How technology advances the growth of hydro generators in Africa
Power shortage is an important global issue – one that is no stranger to residents of the African continent. However, Africa is blessed with abundant water resources and has become heavily dependent on hydroelectric generators for power generation.
Though developed nations have discovered alternative renewable power sources, Africa is lagging behind. According to the World Bank, one in three Africans does not have access to electricity. Not only does this keep people in darkness for hours, but it also impedes the economic growth of the region.
Moreover, more Africans will be left in the dark by 2030 if no measures are taken to resolve the power shortage. People in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to be hit the hardest.
Thus, the continent plans to undertake initiatives to maximise its water resources, generate electricity and provide clean energy to rural and underdeveloped areas.
Paving the way for electricity in Africa
The development of a country, region or continent is dependent on the electricity it produces to meet the demands of its residents.
Africa has long faced power supply problems due to the lack of technological progress, but hydroelectric generators present an efficient and sustainable solution.
According to Future Market Insights report on the hydro generators market, compact hydro generators are becoming popular across Africa owing to their superior performance characteristics.
As Africa seeks to disseminate variable renewable energies, there is a need to not only modernise existing hydropower plants, but also to develop new hydropower. For example, the power system master plans of the East Africa Power Pool (EAPP) and South Africa Power Pool (SAPP), focus on improving hydropower capacity significantly in upcoming years.
Sustainable energy is at the forefront of national development programs across the region. Of the 53 African Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement, 45 include quantified renewable energy targets. These efforts are in line with the Africa Infrastructure Development Program (PIDA), a continent-wide initiative that harnesses Africa’s vast renewable energy potential and recognises the need for large power grids.
The North-South transmission corridor from Egypt to South Africa now prioritises power grids and large-scale hydropower projects. Based on the aforementioned factor, the demand for hydro generators in Africa is expected to increase significantly in upcoming years.
Commercialising hydropower technology to lower electricity costs in Africa
MyHydro has partnered with US turbine maker and hydropower developer Natel Energy to bring Natel’s fish-safe restoration hydro generators to Africa.
This restoration Hydro Turbine is a modular low head turbine that operates with heads in the range of 2 to 20 meters and operates with capacities up to 3 megawatts (MW) per unit. If scaling is required, multiple units can be installed at the same site or in a cascade on the same river.
Natel’s restoration hydro generator is fish-safe and compact, minimises environmental hazards when installed and, unlike diesel generators, does not generate noise or air pollution.
MyHydro will be installing its hydro generators in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2022. DRC was chosen because of its good hydrology and the insufficient capacity of its power system. MyHydro is working with the DRC Rural Electrification Agency to increase access to electricity in the country.
The modular design of this turbine opens up floodgates of new possibilities near large load centres such as small villages, commercial farms, mines, factories and towns near rivers. Modularity allows designs to be replicated at multiple sites, thereby improving scalability, reducing the cost of capital and design costs, and providing African people with cost-effective power.
Modernising older hydropower plants in Africa
Modernisation has become the keyword in the hydropower industry. Modernisation not only eases the process of maintaining workload but also improves equipment service life by 40 years.
Thus, hydro turbine manufacturers are modernising primitive African hydropower plants to enable the smooth functioning of turbines and prevent frequent breakdowns due to demand and supply fluctuation.
For example, Andritz is planning to modernise one generation unit at Jebba hydroelectric power plant in Nigeria. In 2021, Mainstream Energy Solutions Limited issued an order to Andritz for modernising, planning, and commissioning of one generation unit of the Jebba power plant. Orders are over €30 million ($32,986,350) and test runs are scheduled for the end of 2023 or early 2024.
One out of six hydro generators has been out of commission since 2009 due to frequent fire incidences. Modernisation and installation of new hydro generators will not only restore power to the power plant but also promote energy production and provide the coveted energy to the people of Nigeria.
Andritz’s modernisation plan includes servicing and supply of all electrical and hydraulic machinery for Unit 2G6, including 96.4MW hydro turbines, 103MVA generators, transformers, outdoor switchgear and auxiliary equipment, and inlet gates. This modernisation program will improve reliability, and ensure that frequency and voltage controls comply with national grid codes.
Similarly, Voith Hydro recently modernised three hydro generators of the Drakensberg pumped storage power plant in South Africa. The technical concept of modernisation improved the performance and service life of the hydro-generator by reducing the operating temperatures and vibrations in the system.
Focus on small, compact hydropower generators
With the change in weather patterns and uneven distribution of rainfall across Africa, hydro generator manufacturers must focus on developing small and compact hydropower generators. These mini generators or turbines can be used to generate hydroelectricity in decentralised areas and require limited private sector investment.
Advancement in compact hydro generator technology will reduce government expenditure by eliminating the use of expensive backup power systems when a large plant fails due to a drought. Large hydropower plants provide economic incentives per kW in terms of profitability and large business practices, but in terms of energy security and rural electrification compact hydro generators are superior.
Apart from the development of large-scale hydroelectric projects, African countries need to focus on modernising existing hydro generator systems and create laws to enable the development of hydro generator systems for grid stabilisation.
This blogpost is originally authored by Nikhil Kaitwade on ESI Africa. He is the Associate Vice President (AVP) – Market Research at Future Market Insights, ESOMAR-certified market research and consulting firm Future Market Insights (FMI). The award-winning firm is headquartered in Dubai, with offices in the US, UK and India. MarketNgage is the Market Research Subscription Platform from FMI that assists stakeholders in obtaining in-depth research across industries, markets and niche segments