Africa has great hydropower potential but the continent still has one of the lowest hydropower utilisation rates. Africa needs additional electricity generation capacity to meet its rising power demand and the exploitation of remaining hydropower resources provides a solution.

Currently, less than 15% of the African population has access to electricity but a commitment to the sustainable exploitation and development of small hydropower resources can have a significant contribution to electrification of the continent – a vital factor in economic growth and community development.

Hydropower exploitation of major African rivers such as the Zambezi, Congo, Nile and Niger could meet the rising demand and increase access to electricity in Africa. The Congo River in the Democratic Republic Congo has the potential capacity of over 100,000MW – sufficient to meet the energy needs of the whole of Southern Africa. The Zambezi River has another capacity of up to 10,000MW. Other examples include Ethiopia, with a hydro capacity potential of 30,000MW and Nigeria with over 20,000MW.

Currently about 82% of hydropower plants are located in a few countries in northern and southern Africa which have been relatively peaceful. In total Africa holds about 1,750,945GWh/yr of hydropower potential of which only 97,519GWh was produced from 24,482 MW of the installed capacity in 2009. Over 5222MW are under construction in Africa which will increase hydropower production by about 36,696,000GWh(international-hydropower-association et al, 2000).

Small hydro resources

Small run-of-river hydro plants remain undeveloped for many reasons in Africa. However there is a realisation that these provide opportunities for many African countries to supply isolated areas quickly. Run-of river plants have short planning, design and construction times with low capital requirements.

Table 2 shows that such plants across Africa only currently contribute about 1% of the total hydropower production. Total installed capacity of these plants is 215MW producing about 1262GWh/yr. The total hydropower production in 2010 was 97,600GWh/yr in Africa (HD 2010). However the individual power plants may remain isolated (not connected to grid) due to the cost and long distances involved with such connections. However this form of hydropower could serve as a source of energy for isolated towns where the cost in extending the grid to such places is limiting.

To realise such potential, there is also a great need for technical assistance in planning, development and completion of small hydro projects and the enhancement of local skills through capacity building. Small hydropower projects in Africa require new thinking and approaches in resource mobilisation, planning and management.

In our commitment to promote capacity building for professionals in the hydropower sector, the international-centre-for-hydropower (ICH) in Norway is actively regionalising its activities and bringing its course programmes to the continents. This year’s Small Hydropower Resources course is tailormade for the region and will focus on the prefeasibility phase of the development process. This is one of three courses that will be conducted in Africa in 2011.

To be held at the Kafue Gorge Regional Training Centre in Zambia from 16-22 October 2011, the course is aimed at planners and engineers from power companies and public agencies involved in power supply and rural electrification. The objective is to introduce participants to the essential issues in the pre-feasibility phase of a potential project in order to assess the environmental and economic sustainability of the project. Topics included in this course are:

• Assessment of site potential.

• The development process – overview.

• Economic analysis of alternatives.

• Organisation and risk assessment.

• Calculation of production and installed capacity.

• Cost estimates and financial models.

• Mechanical and electrical equipment in the power house.

• Preliminary design.

• Environmental and social impact assessment.

• PPAs and grid connection.

• Case studies and real life experiences – Africa success stories.

In the energy mix

Electrification is Africa’s largest economic challenge and requires vast investments. Reliable mechanisms need to be put in place for Africa to attract investment and funding that will support the exploitation of its renewable energy resources so as to generate and supply more power to meet her growing needs. Constant load shedding (power cuts) is very common in most African countries. On 27 June 2011, Tanzania’s state-run power company announced that it is introducing daily 12-hour power cuts for an unspecified period because of low water levels at hydropower dams, and a shortage of fuel for thermal power generation.

Although Africa is endowed with abundant gas and coal resources, hydropower remains a critical component of the energy mix. The low cost of hydropower is easily achieved since hydro power plants have minimal operational costs. Low cost electricity is a significant competitive advantage for industrial bulk power consumers, since it results in lower production costs.

ICH’s Electricity Regulatory Initiative Seminar (ELRI) for Africa will focus on the importance of electricity to further promote the economic development of Africa. Focusing on the current scenario of Africa’s energy sector where demand exceeds supply, it is evident that energy distribution requires the robust establishment of sustainable, secure and reliable energy policies on all levels in order to promote economic growth and meet development targets. Over the years, research which has demonstrated a strong connection between energy consumption and economic growth given that access to modern energy services directly contributes to economic growth and poverty reduction through the initiation of activities that generate revenue.

Despite years of conflict resulting in minimal investment in hydropower projects, sabotaged hydropower infrastructure from wars, and many other ‘typical’ African problems which have resulted in uneven distribution of projects in many African countries, the African power sector is currently experiencing a wave of reforms that are transforming the continent’s energy sector.

Statistics show that North Africa constitutes about 23%, West Africa 25% and Southern Central Africa 51% of total from hydropower production. In Eastern Africa, there is substantial potential but remains to be developed. Even within these countries where hydropower has been developed, some areas remain without hydropower plants due to other factors such as the requirement of large investment and other barriers that hinder investor confidence.

Nonetheless, in the last decade African leaders have started to reorganise and address the problem of poor access to electricity. Such topics will be addressed in the ELRI seminar which will be held in Kenya from 7-11 November 2011.

The seminar is designed for executives of power companies, ministries, water resource and energy agencies, relevant private sector enterprises with management responsibility, energy sector investors and developers. The seminar will also be of value to engineers interested in developing their career within power markets and power trade, regulatory systems and licensing. Participants will be introduced to the key features and experiences within the power sector in Africa and developed power markets.

Challenges facing hydropower in Africa

Like many other continents, the hydropower industry in Africa is facing up to various different challenges. The successful development of hydropower will depend significantly on how project developers overcome these.

Experience shows that money put into good operation and maintenance programmes results in more power production than the same amount of money put into new production capacity. Scheduling, planning and tracking of operation and maintenance work can significantly improve efficiency and production capacity. It is important to utilise available resources efficiently.

For example, the Inga 1 and 2 dams are existing hydropower plants on the Congo River with a total installed capacity of 1775MW. However, when the country broke into civil war during the late 1990s the two hydropower dams were unmanaged and fell into disrepair. The dams were left heavily silted and operating at only about 30% of capacity (International Rivers Network, 2007).

To revive the current dams the reservoir above must be dredged and the turbines must be de-silted —an expensive and labour-intensive process. As of 2006, only eight of the 14 turbines on the dams were operational. Yet despite their minimal operation, the dams already generate more power than DR Congo needs (only 6% of the national population has access to the power grid), so it exports the excess to Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa.

Other African countries have experienced inadequacies in the maintenance planning of their hydropower plant machinery too. A lack of sufficient skills and maintenance-induced failures have been cited as contributing factors to poorly maintained and damaged turbines.

To bridge the skills gap, ICH is offering a tailor-made two-part course on Condition Monitoring and Maintenance Planning of Turbines. This year’s course will cover Francis turbines and will be held at Kafue Gorge Regional Training Centre in Zambia. This is the fourth time this programme will be held on the continent.

The main objective of the course is to implement standardised maintenance programmes adapted to the challenges faced in everyday operation of power plants.

As a two-part based course, part 1 is a web-based preparatory tool to increase and harmonise the skills of the participants over a 12 weeks period from 5th September to 27th November 2011.

And part 2 is a physical workshop with a skilled instructor, demonstrations of testing equipment and methods, plus practical exercises. This will be held from 5-9th December.

The course is suitable for technical staff, management and those engaged in planning, implementation and follow-up on maintenance activities in existing power plants.

All relevant Francis turbine components are described in detail with the actual types of damage and their causes. The coursework also includes descriptions of measuring methods and measuring programmes with the necessary flow diagrams and inspection forms.

ICH strongly encourages the inclusion and participation of women on these courses.

Carole Rosenlund is Project Manager at the International Centre for Hydropower in Norway, and is responsible for ICH activities in Africa.

Byman H Hamududu is a PhD Research Fellow at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in the Department of Hydraulic and Environment Engineering.

For further information on the International Centre for Hydropower, visit


Table 1
Table 2