Small hydro to help boost rural Africa development

Mini hydro plants could be the answer to a lack of power in rural Africa, especially as larger power projects are put on hold due to limited cash and abundant red tape, industry officials say.

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Analysts say the continent could generate as much as 330,000 megawatts (MW) from its hydro reserves, yet only some 7 percent of that potential has been exploited so far.

But rather than trying to build big dams such as the Grand Inga dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which comes with political risk and an $80 billion price tag, communities and investors are looking into developing smaller plants.

"It’s a very effective way of providing electricity. The lifespan of a mini hydro scheme could be 20 years or more," said Steven Hunt, an energy consultant based in London. Hunt said most projects in Africa would be 10 kilowatts to 10 MW.

So far only one in four Africans is linked to the grid, but power needs on the continent are estimated to triple by 2035. Small hydro plants, involving small dams, pumps or water mills, can light villages with minimal environmental impact.

A 7 MW plant in the South African town of Bethlehem is expected to supply power to 15 percent of the roughly 70,000 people, at a total cost of 100 million rand.

Mini plants satisfy people’s basic needs, like the 0.75 kilowatt turbine in Kenya‘s Kerugoya village which gives access to power without forcing people to walk miles to the next town. 


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