Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Mini-hydroelectric power potential for rural development

Poku Adaa

The 12th Congress of the World Energy Conference (WEC) was held in the Indian city of New Delhi in September 1983 and called for expansion in small-scale water power schemes in developing countries. POKU ADAA, reports on the deliberations of the conference and assesses the potential for mini-hydro power development in Ghana and other West African countries
The 12th Congress of the World Energy Conference took place in New Delhi, India from 19th-23rd September, last year. For many developing countries, the theme of the conference, Energy Development and Quality of Life, was particularly rele- vant as it deliberated extensively on the development of mini-hydro schemes as the only viable alternative now to fossil fuel.

In Ghana, apart from the giant hydro-electric project at Akosombo and the 160MW Kpong project, several sites have been identified by the Volta River Authority as suitable for development of mini-hydro schemes. In June 1981, the Electricity Corporation of Ghana hosted an American fact-finding team in Accra to study, select and evaluate potential sites on small rivers for possible development of mini-hydro projects to back up the national efforts in rural electrification.

For some time now, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Upper Volta have been negotiating for the construction of dams on the Black Volta. In May 1978, it was agreed at a meeting in Ouagadougou that a joint commission be set up to carry out feasibility studies at Noumbiel/Koulbi on the river. At Bui also on the Black Volta, 200 kilometres north of the Lake Volta, a study conducted by the Australian Snowy Mountain Engineering Company (SMEC) in 1976, confirmed the dam site location and pronounced the project economically feasible. A total of 450MW power capacity from three generation units and 161KV a transmission grid are envisaged to serve the northern and upper-regions of the country. The same company, SMEC, anticipated a possible dam site at Juale on the River Oti.

On the White Volta near Pwalugu, a 36MW power-cum-irrigation site has been identified by the study team from Nippon-Koei of Japan. Further south, there are two smaller rivers, the Pra and the Tano which have been studied extensively by HydroProject of Prague and Nippon-Koei of Japan, and identi- fied sites on four points along the course of each of the two rivers, offer- ing a combined total capacity of 229.5MW and 137MW respectively, with a major one identified at Awisam on the Pra capable of an output of 88MW.

Elsewhere in West Africa, mini- hydro projects have become integral parts of many national development programmes of the region. Upper Volta is planning a second scheme estimated to cost about $127 million on the Kompienga river lying to the south of Ouagadougou. In Senegal, the Diama dam at the mouth of the Senegal river is one of two projects being developed by the Senegal River Development Commission. The other one is the Manatali dam on the river Bafing in Mali. On the Gambia river, a hydro electric scheme has been earmarked for Kekriti and Mako in collaboration with Gambia. Several schemes are in operation in Nigeria, notably the Kiri dam in Gongola State planned to serve the Savannah Sugar company.

Thus the Twelfth Congress of the World Energy Conference provided a concrete forum for developing countries to assess their energy needs and potential. Delegates from over sixty countries and from several international organisations and engineering companies, attended the five day conference. The whole proceedings were organised under four main categories: Exploitation of resources, Equipment and Processes particularly for transmission and transfer of energy, Management of Energy, and International collaboration and Finance.

The area which tended to command patronage and exciting discussions was the concept of small scale hydro schemes which repeatedly came up in all four sections of the proceedings. Hydropower schemes which have outputs of between 10 and 1500 kilowatts are usually classified as small-scale or mini, and because they are always easily available for consumption by the local communities in which they are generated, they allow dispersion of power to isolated corners and remote areas which have no connection to existing national grids. Thus small scale hydropower offers real impetus and attractive scope for rural power supply development schemes.

In many countries which have water resources, i.e. rivers, streams and their tributaries, delegates learnt that there is great potential for several independent small scale hydropower stations. The Congress was told that running costs tend to be usually low and only middle level skilled manpower are required for operation and routine maintenance, although it was emphasized that the capital costs are high and actually depend on the location of the scheme due to costs of transportation of construction materials, type of landscape and length of access roads. Thus one could not set a definite range of costs for such schemes based solely on power capacity.

In considering the reasons why there have been such slow progress in the development of hydropower, the case studies and experiences of several countries revealed the lack of funds was the greatest limiting factor. There was also the problem of rivers and waterways which formed the boundary between two or more countries which often involved protracted negotiations sometimes extending over many years regarding resources allocation and environmental impacts. It is a problem which hinders co-ordination and communication between all parties per year. concerned. As regards the cost of installation, there was an example from Malaysia where plastic and wood were used for pipes, and several other equipments like turbines and generators were standardised, as a way to reduce cost. It was felt though among participants that such cost reduction would be comparatively minimal and could not be adopted universally.

The session on International finance and collaboration was very interesting indeed as it appeared to hold the key to practical realisation of all the congress discussions. Interregional co-operation in harnessing waters within a particular region and sharing of the power gener- ated was recommended and examples were given of that of the Kariba dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Ghana and Togo and of the possible neighbouring distribution of the power from the Owen Falls in Uganda to neighbouring Kenya, for instance.

It came out towards the end of the five days meeting that for the next seventeen to twenty years, financial aid to developing countries would have to increase by an annual rate of at least 6 per cent, if the immense potential of hydropower in the developing world are to be exploited. The Congress way told that about £200 million per annum will be required to allow increase in total power output by about 500 MW

In concluding, the Congress re-affirmed optimistically that development in the energy field was the key to open the world through to the next phase of advancement when today's recession finally wears off. The unanimous conclusion was that small scale hydropower is of crucial importance for developing countries in the sense of its flexibility for local design, manufacture and operation and that in general, hydropower has a definite role to play as a technically tested and feasible substitute for oil.

Finally, the Congress called for substantial financial aid and co-operation in transfer of technology from developed countries to meet the expected population explosion and increases in energy uses of the future.

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