Right Priorities for the Power Sector: An Evaluation of Dams Under PIDA

It’s well known that Africa suffers from an appalling lack of infrastructure. With a population of 1.033 billion people, the continent boasts an installed electrical generating capacity of just 147,000 MW – that’s analogous to the installed capacity of Belgium, a country with a population of a mere 11.2 million. 

Electrification rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are the worst in the world, averaging 16% in rural areas and only 59% in urban areas. The energy crisis and the general infrastructure deficit are legitimate causes for concern.

In an effort to address these issues, African heads of state adopted the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) in 2012.The framework aims to address the infrastructure deficit on the African continent by constructing ports, roads, rail, bridges and dams. At the core of the programme is a suite of 13 large dams.

Today, we’re releasing “Right Priorities for the Power Sector,” a report that evaluates the planned large dams that fall under PIDA. The large dams are intended to increase electricity generation and water storage for irrigation. Upon completion, the 13 dams are expected to increase the continent’s installed generation capacity by 15,000 MW. Our report assesses 11 of the dams that are identified in the PIDA Priority Action Plan (PAP). PAP is a list of priority projects that are to be implemented on the African continent by 2020. 

In appraising the 11 large dams, we developed ten indicators to evaluate whether the projects actually have the potential to alleviate the energy crisis in Africa at reasonable economic costs. We also evaluated whether they would promote social welfare and environmental sustainability. The study assesses how these projects compare to other energy solutions in terms of cost, social and environmental impacts, and risks – including the projects’ overall adherence to the WCD criteria.

Our research has found that PIDA’s energy and irrigation infrastructure model fails to acknowledge the historically poor performance of large dams in Africa. It also ignores the risks posed by climate change and the continent’s already disproportionate reliance on hydropower. Furthermore, the findings of our report show that:

a)  Nearly 100,000 people will be involuntarily displaced by the dams and yet resettlement plans, where they exist, are very lax and offer inadequate compensation to the affected communities.

b) The hydroelectric projects will increase access to electricity for urban areas and industry. They will however, neglect the majority without access, who reside in rural areas.

 c) Most of the social and environmental impact studies already undertaken have failed to fully address issues related to climate change impacts.

d) In almost all cases, the proposed dam projects have not considered the potential of alternative sustainable technologies, especially in increasing access to the disadvantaged population.

e) No mechanisms have been put in place to rein in corruption, delays and inefficiency. The projects are at risk of cost overruns and poor workmanship, and could create a huge debt burden for society. 

Overall, most of the projects have been developed without any comprehensive options assessment. Only the Kaleta Hydropower project in Guinea, among the 11 projects, was found to meet the criteria in the study. We expect it will bring positive gains both for displaced communities and the nation. 

To address the African energy poverty gap and promote inclusive development which takes into account climate change impacts, the report makes four key recommendations. 

  • Projects should prioritise local needs rather than favour export or extractive industries. 
  • The overall project costs assessments should be based on robust energy sector planning to ensure the cost competitiveness of projects in providing affordable services once commissioned. To this end, a variety of renewable energy technologies (solar, gas, geothermal and wind) have gained considerable momentum in the last few years and may thus be suitable. 
  • Climate change impacts are imposing huge economic losses on African countries. Designs, projections and costs therefore need to factor in climate risks to mitigate social and economic losses from climate change. 
  • Finally, projects which displace large numbers of people should be avoided, as it is very difficult to completely restore lost livelihoods.

To make strides towards attaining sustainable energy for all by 2030, PIDA needs to revisit these energy projects, and they need to address the risks mentioned above. We hope this report will bridge the chasm between the proposed solutions for the African energy crisis and the need to protect people and the environment. 

Map of Africa showing the location of the dams in the PIDA Report
Map of Africa showing the location of the dams in the PIDA Report
Tuesday, October 20, 2015