IRENA seeks focus on hydropower amidst climate concerns
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has called on countries across the world to revisit and upgrade hydropower assets built several decades ago.IRENA, in a new report released on Monday, insisted that changes in the role of hydropower were creating a need to adjust the way hydropower assets are designed, operated and maintained.
The report, “The changing role of hydropower challenges and opportunities”, produced in the context of IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Hydropower, provides a snapshot of the current status of hydropower and lays out a vision of how to realise its potential, the agency said in a statement.
This is coming at a time when there are strong indications that Nigeria may have failed in its policy and regulatory direction towards harnessing existing 14,120MW of exploitable hydropower despite the country’s gross energy deficit.
While hydropower currently provides the cheapest form of electricity on the national grid, $7.1 billion Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Station of 3,050MW and the 700MW Zungeru Hydroelectric Dam prospects have remained a mirage, instead additional $3.55 billion is being borrowed to import and install solar for rural electrification despite available hydropower resource across Nigeria’s communities.
Last year, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) stated that 12 small hydropower plants would be concessioned, as the Director General of the agency, Alex Okoh, said the organisation had inaugurated a project delivery team for concession of the facilities, but the plan has remained on the drawing board.
Director-General, Francesco La Camera said while hydropower has been an effective source of clean power generation for more than a century, the rapidly evolving energy landscape makes it important to reevaluate its future role and leverage recent technological advancements that can maximise its potential while ensuring its sustainability and climate resilience.
According to IRENA’s 1.5°C Scenario, if the world is to completely decarbonise and meet the climate goals set in the Paris Agreement, hydropower installed capacity, including pumped storage hydropower, should more than double by 2050.
The agency projected that the development would require annual investments in hydropower to grow roughly fivefold. IRENA admitted that most hydropower potential lies in developing countries, adding that financing institutions need to work together with governments to overcome local risks and limitations, and funnel much-needed investment into these regions and countries.
According to the report, hydropower, despite being the most mature renewable technology, faces several challenges including: modernising ageing fleets to meet modern power system requirements; attracting new investments; and updating market structures and business models that do not reward all of the services provided by hydropower beyond power generation.
The report also emphasises that the planning and development of hydropower will only be successful if aspects of sustainability and resilience are taken into consideration.
With water resources in some communities, stakeholders believe that developing marginal hydro resources independent of government funding across these communities would drastically reduce importation of solar, thereby, reducing pressure on foreign exchange, while limiting the country’s debt, which has already risen to N42.8 trillion.
The Managing Director of Mainstream Energy, Lamu Audu, noted that the country has a long way to go in developing existing hydro resources when compared to the progress being made in other countries.
“Hydropower can easily be developed in rural areas and can be run off-grid. The technology is not so sophisticated and you do not need so much to manage these facilities.
“Most of our people actually live in rural areas, but they lack access to electricity today, while we have all these rivers running around the whole place.
“If we generate just 500 kilowatts, it can serve all the people in a community. But the government will need to come up with a policy to drive hydropower. Whether you call it a legal framework or whatever you name it, we need policies to be able to really get people to invest,” he said.
Audu, whose company currently manages Jebba and Kainji hydropower, insisted that the current environment would not attract investors, noting that the government must address prevailing bottlenecks if it is going to halt borrowing and bring private investors to drive the market.
Partner, Energy Utilities and Resources, PwC, Habeeb Jaiyeola, is worried about the limited capacity to evacuate existing electricity generation in the country, adding that developing options for off-grid and export markets in the face of foreign exchange challenges could be a game changer for the country’s hydro resource.