Hydropower, a gift of nature, is a major source of clean energy on the African continent and it should be harnessed with social and environmental concerns in mind. This is according to Rana Singh, Industrial Development Officer, Rural and Renewable Energy Unit, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, who spoke to us at the African Utility Week 2014.
He explains that while various modifications are made in order to accommodate the development of hydropower plants, developers need to be careful not to destroy the surrounding environment or disrupt nearby communities. “Developers must be careful not to go beyond the accepted level of modification otherwise hydropower cannot be viewed as a form of clean renewable energy,” explains Mr Singh.
Hydropower is being adopted throughout Africa as it offers a significant amount of energy unlike other sources which are very intermittent by their very nature. Hydroplants can offer a continuous supply of power –at least eight to nine months of the year.
There are however many challenges that slow hydropower development:
- Climate change- The climate is having a major effect on rainfall levels. This has led to drought conditions in many African countries. Therefore, developers need to take dropping rainfall levels into consideration before taking steps to build the hydropower station, explains Mr Singh. He says that the capacity of the plant must be developed in accordance with the changing water levels. While developers will never completely overcome the climate change risk, risks can be reduced by planning properly.
- Country dependence on technology- When less developed countries rely on another country to supply post project maintenance and technology, this poses a reliance risk.
- Financial dependence- Many financiers implement a number of constraints which could slow the development of the hydropower plant. This could ramp up project costs.
- Social awareness- Awareness campaigns are missing in most countries, explains Mr Singh. Real beneficiaries of the project must receive project updates which are completely transparent. Properly communicated projects (from the outset) will enjoy the most support. The project’s sustainability should be communicated so that people understand its benefits-that is, it is providing clean power, and will boost industrial and commercial development in the country.
Says Mr Singh, “The rate of development (of hydropower) ranges from country to country depending on challenges that the country faces but if the resource is there, the country will enjoy a sustainable energy source into the future.”
We asked Mr Singh for his opinion of the African Utility Conference and he described it as a “good opportunity to understand Africa and the African countries especially when it comes to renewable energy development.” He added that the conference has instigated a stronger intervention from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization on the African continent.
He concludes, “The conference is a very encouraging environment where one can learn a great deal from others-it is a great networking opportunity.”