A review of the consideration of climate change in the planning of hydropower schemes in sub-Saharan Africa


There are over 580 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to electricity. The region has significant untapped hydropower potential that could contribute to improving domestic access to electricity and countries’ economic development, as well as helping to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Changes in climate affect hydropower generation through alterations to river flow regimes. Hence it is the energy source most likely to be affected by climate change because the amount of electricity generated is directly related to water quantity and its timing. However, climate change impacts are rarely explicitly considered when planning new hydropower projects in the region. This may be because current fluvial discharge series in sub-Saharan Africa display high levels of natural variability and it is only after the 2050s that climate-driven changes in river flows emerge from these. Planning horizons of hydropower projects are usually around 30 years, so the natural variability of the existing hydrological regime is within the variability of climate change projections and hence it is unlikely to be considered. Another reason is that over the past 15 years China has become a significant financer of infrastructure in the region. China only meets the environmental regulations of the country in which the hydropower scheme is being constructed. Most sub-Saharan African countries do not have regulations that include climate change in the planning of such projects. This paper concludes by suggesting a framework via which climate change can be incorporated in future hydropower schemes at a river basin scale.

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    An average American would consume 100 kWh in about 3 days (Moss and Gleave 2014)

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    These are pieces of infrastructure that usually can be maintained for a significantly greater number of years (i.e., 50 to 100 years) than most other capital assets

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    Natural systems that fluctuate within an unchanging envelope of variability

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    Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems (GWP 2014)

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    Robustness is the ability to withstand external shocks in spite of uncertainty (Lempert and Groves 2010)


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Lumbroso, D.M., Woolhouse, G. & Jones, L. A review of the consideration of climate change in the planning of hydropower schemes in sub-Saharan Africa. Climatic Change 133, 621–633 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-015-1492-1

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  • Climate Change Scenario
  • Instal Capacity
  • International Energy Agency
  • International Energy Agency
  • Hydropower Project