Africa’s hydropower capacity grows amid challenges and calls for action

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The 2024 World Hydropower Outlook reveals that Africa’s installed hydropower capacity stands at 42 GW, providing 40% of sub-Saharan Africa’s power.

Africa’s hydropower capacity has surged, adding 2 gigawatts (GW) in 2023, according to the preliminary findings of the World Hydropower Outlook from the International Hydropower Association (IHA). Despite this growth, the continent has harnessed only 10% of its vast potential.

The expansion, nearly double the development from the previous year, owes much to contributions from Nigeria, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania. Nigeria leads the charge, installing 740 megawatts (MW) after the commissioning of the Zungeru dam, followed by Uganda with 408.2 MW, the Democratic Republic of Congo with 381.7 MW, and Tanzania with 261.7 MW.

Despite these advancements, Africa confronts significant obstacles in harnessing its full hydropower potential. Access to finance and infrastructural inadequacies remain primary barriers, compounded by aging infrastructure—60% of existing capacity is over two decades old.

In response, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the IHA emphasize the urgent need for rehabilitating hydropower plants across the continent – a call recently echoed by the Africa Finance Corporation in its State of Africa’s Infrastructure Report. The AfDB commits $1 billion to upgrade twelve such plants.

“The development of hydropower in Africa is not just about generating electricity; it’s about empowering communities, driving economic growth, and charting a sustainable path toward a clean energy future,” CEO of IHA Eddie Rich said, highlight the importance of hydropower in balancing the increasing solar power on African grids.

The Abuja Action Plan

The HydroPOWER Africa Week in Abuja, a collaborative event by the IHA, Mainstream Energy Solutions Ltd, AfDB, Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA), and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Power (MOP), has launches the Abuja Action Plan on Sustainable Hydropower Development. This plan calls on governments and international bodies to incentivize hydropower development in Africa.

“To move fast, you move alone, but to move far, we must move together,” Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu said during his address at the event last week, emphasizing the potential of hydropower in Africa’s clean energy shift and the role of blended finance solutions in unlocking the investment opportunities.

“We won’t harness our human resources if they aren’t energized by our natural resources. We need foreign investments and can provide a guaranteed return.”

The event also featured roundtable discussions, informed by insights from the Africa section of the 2024 World Hydropower Outlook the IHA. While hydropower capacity rises steadily, it falls short of the trajectory needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Sadiq Wanka, Special Advisor to Nigeria’s Vice President on Renewables, remarked on the importance of hydropower not just for power generation, nut also water management, irrigation, flood control, and job creation. “Tapping into the hydropower potential in the continent will be fundamental, and we need to provide key incentives and the structure to facilitate investors,” Wanka said.

Outlook on Africa’s hydropower

The 2024 World Hydropower Outlook reveals that Africa’s installed hydropower capacity stands at 42 GW, providing 40% of sub-Saharan Africa’s power. With an additional 2 GW added in 2023 and a total pumped storage installed capacity of 3.4 GW, the report underscores the need for innovative storage solutions to support renewable energies like wind and solar.

The challenge ahead is to expand electricity supply by 50% by 2030 and quadruple it by 2050. To achieve this, the report recommends addressing regulatory issues, improving resilience against climate change, and establishing financial mechanisms that reward flexibility and enable significant capital investments.

African policymakers and stakeholders must also come together to provide the enabling environment that is conducive for the private sector to invest into lengthy and capital-intensive hydropower projects – both brownfield and greenfield.

As Africa stands on the cusp of a transformative clean energy transition, the World Hydropower Outlook and the Abuja Action Plan serve as a clarion call for global collaboration and investment to unlock the continent’s vast hydropower potential.


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