (SONATREL) was granted sole charge of managing Cameroon’s electricity transmission network which was previously managed by the private utility, Energy of Cameroon (ENEO). Its mission is to modernise and put in place new transmission lines and improve efficiency, given transmission losses are currently estimated at 40 per cent.
This country profile is featured in the 2019 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report: hydropower.org/statusreport
This profile was last updated in May 2019.