Towards hydropower energy


Water, according to the United Nations World Water Development Report 2014 and the African Development Bank, plays a crucial role in power generation, and therefore, in overall development.

This means water and energy are closely interconnected and highly interdependent, with economic development dependent on both.

“Water and energy have crucial impacts on poverty alleviation, not only directly with a number of the millennium development goals depending on major improvements in access to water, sanitation, power and energy sources, but also indirectly because water and energy can be binding constraints on economic growth – the ultimate hope for widespread poverty reduction,” noted the United Nations World Water Development report.

In the foreword to the report, Irina Bokova of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation raised an important issue. Bokova said access to clean and quality water is a fundamental human right; and therefore, water should be managed better.

However, Bokova said the fundamental right to fresh water is not exercised by some 3.5-billion women and men.

“The fundamental right to fresh water is not exercised by some 3.5-billion women and men – who often also lack access to reliable energy, especially electricity,” said Bokova, adding that there is enough water on earth – therefore, we need to manage it better.

To manage it properly and to increase the uptake of hydropower energy, Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing states need to better understand the connections between water and energy.

Countries within and across Africa should quickly understand the connection, and embrace hydropower as a panacea to their respective energy woes.

According to the African Development Bank, the African continent has the lowest electrification rate of all regions.

This is despite the fact that region is endowed with important energy resources including important exploitable hydropower capacity. Sadly, only eight percent of Africa’s hydropower potential has been harnessed.

A number of dams, for instance, are lying idle in most – if not all – African countries instead of producing electricity for small towns and rural areas.

Southern Africa Today, a news publication, once remarked: “The Zambezi River, for example, drains water from eight Southern African Development Community member states and has an estimated hydropower generation capacity of about 20 000 megawatts, which is almost enough to meet the region’s energy needs if potential sites are exploited.

“Only 23 percent of this potential is being harnessed, largely from two main sites at the Kariba Dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique.”

Southern Africa Today goes on to say: “Hydropower is also in abundance with the Inga project on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo having the potential to produce about 40 000MW of electricity.” 

Accordingly, countries in the SADC region must embrace hydropower energy to transform the lives of their citizens. This is so because hydropower has many advantages: it is readily available; it produces cleaner energy than traditional resources like coal and oil; and it is highly versatile; thus, it can be used to meet national, regional and continental electricity grid requirements, rural electrification and industrial power needs.

Furthermore, hydropower can increase agricultural productivity and boost industries such as agro-processing. Thus, it is crucial for increasing incomes and food security.

To effectively benefit from the water-power link, political will and funding are important ingredients since a micro hydro (the small-scale harnessing of energy from falling water such as steep mountain rivers) system that converts the flow of water into electrical energy is expensive not only to install but also to maintain.

Thus, participation from political leaders, the business community and all stakeholders in the energy sector is of paramount importance if the continent is to ease its power shortages.

Funding is also needed to build more dams and to boost hydropower infrastructure in African countries. Countries within and across Africa must build dams and also construct stations to harness hydropower energy and increase power supply.

Furthermore, foreign investment is also significant for the development of the hydro sector because the funds are simply not available from within African governments to build hydro projects internally.

To effectively benefit from water- and energy resources, African countries must pay attention to identifying best practices that can make a water- and energy-efficient green industry a reality. After paying necessary attention, they should also address inequalities, share resources and use them more efficiently.

“The flashpoint from the water-energy nexus indicates the need to address inequalities, share the resources more widely and use them more efficiently. This requires the development of policies and cross-cutting frameworks that bridge sectors and ministries, leading the way to energy security and sustainable water use in a green economy,” notes the African Development Bank.

This also means African countries must enact special policy measures to encourage development and at the same time to overcome significant barriers that limit the development of hydropower energy.

Frankly, throughout Africa, electrification rates are extremely low, and this low level of electrification not only affects the citizens’ way of life, but it starves industries of development or growth. Therefore, this low access of population to electricity should create opportunities for hydropower development in countries within and across Africa.  

May 2014
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