There are currently hundreds of millions of people in Africa who can use electricity that is generated by hydropower. Providing around a quarter of all electricity generated south of the Sahara, it is by far Africa’s most important renewable energy source. But some nations are much more dependent on it than others. Countries like the DRC, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zambia rely heavily on hydropower to fuel their economies.
The continent’s potential for hydropower has also grown significantly. It is predicted that there are 1.4 petawatt hours of cheap, untapped potential in Sub-Saharan Africa. The area is blessed with an abundance of water sources. 1 petawatt-hour of energy is enough to supply roughly 500 million homes with electricity for a year, assuming daily use of 5.5 kilowatt-hours.
Many political and environmental hurdles must be overcome if hydropower is to be used more widely. For instance, the huge Grand Renaissance Dam construction has exacerbated tensions between Ethiopia and countries located lower downstream in the Nile River basin.
Recently, I produced a paper illustrating why increased reliance on hydropower, or using hydropower in any capacity, creates climate-related difficulties; this is because I am a researcher who examines the links between energy systems and climate change.
The severity of global and localised climates is increasing. There has been a rise in the frequency of natural disasters like droughts and floods. The rapid evolution of the energy industry is cause for concern since it appears that most African countries’ energy planning and administration are falling behind.
Hydropower Will Be Affected by Climate Change
The process of converting the kinetic energy of flowing water into usable electricity is known as hydropower generation. Rivers or man-made or naturally occurring basins may be the source of this water. Water flow is generated by the rotation of turbines. First, the water’s kinetic energy is transformed into mechanical energy, and then, finally, it is used to generate electricity.
Consequently, a dam’s ability to generate electricity is very sensitive to even moderate changes in river flow and water storage. In addition, it has been affected by the weather for a long period, from the time it was built until now.
I analysed the literature on how climate change is affecting hydropower in various parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Effects on productivity, dependability, and hydropower’s future viability were analysed.
Hydropower’s impact on overall power generation seems to vary by geography. More rain might increase the potential for electricity generation in East African countries. However, countries in southern and western Africa face a significant risk of experiencing a drier environment. This raises significant concerns. This would end up being a bad thing. As the water level drops, the turbines will have to run at a reduced speed, reducing the amount of electricity generated. Central Africa would be the region least impacted by changes in precipitation and drought frequency.
However, the predicted shifts in rainfall intensity and frequency are quite uncertain. The future, especially in the central and southern parts of Africa, is unclear due to the plethora of climate models and possible future scenarios. Despite this, scientists agree that the continent as a whole will see an increase in the frequency of extreme hydrological events due to climate change. If adequate measures are not taken, the dependability of electrical systems will suffer.
Some countries are more at risk than others since their economies are heavily dependent on hydropower and they have few other options for generating electricity. Included in this category are the countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone. Some may even start depending more heavily on hydroelectricity.
Few nations have made significant progress towards energy diversification. As an example, Kenya has installed and is making plans for a substantial quantity of renewable alternative capacity.
Power Grid Administration and Preparation
The potential impacts of climate change on hydropower necessitate extensive preparation in the form of planning and management. This will guarantee that people in Sub-Saharan Africa have a more stable source of electricity.
First, there is a larger responsibility for countries that rely heavily on hydropower to increase their efforts to diversify their electricity sources. Recent research suggests that African nations should increase their spending on renewable energy projects like solar and wind farms. The research shows that in certain regions, such as the Zambezi and Niger river basins, renewable energy sources are becoming competitive with or even cheaper than hydropower. Investment in renewable energy sources is a key part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
Second, countries need to improve their outdated electricity transmission systems. This further highlights the inability to bounce back from setbacks. Possibilities for power exchange between countries using different types of renewable energy across boundaries could be beneficial. For instance, peak solar PV production in surrounding nations may coincide with dry spells in the area, reducing river streamflow. To achieve this objective, several nations will need to install adequate power generation and transmission infrastructure. In addition, there needs to be extensive cooperation between countries and power generators.
Planning the electrical infrastructure with a nexus approach in mind is essential. New hydroelectric projects, for instance, necessitate a demand analysis for water in both urban and rural areas before construction can begin. The dangers posed by competing uses for a finite water supply need to be taken into account as well.
Hydropower, water availability, and climate change all interact in complex ways, therefore those responsible for planning Sub-Saharan Africa’s power infrastructure must adhere to tight guidelines. Improving the reliability of hydroelectric infrastructure in several ways is one approach to guarantee a steady flow of electricity.