The human being has been taking advantage of hydro-power as a source of energy for centuries. However, in the late 19th century, hydro-power became a source for generating electricity. The first hydroelectric power plant was built at Niagara Falls in 1879 designed by the inventor Nicola Tesla.
The 6th World Hydro-power Congress, a landmark event that came to Africa for the first time, was held in Addis Ababa last week. Dealing with issues related to clean and sustainable energy development, the Congress primarily stressed out the fact that poverty reduction and prosperity are unthinkable without universal access to electricity.
Hydro-power, nowadays, is an advanced and cost competitive renewable energy source. It plays an important role in today's electricity mix, contributing to more than 16 percent of electricity generation worldwide and about 85 percent of global renewable electricity.
The contribution of hydro-power in the energy mix is thus twofold: the primary benefit is its provision of clean, renewable electricity, while it simultaneously enables other renewable efforts as it serves for the reduction of carbon from the environment. Besides, it is affirmed that hydro-power is the only renewable energy source that has the potential to expand access to electricity to large populations.
From an estimated 1.2 billion global population without access to electricity, a virtually 95 percent of them reside in Sub-saharan Africa and developing Asia. In Africa, only 31 percent of the population currently could have access to electricity, and this energy deficit is impeding its development.
However, the availability of the largest reserve in the continent with regard to both renewable and non-renewable energy sources encourage the continent to exploit them for the expansion of industrialization and sustain the impressive economic development witnessed in the last few years. Thus, given its great potential, hydro-power is expected to play a significant role in developing the future energy sector in Africa in both urban and rural areas.
Ethiopia is leading in the continent in terms of installed hydro-power capacity, exceeding 4,000 MW. Moreover, the nation has some of Africa's richest water resources, with a hydro-power potential of 45,000 MW. In December 2016, the nation inaugurated Gilgel Gibe III, Ethiopia's largest hydro-power plant in operation and it is also currently constructing Africa's largest hydro-power dam whose installed capacity is 6,540 MW on the Blue Nile with a 4.8 billion USD investment.
Speakers at the Congress pointed out the need for tapping into Africa's immense potential to fuel the industrialization process thereby ensuring sustainable development. They unanimously stressed on the need for the continent to do more to exploit its untapped hydro-power resources since development is impossible without adequate and affordable energy.
Opening the Congress, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said, "Development is unthinkable in the absence of adequate and affordable energy." Emphasizing the need to pull together, he said, "I would like to reiterate the need for collective efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and hydro-power is crucial to provide reliable and sustainable energy development for African economies."
African Union Commission Deputy Chairperson Quartey Thomas Kwesi discussed hydro-power's role in addressing Africa's energy challenges. He said, "Access to modern and sustainable energy services is crucial to achieve sustainable and inclusive development.
"The development and expansion of renewable energy provides one of the most effective strategies to simultaneously promote development, sustainable energy access and energy security as well as climate change mitigation at the global, continental and regional levels." Calling for increased collaboration, he added, "For Africa, there is a need to engage with specialized institutions such as the International Hydro-power Association in order to benefit from their networks of experts."
International Hydro-power Association President Ken Adams said, "Hydro-power cannot be done in isolation." He insisted that achieving Sustainable Development Goals will not be possible without breaking barriers and widening the scope of collaboration between all institutions. He further said, "We must embrace the fact that one single technology will not resolve the challenges of our generation. We need more hydro-power on the grid, as it plays a role as a flexible, sustainable generation source. We also need it to play the often unrecognized role of energy storage."
Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All and special representative of the UN Secretary General for Sustainable Energy for all addressed the urgency of the current energy challenge. She said, "Better hydro-power is an important way to meet the goal of sustainable energy agreed by all countries and the ambition of the Paris climate agreement. It offers affordable, cleaner, reliable energy as well as storage which can crowd in more solar and wind development.
"The challenge of securing sustainable energy for all by 2030 means we have to move forward with speed and scale. We hope that the World Hydro-power Congress will spur rapid progress."
Further, Abdalla Hamdok said, "Hydro-power is well known to be one of the most important power sources in the world, producing more than three quarters of the world's renewable energy output each year. A number of countries are almost exclusively using hydro as their base load electricity. At the same time, hydro-power has become the renewable energy of choice."
Reflecting on global concerns around hydro-power's sustainability, Abdalla said, "I am glad to note that the agenda of this congress includes items of environmental and social impact in the context of hydro-power development."
Moreover, the remarkable deeds of Ethiopia, China, Brazil and Ecuador in regard to hydro-power development have been commended at the Congress. It was reported that Ethiopia's dams will provide regional electricity through several electricity inter-connectors, including a 2,000 MW Ethiopia-Kenya linkage and a 1,600 MW Ethiopia-South Sudan inter-connector, while all 10 members of the Eastern African Power Pool are due to begin electricity trading in 2017 upon completion of six cross-border transmission lines.
Considering its potential, Africa can soon integrate through hydro-power; with 90 percent of its hydro-power potential untapped so far, the content could become a net hydro-power exporter to Europe and West Asia.