Africa has among the largest untapped potential for hydropower development in the world. New projects are steadily increasing hydropower capacity, and it remains the main renewable resource in the region.
Africa has the opportunity to be the first continent to develop its economy using renewable energy. Despite being home to 17 per cent of the world’s population, it accounts for just 4 per cent of global power. Africa has vast natural resources, but access to electricity across the continent is limited and uneven. According to the IEA, Africa’s population without access to electricity increased in 2021 after experiencing a decline for the past six years. Only three countries in West and Central Africa are on track to provide electricity for all their populations by 2030. It is estimated that by 2070, the West African Power Pool (WAPP) region will represent one-third of the continent’s total population, with over 1.5 billion people.
Hydropower presents an opportunity for economic development and the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Hydropower potential exceeds current and medium-term demand in Africa and, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the cost of electricity from new hydropower projects remains among the cheapest renewable energy sources globally. As 60 per cent of the hydropower installed capacity in the region is over 20 years old, modernisation efforts are an important element in improving access to clean and reliable energy. To help address this, the African Development Bank (AfDB) is undertaking the Africa Hydropower Modernization Program, supported by IHA. This provides an opportunity to increase generation capacity at a low-cost, and with relatively short lead times and minimal environmental impact.
Although Africa produces just 2 per cent of the global energy-related CO2 emissions, climate-related effects are disproportionately higher in the region, impacting hydropower capacity and a very wide range of other infrastructure and critical services, including food supply.
Once the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) reservoir is filled with water (which started in 2020 and will take 4–7 years), it will be the largest hydropower plant in Africa and one of the largest in the world, with a total installed capacity of 5.3 GW. It started electricity production in February 2022, commissioning two units with an installed capacity of 375 MW each.
Egypt has expressed concerns about the impact of GERD on the flow of the Nile, and therefore to its water security. Ethiopia contends that the project will have no major impact on water flow and instead provide significant benefits to itself and others in the region.
Earlier in 2022, the Kikagati hydropower plant with an installed capacity of 15.57 MW was commissioned by Voith Hydro on the natural border of Tanzania and Uganda, serving both countries.
In 2021, the Uganda Electricity Generation Company Ltd (UEGCL) invited bids for the implementation of the 44.7 MW Muzizi scheme, to be built on the Muzizi River.
Zambia commissioned the first 150 MW unit of the 750 MW Kafue Gorge Lower hydropower station in July 2021. The station is owned by Zambia Electricity Supply Corp. (ZESCO), with Sinohydro Corporation as contractor.
In 2022, the first 175 MW unit at Nigeria’s Zungeru Hydropower Station was commissioned. When complete, the project will provide 700 MW to the grid.
National energy generator Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) reported that it will meet the growing demand through production from geothermal, hydro and wind power. This came after electricity demand in the country reached a record high of 2,036 MW.
In Mali, in March 2022, the Mariguina hydropower station with an installed capacity of 140 MW entered a trial operation of its first unit, ready to be connected to the national grid. The overall project consists of 3 x 49 MW Kaplan generators units. Ongoing work is underway to commission the two other units. The construction of this project created 1,000 jobs, helping to drive economic development in the country.
The Burundian government approved a project to build two hydroelectric power stations on the Mulembwe and Ruvyironza rivers. These facilities, which will inject 10.65 MW into the local electricity grid, will be built by Songa Energy.
Major investment is needed in Africa’s electricity grid infrastructure. Despite its size it has only 26,000 km of high voltage transmission lines. By way of comparison, India, with a similarly sized population, has 430,000 km. With electricity demand expected to triple by 2040, efforts are being made to improve and increase transmission and distribution assets in Africa.
Some African countries are leading the way forward. The construction of a transmission line connecting Kenya to Ethiopia, the longest in East and Central Africa, is near completion, with a capacity of 2,000 MW.
The government of Angola is set to reap the benefits of investing in transmission lines to harmonise access to the country’s national resources. A 343 km long transmission line connecting the north and south grids and allowing for the transfer of approximately 1,000 MW of primarily low-cost hydropower is set to be operational in 2023. It is financed largely by AfDB, and its implementation in the south of Angola will avoid consumption of 46 billion litres of diesel per year, and 125 Mt of CO2 emissions.
In 2021, AfDB provided financing to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) through the NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (NEPAD-IPPF) towards the cost of the Baynes hydropower plant 400 kV transmission lines project. It is currently undergoing technical and economic feasibility studies and is planned for completion in 2025.