Africa looks to sustainable hydropower developments to boost electricity access

Published: 15 February 2020 - 6:03 a.m.
By: Baset Asaba

Senior African government representatives and leaders from the energy sector, financial institutions and civil society gathered in Abidjan to chart a course for the sustainable development of the continent’s hydropower resources.

Organised by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Africa High-level Roundtable on Sustainable Hydropower Development looked at strategies for ensuring projects are developed in accordance with international good practice, while overcoming challenges to development and access to finance.

With close to 600 million Africans lacking access to electricity, speakers including Hon Fortune Chasi, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Energy, and Sabati Cissé, Côte d’Ivoire’s Director-General for Petroleum, Energy and Renewable Energies, emphasised the social-economic and power system benefits of investing in hydroelectricity.

Africa’s existing hydropower plants deliver 36 GW of installed generation capacity, but this represents only about 11 per cent of the region’s technical potential, according to IHA (Hydropower Status Report 2019).

“As a renewable energy source offering design options from run-of-river plants to pumped storage plants, hydropower in its different forms adds significant value to power systems and the reliability of energy supply,” said Wale Shonibare, the African Development Bank’s acting vice president for Power Energy, Climate Change and Green Growth.

Mr Shonibare said the AfDB is committed to supporting new hydropower projects through its New Deal on Energy for Africa and has already invested close to $1bn for 1.4 GW of expected installed capacity over the past ten years.

“As the Bank’s emphasis on renewable energy sources is growing, so does its interest in hydropower. In order to achieve universal access to energy, it is not enough to bring online the amount of generation capacity required to cover energy demand, it is also essential to do this in a sustainable way that assures power system reliability,” he said.

Mr Cissé noted that Africa’s hydropower plants, through increasing electricity access, contribute significantly to poverty reduction and economic growth. “Africa has enormous hydropower potential, which we will need if we want to achieve national policy priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Eddie Rich, Chief Executive of IHA, said it was important to create an enabling policy and regulatory environment to incentivise new projects, while ensuring that both greenfield and rehabilitation projects are built and operated in accordance with internationally recognised guidelines and assessment tools.

“The Hydropower Sustainability Tools, governed by a multi-stakeholder coalition of social and environmental NGOs, governments, banks and industry, must be embedded in decision-making on project selection, planning, financing, development and operation. These tools define good and best practice and help to assess whether a hydropower project is truly sustainable across objective social, environmental and governance performance measures,” he said.

The Africa High-level Roundtable on Sustainable Hydropower Development was organised with support from AFD, the French development agency.

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