Africa urged to avoid reliance on hydropower

African nations need to diversify energy supply, particularly countries reliant on hydropower, industry experts said at an energy conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

One of Africa’s most ambitious projects, Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam is set to turn the East African country into Africa’s water powerhouse. Image courtesy: All Africa

The region has been affected by severe droughts in recent years, affecting not only food security but also energy supply in countries that make heavy use of hydropower.

Hydropower stations in such countries are are at risk, said Langiwe Lungu, executive director of the Energy Regulation Board (ERB) in Zambia, pointing to climate change studies.

Zambia’s electricity deficit rose to 1,000 megawatts (MW) in 2016 as severe drought reduced water levels at the Kariba Dam, which generates much of its electricity.

Mines also came under pressure, with Glencore’s Zambian Mopani Copper Mines business suspending operations in certain areas after power supply restrictions.

Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer, has since introduced solar, coal power and heavy fuel oil to its energy mix.

“At one point our energy supply was 99 percent from hydropower but now we are at about 85 percent,” Lungu said.

Low rainfall in Kenya, where electricity generation capacity is mostly from hydroelectric and geothermal sources, pushed the country to generate more electricity using costly diesel last year.

“You need a mix that allows you to mitigate those types of issues,” said George Njenga, GE Power’s regional executive for sub-Saharan Africa.