The Global Hydropower and Dams Conference AFRICA 2023 was held in Uganda in July 2023. The conference brought together industry professionals from around the world to discuss the future of hydropower and water storage.

International delegates convened over three days to consider cross-border collaboration (for transboundary schemes), challenging sites, climate resilience and capacity building.

Africa 23 was a great opportunity to connect with industry peers on all matters relating to water storage and hydropower development in Africa. Hydropower and Dam storage forms an important part of the cleaner energy transition whilst providing water security for rural economies. SMEC can play a significant role in these developments to ensure a sustainable, reliable and affordable electricity supply, improving productivity, and promoting economic growth across the continent.
———— Nicholas Rowse, General Manager: Water & Environment, Africa Division

There is significant hydropower potential across continent with SMEC currently supporting investigations and design for projects in Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sadan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Tanzania.

The key takeaways from the conference will be important for informing the development of new hydropower projects and for ensuring that hydropower is used in a sustainable way. Some of the trending topics discussed at the conference included:

  • Funding and international cooperation: Private financing as well as availability of sovereign funding has a significant impact on project implementation. Substantial upfront investment competes with social priorities in emerging economies; creating opportunities for Public Private Partnership funding models promoting investment in the Africa renewables sector. Two major International Financial Institutions, the World Bank and African Development Bank, were both represented across many of the sessions, providing valuable insights.
  • Capacity Building: Development of the Hydropower sector in Africa is hindered by a scarcity in professional expertise at all levels. Consequently, project approvals and decision processes are delayed and may not follow strict project governance practices. Therefore, collaboration at all levels and across all sectors should be a priority for development of professional expertise. International organizations, such as ICOLD, are well positioned in respect of providing meaningful support in respect of sector capacity building as well as establishing professional standards.
  • Dam safety: Many large hydropower schemes implemented in Africa are approaching their expected service lives. ICOLD advocated for mandatory deployment of a dam safety experts for all project phases.
  • Technical design & innovation: The adoption of hybrid schemes (solar and hydropower) showed promising results in respect of improving commercial viability of hydropower projects.
  • Power infrastructure and transmission: Development and extension of transmission networks in various power pools remains critical for implementation and integration of HPP schemes
  • Sustainability: The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process provides essential information and tools and mitigation measures to support the sustainable development and operation of HPPs.
  • The role of hydropower in rural development: Small-scale hydropower provides significant opportunities to support rural economic development through provision of reliable and affordable electricity. The African continent offers substantial opportunities in respect of small-scale hydropower.

The conference provided a valuable opportunity for collaboration of industry stakeholders and professionals with the intention of sustainable development and climate mitigation. Climate change is having a devastating impact on rivers in sub-Saharan Africa. The region is already experiencing rising temperatures, droughts, and changing rainfall patterns which leaves land prone to flooding. At the same time, deforestation, unsustainable water abstraction practices, and poor agricultural practices have led to a drop in the water table during the dry season and disproportionate runoff.

Protecting our rivers is vital for our surface water supply needs, which includes potable water, irrigation water, and hydropower. In protecting the rivers of sub-Saharan Africa, we can build a more sustainable future for rivers by working together to address climate change and improve watershed management practices
———— Andrew Ndungu, Civil Engineer: Water and Environment

The poor and marginalized are the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts on rivers. These groups often lack access to clean water and sanitation and are more likely to be displaced by floods or droughts. Dams can offer a range of advantages, including water storage and flood control. However, they must be implemented with climate action and watershed management policy for a sustainable and secure future for clean water.