Energy in Africa – Hydroelectric giants

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Beside the Congo basin, the continent boasts from other hydroelectric potential. The largest is in Ethiopia and is estimated by Civil Engineer Solomon Seyoum Hailu between 15,000 MW and 30,000 MW, out of which only a fraction has been harnessed. Recently, some projects have been difficult to implement such as the 420 MW Gilgel Gibe II dam on the Omo river, where the collapse of a tunnel in January 2010, blocked production for the entire year. The Italian company Salini Costruttori – which built this dam – is currently involved in the larger 1,870 MW Gilgel Gibe III, which should be inaugurated in 2013, despite the protest of a number of NGOs including Friends of the Earth and Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale (Italy) which fear damaging consequences for the ecosystems of the river and of Lake Turkana, in Kenya. Yet, last April Salini signed a contract with the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation for the construction of the giant 5,250 MW « Great Ethiopian Renaissance dam », also known as the “Millenium dam”, which is supposed to be completed in 2018 for a total cost of US $ 5 billion. China is expected to finance the turbines and the electric equipments up to $ 1.8 billion. Another hydroelectric Eldorado is Angola, whose potential is estimated by the power parastatal ENE at some 18,000 MW, notably from the Kwanza (6,500 MW), Queve (3,020 MW), Cunene (2,045 MW) and Catumbela (1,679 MW) basins. The government plans to finance up to US $ 20 billion until 2017 to tap these resources. On the other side of the continent, Mozambique’s potential is estimated at 12,500 MW. The most important project is the Mpanda Nkuwa 1,500 MW hydropower plant on the Zambezi river but the promoters, the Brazilian construction company, Camargo Correa, the Mozambican private corporation Energia Capital and the Electricidade de Moçambique parastatal are still struggling to reach the financial close of the project which represents a total investment of US $ 2.4 billion Other countries boast from a very substantial resource. That is the case of Guinea-Conakry, whose potential is estimated at some 6,000 MW and where the Energy and Environment Minister, Papa Koly Korouma is busy pushing for reforms that should create a conducive framework for investments in the sector. The government is considering to divest from parastatals and has decided to split the Société d’Electricité de Guinée (SEG) which has a monopoly on generation, transport, distribution and marketing of electricity in two companies, he told participants to the June 2011 Africa Energy Forum. One will run the infrastructures and remain in charge of power generation, while the second will buy the electricity and will distribute it and sell it. At the moment, Guinea only produces 100 MW of the 236 MW installed capacity, well below the national demand of 300 MW. As a result, there are chronic shortages and power cuts. But the government is now pushing for an increase of the generation capacity. It is assessing the offers of two Chinese companies for the 240 MW Kaléta hydropower dam project on the Konkouré river, which would be the first of a cascade of projects including the 515 MW Souapiti dam and the 665 MW Amaria dam on the same river. According to Ministry of Energy, the demand of the mining sector alone is indeed projected to rise from some 80 MW in 2010 to more than 600 MW in 2020. Global Alumina International Ltd in a joint venture with BHP Billiton, Dubai Aluminium Company Ltd and Mubadala Development Company is currently building the world’s largest alumina plant (3.6 million tonnes) at Sangarédi, says the minister. Other alumina refineries are projected by Alcoa, Rio Tinto and Alcan and by Rusal . In addition, says the Minister, the future of Guinea-Conakry’s power sector is to become one of the main sources of electricity for the West African Power Pool with projected interconnections with Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Gambia. Last year, Gabon’s launched a ten years US $ 2 billion worth master plan for the development of the electricity sector for the construction of six hydropower dams and 5,000 km of transmission lines. The potential there is also estimated at 6,000 MW. The development strategy is focussed on the transformation of mining and forestry projects, which will require large electricity supply, Ministry of Energy and Water sources points out and in particular from hydro-electric power plants since the price of electricity has to be competitive in order to boost the industrialization of the country. The first project to come on stream, probably towards end 2012, is the 160 MW Grand Poubara dam on the Ogooué River which is being built by Sinohydro to supply a manganese mine at Moanda. The local Compagnie pour le développement des énergies renouvelables will also build the 46 MW first phase of the Impératrice dam on the Ngounié river due to be completed by 2018. Next year, a tender will be launched for the construction of a fourth dam, of 90 MW at Ngoulmendjim, on the river Komo at 150 km of Libreville. The government is also currently holding discussions with the China Machinery Engineering Corporation and with the Brazilian steel and mining giant Vale to find a developer for the largest project, the 410 MW Booué dam on the Ogooué river which is meant to supply electricity to the operator of the huge Belinga iron ore mine. One of the problems is financing. The government is ready to disburse one third of the masterplan cost. But the rest is difficult to find. Gabon has indeed problems to find concessional terms for loans because of its middle income country status, says a Ministry advisor, who calls on financial institutions to show more flexibility and creativity. He namely suggests that they should open specific windows, in particular for renewable energies. Finally, the Gabonese government is convinced that another way to attract funding is to highlight the regional dimension of the projects and insist on its ability to offer additional generation capacity to neighbouring Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville. François Misser


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