An additional 40GW of hydropower is needed in Africa by 2030, a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) has suggested, which would require doubling investment, with a significant chunk needed from the private sector. 

The Africa Energy Outlook 2022, which includes the Sustainable Africa Scenario (SAS), explores how to transform Africa’s energy sector to achieve development goals, and to shift to more affordable and cleaner sources of energy.

To achieve the scenario of 40GW more hydropower, Eddie Rich, Chief Executive of the International Hydropower Association, says that a dramatic increase in hydropower investment and development is needed, with only currently 14GW of an identified pipeline of 110GW of projects currently under construction on the continent. 

“The IEA’s report shows the vital role that hydropower can and must play in enabling Africa’s sustainable development,” Rich said.  “Its Sustainable Africa Scenario shows that an additional 40GW of new hydropower is needed by 2030, with a huge increase in private investment required. However, the pace of development needs to dramatically increase to achieve this.

“To unlock private investment governments and policy makers need to reward the vital low carbon flexibility provided by hydropower. Projects can and must be developed sustainability, with the Hydropower Sustainability Standard providing a benchmark by which to assess projects.”

The report says that hydropower remains a cornerstone in the provision of affordable and dispatchable electricity, with the use of natural gas and coal gradually expected to be replaced by hydropower, wind and solar PV in the years ahead.

Rich said that hydropower’s flexibility and energy storage services will become increasingly important as the shares of wind and solar PV in the power system grow:  “The increase in variable renewables, such as solar PV and wind, in Africa will lead to an increased need for system flexibility and energy storage. Sustainable hydropower can provide these services and at an affordable cost – it is a huge untapped resource in Africa.” 

Modernising the ageing African Hydropower fleet could also help to meet the IEA’s SAS scenario.

Sixty per cent of the hydropower installed capacity in the region is over 20 years old. To address this, the African Development Bank (AfDB) is undertaking an Africa Hydropower Modernization Program, supported by IHA. This will enable existing plants to increase generation capacity at a low-cost, and with relatively short lead times and minimal environmental impact.