iied article on Dams in Africa

Wednesday, 10 December, 2014

Very interesting article on Dams/power in Africa from Jamie Skinner on iied. Entitled:

Dams in Africa: Combining national and local development

Highlights for csr21 are:

-“The economics and distribution of development benefits of large dams continue to be a source of controversy. Every dam is different, and efforts to generalise from a few (often well known, but sometimes exceptional) examples continue to cause challenges in reaching common ground on the past development contribution of the 50,000 dams worldwide today and the need for more.

-Fourteen years after the World Commission on Dams spent three years and $10 million USD trying to quantify the contribution of large dams to development, debate still rages.

-Is everyone who supports dam-building a 'fool or a liar'?

-585 million people without access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa

-Who benefits from dams, the need for safeguards and transparency


CSR21 comment: Dams have often been seen as the silver bullet for solving Africa's power issues (especially in soviet-Africa days gone by) but the cappex size, corruption, lead times, engineering sustainability and conflicting benefits/detriments have seen these projectiles often expanded to the size of a pachyderm and then painted white. Perhaps it is worth thinking about the alternatives for Africa-

Coal- Long term development of a very marginal priced fuel source means funding is difficult to develop resources even before you build power stations

Solar- Good. Not just because solar is “good” and we must all love it not just for its green sci-fi like abilities but because it can be silo’d and doesn’t rely on huge transmission infrastructure

HFO- Dirty but cheap at present but reliant mostly on port and road access being consistent, not brilliant for scale…but then if current oil prices continue..

Gas- clean, cheap but technically difficult unlocking reserves

Nuclear- Massive lead times, engineering issues and expense…bit like dams but radioactive to boot.

Bio fuels- surly a disaster for topsoil depleting Africa?

As we have touched on transmission in Africa and delivery infrastructure also means that having one or more major electricity powerhouses in a country does not necessarily present a national solution. It would be wrong to say that all those that could benefit from a dam end up being underwater anyway but range for delivery is key, in addition to the fact that wet season/dry season means loads from dams are often erratic in dry seasons.