Potential sites for small-scale hydropower in sub-Saharan Africa
A recently published article co-authored by the JRC develops a new methodology to map the significant potential in sub-Saharan Africa for small-scale hydropower plants, which could provide a feasible solution to electricity provision in off-grid rural areas.
Paradoxically, although Africa is one of the richest global regions in natural resources, it is one of the poorest in terms of energy supply.
More than 620 million people (about 57% of the population) in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity, and almost 730 million rely on wood and coal for their daily energy needs. Most of these are in rural areas that the electricity grid hasn't yet reached.
Off-grid or mini-grid systems can help address energy poverty in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, especially given its abundant renewable resources, particularly hydropower.
Hydropower in Africa
Across Africa, hydropower already accounts for 74.2% of all non-fossil fuel electricity use. However, less than 10% of sub-Saharan Africa's potential hydropower of 300 GW is being tapped.
Given the right conditions, hydropower is relatively low-cost, continuous and can operate in isolation or connected to a national grid. It is also much more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel alternatives.
Hydropower assessments can help identify the most suitable locations for hydropower plants, but to date these have been rather unreliable or specific to a particular area in Africa.
A scientific assessment of hydropower potential in sub-Saharan Africa
This study provides a comprehensive and robust geospatial assessment of regional hydropower potential at high spatial resolution for 44 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular focus on small-scale hydropower (0.1-10MW capacity).
It analysed Global Information System (GIS) layers to assess the mini and small hydropower potential of 712,612 km of perennial river networks, and mapped suitable sites based on technical analysis.
Economic development and population growth are expected to lead to a surge in demand for electricity in Africa. Decentralised, small-scale hydropower can provide an effective solution for reliable and affordable rural electrification. This would help improve living conditions, productivity and economic output, and greatly enhance the lives of millions in Africa.
While the authors outline some of the limitations to the new methodology, they hope that the information in provides proves useful in filling data gaps and constructing more inclusive and informative electrification plans in sub-Saharan Africa, and will serve as a useful basis for future assessments that aim to support electrification efforts where most needed.