Perspectives: Electrifying the World

I had the opportunity to attend the International Hydropower Association’s (IHA) World Hydropower Congress last month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in Africa.

This was a great experience, and it made me see just how valuable hydropower is in many areas of the world, particularly those in which it is the most readily available natural resource and yet still significantly underutilized.

I flew into the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport late on a Monday evening. Everything was running smoothly and I completed all the proper steps to obtain my visa, change money, collect my luggage and clear the last of the security checkpoints. My final step was to catch the shuttle to my hotel, where I planned to collapse on the bed after traveling since noon (central time in the U.S.) the previous day.

As I and several other IHA Congress attendees were awaiting the shuttle’s arrival, I was chatting with the airport employee who was arranging our shuttle. He asked why we were in Addis Ababa and we told him about the IHA Congress. About that time, the entire building lost power. It was dark for just a few seconds before the supply of electricity was restored, and I hadn’t even had time to say anything when the employee remarked, “See, that’s why we need that dam.”

I asked what dam he was referring to, and he mentioned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is currently under construction on the Blue Nile River. The dam will impound water for a 6,000-MW hydroelectric powerhouse and be located 40 km from the Sudan border. GERD has been under construction since 2011 and is expected to be complete in 2018 at a cost of $6.4 billion.

I found it interesting and enlightening that what I would consider a fairly “average citizen” of the country was so aware of the status of its hydropower development and the benefits that would bring. But maybe that is not unexpected in a city that experiences fairly regular electricity interruptions. In fact, in one day at the UN Conference Centre (where the IHA Congress was held), the electricity went out three times.

For those of us who enjoy reliable access to electricity, this may seem unacceptable. But IHA says installed hydropower capacity worldwide is set to more than double by 2050, so hopefully this will allow less-developed countries to enjoy a steady, reliable source of power.Speaking of global hydropower capacity, IHA’s recently released 2017 Hydropower Status Report says 31.5 GW of new hydro capacity was installed in 2016, including 6.4 GW of pumped storage (nearly double the previous year). With this boost, global hydro capacity reached 1,246 GW and worldwide hydropower generation was about 4,102 GWh.

Regionally, some key leaders emerged in 2016: East Asia and Pacific added 14,154 MW, South America 9,738 MW, Africa 3,413 MW, Europe 1,810 MW, South and Central Asia 1,315 MW, and North and Central America 1,051 MW.

It is clear the momentum is there for continued hydropower development worldwide, and the obvious benefits for all regions of the world should soon follow.

Elizabeth Ingram

Managing Editor

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