Hydropower Generation in a Climate-Constrained World : Lessons for South Africa’s Alternative Energy Supply

"Worldwide, there is a growing trend to plan hydropower projects that meet both local demand and the export market. Technologies with a lower environmental impact such as run-of-river, small hydro and low-head turbines are proving to be extremely popular as they both appease critics of hydro-electric power and meet energy needs. Considering the huge initial capital investment and socio-environmental implications of large-scale hydropower schemes, this brief argues that small hydropower schemes which are reliable and of low cost can play a critical role in meeting energy demands. The brief interrogates South Africa’s position on small-scale hydropower projects. Some of the questions the brief grapples with are: To what extent do these small hydropower systems contribute to meeting South Africa’s energy demand? What lessons can South Africa draw from other African countries’ success stories? In today’s climate constrained world, can hydropower survive as an industry? The brief argues that there is a need for more investment in small-scale hydropower projects, given South Africa’s enormous potential. The small hydropower schemes will not only provide employment opportunities, but also contribute towards access to affordable and reliable energy services, a prerequisite for economic development. The brief also recommends decentralisation of renewable energy as a plausible strategy, allowing entrepreneurs to invest in small hydropower schemes as an alternative energy supply in remote and rural areas."