Recent disruption to electricity supply in eastern and southern Africa has highlighted the challenges of chronic electricity scarcity. To increase capacity, both regions have a preference for hydropower. Most of the planned new plants will be dependent on areas with similar rainfall patterns and thus multiple plants will experience climate-related disruption concurrently, with considerable impacts for socioeconomic development.

Using analysis of the spatial distribution of rainfall in the regions, as well as climate models and research into the impacts of the 2015/16 El Niño event, this policy brief explains the increasing risk of concurrent climate-related disruption to hydropower and provides policy recommendations for overcoming the challenges.

Key messages

  • The importance of hydropower is set to grow in many countries in eastern and southern Africa.
  • An extra 31 GW of hydropower capacity is planned by 2030 to overcome electricity shortages, through 43 large-scale (more than 50 MW) projects.
  • Around 82% of the new capacity in eastern Africa is planned for the Nile basin, and 89% of southern Africa’s for the Zambezi basin.
  • These concentrations mean that most plants will be subject to similar rainfall patterns and thus will be exposed to similar climate-related disruptions at the same time.
  • Projected changes in the seasonal distribution and amount of rainfall due to climate change could result in even larger variations.
  • The negative impacts on generation could have potentially significant knock-on effects through domestic and regional power systems.
  • This could exacerbate other factors, such as governance challenges, that threaten reliable electricity supply and socioeconomic development in the two regions.

Summary of policy recommendations

  1. Greater recognition of the increasing risk of climate-induced electricity supply disruption is required.
  2. Investment in regional electricity connections should take into account potential climate-related linkages and be designed to minimise the climate-related risks to electricity supply.
  3. Climate change-related rainfall disruptions must be addressed in conjunction with additional planning for climate resilience.

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