REGION profile


With energy demand growing twice as fast as the global average, Africa has the opportunity to be the first continent to develop its economy using renewable and efficient energy.
Hydropower installed capacity
37 GW
Pumped storage installed capacity
3 GW
Generation by hydropower
138 TWh

Despite being home to 17 per cent of the world’s population, it accounts for just 4 per cent of global power. Access to electricity reached 54 per cent of the continent's population in 2018, or 45 per cent in the Sub-Saharan region.

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From 2020 to 2050, most of the world’s population growth is predicted to take place in Africa; 1.2 billion of the 1.9 billion increase expected globally. In particular, the West African power pool (WAPP) region will represent one-third of the continent’s total population by 2070, with over 1.5 billion people.

Hydropower remains the main renewable resource in Africa with over 37 GW of installed capacity. It accounts for 15 per cent of the total electricity share in the region. This is predicted to increase to more than 23 per cent by 2040, following moves towards universal access and low-carbon energy transition.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, hydropower’s share in electricity capacity exceeds 75 per cent. The countries with the highest installed capacity are Ethiopia, South Africa, Angola, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Mozambique and Nigeria, all with over 2 GW. In terms of generation, countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola generated more than 9 TWh each in 2019.

Africa has the highest percentage of untapped technical hydropower potential in the world, with only 11 per cent utilised. In 2019, 906 MW of hydropower capacity was put into operation across the continent.

Since 2015, significant efforts have been put into improving the socioeconomic and energy situation in Africa. The African Union’s 2063 Agenda; the Common African Position on the post-2015 Development Agenda; the African Development Bank priority to ‘Light up and power Africa’; and the African Union Commission commitment to implementing the Paris Climate Agreement, provide the framework for economic transformation while accelerating renewable energy development.

Although Africa produces just 2 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions, climate-related effects are disproportionately higher in the region. This highlights the importance of a diverse power mix and regional interconnection enhancement.

In the last ten years, hydropower installed capacity has grown at an average annual rate of 4.4 per cent, with 2016 and 2017 the years with the highest growth. Yet in terms of generation, the average annual growth reached only 2.4 per cent. Climate change effects and the ageing of the hydropower fleet, with over 60 per cent of installed capacity over 20 years old, are two of the main drivers for the drop in capacity factors.

Average annual hydropower capacity growth over the 2020-2025 period is expected to double, reaching 9.7 per cent. Over 50 hydropower projects are currently under construction, representing more than 15 GW of installed capacity expected to be commissioned by 2025.

Recent developments

In Angola, the Lauca project commissioned one more turbine in 2019, making it the largest hydropower plant in the country with 1,670 MW of installed capacity. The remaining 401 MW is expected to be commissioned in 2020. Lauca (2070 MW) and Caculo Cabaça (2172 MW), once fully operational, will contribute to almost a third of the national target to achieve 9.9 GW of installed capacity by 2025. This is part of the Angola 2025 Energy Plan, launched in 2019, to increase access to electricity to 60 per cent of the population, with 70 per cent of electricity from renewable sources.

With a current electrification rate of 45 per cent, Ethiopia has targeted 100 per cent electrification by 2025 and an increase of 25 GW of installed capacity by 2030, with 22 GW coming from hydropower. In early 2020, Ethiopian Electric Power announced the commissioning of the Genale Dawa III project with a total installed capacity of 254.1 MW. The government’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) outlines a 15-year strategy with three five-year phases to transform Ethiopia from a developing country to a middle-income country by 2025.

In Uganda, two storage hydropower projects, Isimba (183.2 MW) and Achwa II (42 MW) were officially commissioned in 2019. Moreover, a total of 35.25 MW of additional capacity was added in 2019 under the Global Energy Transfer for Feed-in-Tariff (GET FiT) Programme: Sindila (5.25 MW), Ndugutu (5.9 MW), Kyambura (7.6 MW) and Siti II (16.5 MW). The total addition of over 260 MW of installed capacity could prompt tariff reduction for large-scale consumers, due to the lower prices expected from Isimba in comparison to Bujagali.

In Cameroon, the Memve’ele project, commissioned in April 2019, has started to produce 45 MW of its total 200 MW and will be fully operational by the end of 2020. Additionally, Rubagabaga (0.28 MW) and Mukungwa II (1.1 MW) hydropower projects in Rwanda; Kasanjiku (0.64 MW) in Zambia; Samendeni (2.6 MW) in Burkina Faso; and Mulanje (8.2 MW) in Malawi, were commissioned in 2019.

With electricity demand expected to triple by 2040, efforts are being made to improve and increase transmission and distribution assets in Africa. 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. Other examples of projects under development are Nigerian-Benin- Togo-Ghana-Cote d’Ivoire Median Transmission Backbone, Egypt-Sudan, Mozambique-Malawi, the Kenya- Tanzania, and Mozambique-Zimbabwe- South Africa.

In Ethiopia, the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), expected to reach 6,350 MW, was 70 per cent completed by the end of 2019. Moreover, in Cameroon, the construction of the 420 MW Nachtigal project, the biggest independent hydropower project in Sub-Saharan Africa, started in 2019 and is expected to provide one-third of the country’s energy needs.

In Angola, the first turbine of Caculo Cabaça (2,172 MW) is expected to be operational in 2024. In Tanzania, the construction of Stiegle’s Gorge (2,100 MW) was launched in mid-2019 and Karuma (600 MW), the biggest hydropower project in Uganda, is expected to be commissioned in November 2020.

Picture: Laúca hydropower plant, Angola. Credit: Odebrecht.

This regional profile is featured in the 2020 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report:

This profile was last updated in May 2020.

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