The Hydropower Africa Roundtable held in Abuja, Nigeria on 15-16 May 2024 brought together key stakeholders in Africa’s energy sector to address the urgent need for accelerating hydropower development across the continent. Representing SMEC at the event were Karen Atkinson, Global Executive Director Dams & Hydropower, and Nicholas Rowse, Regional Director Dams & Hydropower for Africa. Their participation underscored SMEC’s commitment to driving sustainable energy solutions in Africa.

The roundtable was co-hosted by the International Hydropower Association (IHA), Mainstream Energy Solutions Ltd, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA) and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Power (MOP). The event convened senior representatives from Africa’s energy industry, government ministers, policymakers and funding institutions to discuss strategies for enhancing hydropower development in Africa.


SMEC’s Key Takeaways

  1. Hydropower Potential and Economic Growth: Africa has developed only about 10% (approximately 40GW) of its hydropower potential (430GW). Given the continent’s rapid population growth, expanding hydropower is crucial for economic development and meeting increasing energy demands. Developing this untapped potential is seen as vital for supporting Africa’s energy transition away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable and cost-effective renewable energy sources.
  2. Maintenance and Modernisation: A significant portion of Africa’s existing hydropower plants require maintenance and operate below their expected capacity. Prioritising the refurbishment and modernisation of these facilities was highlighted as a low-cost intervention to boost current power production levels. Improving the efficiency of these plants is essential for maximising their output and ensuring reliability.
  3. Power Transmission and Grid Interconnectivity: Enhancing power transmission and the interconnectivity of grid systems across regions was identified as key to supporting regional growth. Better integration of power grids can facilitate the distribution of electricity from hydropower-rich areas to regions with higher demand, thus optimising the use of available resources.
  4. Financing Hydropower Projects: Financing remains a critical challenge for hydropower projects. Funding organisations such as the AfDB and international financial institutions emphasised the importance of sustainable solutions and addressing environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues to secure funding. Projects that align with IHA sustainability standards are more likely to attract investment due to lower perceived risks and reduced financing costs.
  5. IHA Sustainability Certification: The benefits of obtaining IHA sustainability certification were discussed extensively. This certification improves the likelihood of securing necessary funding and reduces the perceived risks associated with hydropower projects. Lower risks translate into lower interest rates, shorter funding approval times and potentially shorter implementation timeframes. The availability of funding (US$25,000) was highlighted for IHA Sustainability Certification in approved African countries, encouraging developers to pursue this certification.

Abuja Action Plan on Sustainable Hydropower Development

The roundtable culminated in the endorsement of the Abuja Action Plan, which outlines urgent actions needed to develop sustainable hydropower in Africa. Key recommendations include:

  • Recognition of Sustainable Hydropower: African governments are urged to recognise and champion sustainable hydropower as a clean, green and affordable solution to climate change, crucial for ensuring reliable electricity access.
  • Clear Development Targets: Governments should include explicit targets for hydropower development in their long-term energy planning. Clear objectives reduce development risk and encourage early-stage investment.
  • Support for International Standards: Companies should adhere to the Hydropower Sustainability Standard, with governments expediting certified projects to promote sustainability.
  • Decarbonisation Policies: Policies that support decarbonisation by advancing sustainable hydropower projects are essential. This includes doubling investments in hydropower to meet energy and developmental goals.
  • Investment Frameworks: Governments, development institutions and investors should establish enabling frameworks and incentives for sustainable hydropower growth. Priorities include modernising aging hydropower fleets, hybridising hydro and solar technologies and streamlining licensing processes.
  • Risk Mitigation: Minimising risks for project developers is critical to reduce the cost of capital. Measures include sector reforms and guarantee mechanisms to mitigate revenue and foreign exchange risks
SMEC’s involvement in the Hydropower Africa Roundtable reaffirms the company’s commitment to fostering collaborative efforts to harness Africa’s vast hydropower potential. The insights gained from this event will inform SMEC’s ongoing projects and strategic initiatives aimed at advancing sustainable hydropower development in the region.
———— Karen Atkinson, Global Executive Director Dams & Hydropower
Our engagement reflects SMEC’s dedication to fostering partnerships and knowledge exchange to address Africa’s energy challenges. By leveraging our expertise, we aim to facilitate the development of sustainable hydropower infrastructure across the region.
———— Nicholas Rowse, Regional Director Dams & Hydropower for Africa