Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 17, August 2009
Africa aims to harness its huge hydropower potential
by Kizito Sikuka

Energy experts from Africa will meet in September for the 21st Session of the African Hydro Symposium to explore ways of harnessing hydropower.

Hydro energy, which involves using water to turn turbines and generate electricity, is regarded as one of the most reliable and clean forms of power that does not pollute the environment compared to other forms such as thermal.

However, the energy source remains largely untapped in Africa despite the fact that the continent is hugely endowed with water courses such as the seven major river systems of Congo, Limpopo, Niger, Nile, Orange, Senegal and Zambezi.

Africa, particularly sub-Sahara, is experiencing a crippling energy situation, which can be addressed if renewable energy such as hydropower is harnessed.

According to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), Africa has a combined feasible hydro capacity of more than 1,750,000 Gigawatts (GW) per year, enough power for the whole continent as well as for exports, yet only 4.3 percent of this is being exploited.

To address the disparity, the symposium, which will run from 21-24 September in Windhoek, Namibia, is expected to come up with viable strategies to help Africa deal with its power deficit by exploiting power sources such as hydro energy.

Stakeholders will review the prevailing investment environment in Africa in a bid to craft attractive policies that lure investment into the sector to complete a number of hydroelectric power projects, thus increasing energy generation.

Regional projects that need investment include the US$7 billion Inga 3 in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has the capacity to produce up to 4,300 Megawatts (MW), much of which would feed into the southern African regional power grid.

This is almost 10 percent of SADCís current power consumption whose combined peak demand for 2008 was 43,000 MW, albeit suppressed due to shortages.

Refurbishment of the whole Inga dam has the potential to produce about 40,000 MW, enough electricity to meet the current power needs for the entire Southern African Development Community.

Cahora Bassa in Mozambique, one of Africaís biggest hydro stations, and the Ingula hydro plant in South Africa are two other major hydroelectric power projects that can add new energy to the region.

Other hydropower projects in southern Africa include Kariba (shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe), Kafue Gorge in Zambia, Kidatu and Lower Kihansi in Tanzania, Middle Cuanza in Angola, and the Bethlehem power project in South Africa, among others.

Other pertinent issues expected to be discussed at the meeting include a progress review of what Africa is doing to harness hydro energy as well as attract investment to the sector.

Potential investors, regional utilities and energy stakeholders will attend the African Hydro Symposium being hosted by NamPower, Namibiaís power utility. ZESCO of Zambia held the previous meeting in Lusaka last year.

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