Auma-Solutions for a world in motion
Auma-Solutions for a world in motion

AfDB approves grant to modernize African hydropower

The African Development Bank-managed Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA) has approved a US$ 9.72 million grant for the Africa Hydropower Modernisation Prog­ramme (AHMP), a single-point entitity that aims to overhaul Africa’s hydropower systems to enhance their reliability and flexibility.

With this new funding, announced on 18 December, the AHMP will expand the modernization of 12 private sector-led projects in eight countries selected through a competitive process.

“The physical works and preparation activities will lead to an additional 570 MW of available capacity, involving an estimated $1 billion investment, including from the private sector,” the AfDB announced, adding “They will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1700 kt of CO2 equivalent per year”. The projects include the upgrade of the cooling water system for Sudan’s 280 MW Roseires, plant to reduce forced outages and the replacement of electromechanical equipment older than 60 years at the 7 MW Lubilanji 1 plant in DRC.

“About half of Africa’s hydropower assets are more than 30 years old and ageing fast; modernizing them with the latest electro-mechanical and digital technologies is the fastest and cheapest way to increase clean energy capacity and enhance system flexibility needed to accelerate energy transition efforts,” said João Duarte Cunha, African Development Bank Division Manager for Re­newable Energy and SEFA Manager. The project fully aligns with the AfDB’s New Deal on Energy for Africa, which aims to provide universal access to energy, prioritizing low-carbon technologies that harness the continent’s hydro, solar, geothermal, and wind resources. Modern hydro­power plays a key role in Africa’s energy transition, by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and anchoring larger shares of variable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, the AfDB said.

The AfDB Group established AHMP in 2021, with a US$ 1 million grant from SEFA to increase low-cost, low-impact installed capacity, enhance African power systems’reliability and flexibility, and support hybridization solutions such as floating solar PV.

Around 60 per cent of the continent’s hydropower fleet is at least 30 years old, of which 47 per cent is more than 40 years old. While civil works, particularly dams, are designed with lifespans of more than 100 years, to withstand flood events that have a re-occurrence period of 1000 years, electromechanical equipment has a lifetime of 10 to 40 years. Recent studies on plants totalling 24 GW, and representing two-thirds of the continent’s current fleet, have underlined the need for urgent action. According to the preliminary study, 21 of the assessed plants totalling 4.6 GW are in high need of modernization, with a further 36 plants totalling 10.1 GW evaluated as in medium need of modernization. A comprehensive modernization programme of all the plants identified as high and medium need for modernization could secure 14.7 GW of reliable electricity generation. In addition, the programme could increase generation at these plants through the restoration of 0.8 GW of power that is currently idle (installed but not in operation) and at the same time upgrades associated with modernization could provide an estimated additional capacity of between 0.7 and 1.6 GW.

Overall, the initial capital requirement estimates amount to US$ 6.8 billion. While the estimated cost of potentially adding only up to 2.4 GW of new capacity may seem high, AHMP’s sponsors consider that the modernization programme should not only be viewed from the point of view of simply adding new capacity, but also ensuring that the existing fleet is ready to continue operating in evolving hydrological conditions for the next 30 years and beyond. Failure to modernize and maintain the existing plants would entail rebuilding 14-15 GW of capacity at a cost of about US$ 30-40 billion.