23 July 2004
Energy experts say South Africa has moderate hydroelectric potential, and that the establishment of small hydroelectric projects around the country could help provide a sustainable future energy supply.
The US department of energy estimates that there are 6 000 to 8 000 potential sites in South Africa suitable for small hydro-utilisation below 100 megawatts, with the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape offering the best prospects.
The largest hydroelectric power plant in South Africa is the 1 000 megawatt Drakensberg Pumped-Storage Facility, part of a larger scheme of water management that brings water from the Tugela River into the Vaal watershed. The country’s second-largest plant is situated on the Palmiet River outside Cape Town.
South Africa’s electricity parastatal, Eskom, currently buys power from Mozambique’s Cahora Basa plant, jointly owned by the Mozambican and Portuguese governments and located in Mozambique’s western Tete province.
Eskom is the Cahora Basa’s biggest customer. Power bought from Cahora Basa supplements Eskom’s largely coal-driven electricity supply, which is resold to numerous countries across the African contintent.
Not flowing so smoothly
Delivering her department’s budget speech in June, Minerals and Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told Parliament that the government would continue to explore the benefits of hydroelectric power – despite international warnings about its downside.
Mlambo-Ngcuka singled out central Africa’s Inga project, on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The project is expected to produce 40 000 megawatts once fully operational. Eskom is a major investor in the project.
According to Business Day, another hydroelectric project is being planned for Uganda, where a proposed US$580-million dam on the Nile could eventually generate 200 megawatts of power for the region.
Industrialised countriess suggested at a recent conference in Germany that hydroelectric power was not a renewable energy source under the guidelines agreed at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg.
Mlambo-Ngcuka argued, however, that the potential environmental challenges facing hydro-electric power were being “over-problematised”, and that Africans could not afford to alienate any source of energy, as this would retard development and industrialisation on the continent.
“The view from Africa is that if Africa is going to have security and access to energy, we cannot alienate any source of energy, otherwise we might as well close shop on development and industrialisation of any sort”, Mlambo-Ngcuka told Parliament.
She said environmental issues would be closely scrutinised before a decision was reached on South Africa’s nuclear or hydroelectric power options.