Thursday, September 13, 2018

Why warning on hydropower, drought should not be ignored

Warning on hydropower should not be ignored.

Warning on hydropower should not be ignored. PHOTO|FILE 

By Attilio Tagalile

The London School of Economics and Political Science has cautioned eastern and southern African countries over their continued reliance on hydropower plants for their energy.

In its publication on August 30, 2018, it said much as hydropower assured the countries of massive energy, but heavy reliance on hydro power was dangerous especially in case the countries were plunged into drought.

According to the famous British school which has trained some of the world’s most prominent and distinguished economists, including Tanzania former minister for planning and economic affairs in Mwalimu Nyerere’s government, Prof Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu, 31 gigawatts are expected to be generated in the region by 2030.

The massive power is expected to be churned out by 43 large-scale hydropower plants in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia which are in turn expected to provide answers to power shortage in the region.

However, the school warns that given the existence of almost similar pattern of rainfall in the region coupled with the possibility of being visited by drought on account of growing climatic change in the region, heavy reliance on hydropower could lead to untold consequences.

The school says around 82 per cent of the new capacity in Eastern Africa is planned for the Nile Basin and 89 per cent of the Southern Africa is planned for the Zambezi Basin.

In Tanzania, the country’s biggest hydropower project is set to start soon at the Stiegler’s Gorge in the Selous Game Reserve and on its completion, the plant is expected to generate 2,100 megawatts.

The government has decided to embark on the massive hydropower project in order to get adequate energy for powering its ambitious industrialization programme and driving its electric trains as soon as construction of its standard gauge railroad from Dar to Mwanza and Kigoma is completed.

In an article I wrote recently which was published by The Guardian owned by the IPP Media, I argued that should the construction of the standard gauge railroad be completed, say by 2020, there may not be adequate energy for powering its electric trains.

And therefore instead of waiting for the planned hydro power project, it would not be a bad idea if the government thought of alternative energy in the form of wind and solar energy.

The factor then was not what the London School of Economics and Political Science had raised, namely, the danger of heavy reliance on hydro power plants in the face of fast growing threats of climate change which includes that monster, which is not new to Tanzania, drought.

The issue then was the danger of finishing construction of the standard gauge railroad for the planned electric train (which would completely modernize and revolutionize the country’s transport system) only for Tanzanians to find themselves being confronted with inadequate energy for powering the electric trains.

Another threat

But now the British school has come up with another threat, which as already noted, is not new to this country. Indeed, it was drought which set in, in the first years of the fourth phase administration of President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete which did not only give rise to a scandal that came to be known as Richmond, but would in the end also lead to the resignation of a prime minister.

And because drought, did happen, turning a string of major hydro power plants such as Mtera, Kidatu, Kihansi and others into white elephants as the levels of water in their respective dams fell almost to the bottom, hence leading the country into untold power shortage; it would be foolhardy for Tanzania to ignore the warning on the climate change.

When Tanzania was hit by massive drought in the first term of President Kikwete, the country could be forgiven as alternative energy from wind and solar had during the time not been developed to their present level.

But it would certainly be foolhardy on the part of Tanzanians if drought hit the country, once again, and at a time when renewable energy like wind power and solar have been developed to such level that they are fast becoming the envy of the old, outdated school of energy sources.

But going for alternative, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power does not however, mean that the government should drop its plans on hydro power project on the Stiegler’s Gorge, far from it.

It can carry on both and because renewable energy takes shorter time to install and is comparatively cheaper, going forward it could provide the government with the opportunity of weighing whether it still needs hydro power given the already sounded threats.

Fortunately for Tanzania, it has already areas which have been identified as potential areas for the establishment of wind farms and such areas include Singida, in central Tanzania, Makambako in the southern highland and Same in Kilimanjaro region.

For instance existing knowledge, which is in public domain, on wind energy shows that one wind pole can generate between six and nine megawatts.

What this means is that if you installed 200 poles of wind power, say in Singida, each of which generates 6 negawatts, the total energy generated would be 1,200 megawatts.

And if you installed another set of 200 poles of wind power, say at Makambako, it would generate the same amount of 1,200 with the wind farm in Makambako and Singida contributing a total of 2,400 megawatts to the national grid.

Now consider if you had another set of 200 poles of wind power installed at Same, in Kilimanjaro region where the wind is as strong as what one finds in Singida and Makambako. The total energy generated by the three wind power farms of Singida, Makambako and Same would be 3,600 megawatts.

Mr Tagalile is seasoned journalist

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