Hydropower 'could supply Africa's entire power needs'
Alecia D. McKenzie
20 March 2012
The report says Africa has yet to fully utilise its vast hydropower
[MARSEILLES] Hydropower could supply all of Africa's electricity needs
if cross-border cooperation was stepped up, according to a UN report
launched last week (12 March) at the World Water Forum in Marseilles,
Africa currently generates just one third of its electricity from
hydropower, but could learn from cooperation and training programmes
with India and some Western countries, according to Ulcay Unver,
coordinator of the UN World Water Assessment Programme, which produced
its fourth edition of the World Water Development Report.
The report said African governments have begun to recognise the
importance of cooperative electricity projects.
Several strong examples have begun to emerge, including the Southern
African Power Pool (SAPP) and the West African Power Pool. These bring
together groups of national electricity companies under the authority of
the Southern African Development Community and the Economic Community of
West African States respectively.
SAPP has created a common power grid between its 12 member states. Such
cross-border cooperation is increasing, according to Amadou Hama Maiga,
the deputy director general of the International Institute for Water and
Environmental Engineering (IIWEE) in Burkina Faso.
He supported the UN's call to develop hydropower in Africa, but warned
that the financial challenges of finding the money for dam and
hydropower plants were significant.
Nonetheless, large projects are underway, including a collaboration
between India's Tata Power company and the South African mining group
Exxaro for renewable energy projects ï¿½ including hydropower ï¿½ in
Botswana and South Africa.
A trans-national project to rehabilitate and expand the Inga
hydroelectric dams in the Democratic Republic of Congo could generate 80
per cent of the electricity used in Africa by 2020, said Maiga.
Unver told SciDev.Net that technology projects are "essential drivers"
of African development, but technology alone is not enough. "You may
have the best technology but you have to be able to use and maintain
it," he said.
To meet the need for skilled graduates, 30 African states are working
with IIWEE to train 200 water engineers each year.
Some scientists have warned that the global push to develop hydropower
carries certain risks, especially in developing countries.
Alain Vidal, director of the Challenge Programme on Water and Food ï¿½
part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research ï¿½
told SciDev.Net the best approach would be one that enabled stakeholders
in the energy, food and water sectors to work together.
"Building river dams and developing hydropower should not compete with
water and food security," he said.
He called for "smart dams and smart hydropower that take into account
the impact on agriculture and fisheries", which he said could include
cascading dams, and adding turbines to small, existing dams rather than
building huge new projects.
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