October 20, 2021

Africa could address electricity outage with investment in micro-hydroelectric dam

3 min read

By Alpha Bedoh Kamara

The challenges by African governments to ensure sustainable and reliable electricity supply seems to be increasing as demand increase amidst an increasing population in the rural and most deprived communities without this needed service.

Hydroelectric plants with a capacity of 20 MW or less are a valuable niche of the hydro industry to provide local power in underdeveloped countries and sources of new capacity in established markets.

Few African countries are trying to tap into this sector and results are proving far more resourceful for community development, especially in the rural sector.

Large-scale hydropower projects in Africa have proved problematic over the years, and in Sierra Leone the Bumbuna Hydro-electric Power Plant can only provide better output in the rainy season. It is hoped that by the end of 2017 Sierra Leoneans will see better improvement in electricity supply in the capital city and the major provincial district headquarters.

The government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement with US-based Joule Africa In May 2011 to undertake the plant’s second phase development to increase the plant’s capacity to 400MW and help meet the growing electricity needs.

The project will require an investment of $750m. It is expected to be completed by 2017, according to Power-technology.com/.

The World Bank estimates that 70 percent of the economically feasible hydro potential in developing countries, and 93 percent of the potential in Africa, remains unexploited.

The micro-hydroelectric dam providing electricity supply in Kenema, East of Sierra Leone, was installed in the 70s but continues to provide electricity to that part of the country and environs, including Bo, the Southern district headquarter.

In other parts of the continent, major hydro power plants are facing lots of challenges. In 2006, droughts resulted in hydro plants being shut down in Tanzania and in June 2009 Kenya closed its 14-megawatt Masinga Dam, the largest in the country, forcing the government to import expensive emergency power-generation technologies from the Scottish company Agrekko to prop up the economy, East Africa’s largest.

In Afghanistan, small-scale projects to increase access to electricity, such as the construction of micro-hydroelectric dams, are having significant impact on the lives of rural communities. These sub-projects, funded by the National Solidarity Program, are part of the concerted effort by the Government of Afghanistan to significantly increase electricity coverage of the population.

Workers train on a micro-hydro plant in Nepal. Photo: Nepal Micro Hydropower Development Association

More than 8,000 energy sector sub-projects have been financed under the program, supported by the World Bank, Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) and Japanese Social Development Fund (JSDF).

Over the last 12 years, the National Solidarity Program (NSP), under MRRD, has invested over $200 million in projects to provide access to energy to over four million people in rural communities. More than 8,000 energy sector sub-projects, which have a total generation capacity of over 100 MW of power, have been financed under NSP. A recent randomized impact evaluation of NSP underlined that the energy related projects scored well on both impact and sustainability, exemplified by the recent sub-project in Sabzaab village.

Micro-hydroelectric dam which typically do not use dams and do not significantly affect natural river flows, are also quicker and easier to set up, according to Chandi Makuyana, a business development adviser with Practical Action, a British organization promoting technology as a means of economic development in poor countries.

“If you install a large power plant, there are also transmission costs to get electricity into rural areas,” Ms. Makuyana said. “Micro-hydro means power is generated where it is needed. It’s more cost-effective and it means communities can be self-sufficient in electricity.”

Practical Action estimates that every kilowatt of power generated through their micro-hydro systems costs around $1,300.

A six-kilowatt system – large enough to drive an electric mill and provide light for a community of 500 – would cost approximately $7,800.

Africa is again in its budding stage with so much expected from the leaders to prioritise development goals and should therefore take advantage of these cost effective, easy to install and managed, and environmentally friendly innovations.


Credit: World Bank, GreenEnergy and Powertechnology.com

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