HPNET was founded with a focus on S/SE Asia, and over the last few years we have had practitioners from Africa reach out to us and become active members. In 2019 we dedicated a work stream to take a closer look at the challenges faced by our members and other local actors in Africa, realizing the issues are similar to those in S/SE Asia. As 2020 unfolds, we aim to find ways to support and learn from local practitioners in Africa.
REGIONAL OVERLAPS: AFRICA AND S/SE ASIA
In 2019, through interviews with African practitioners and dialogue among S/SE Asian practitioners supporting African regions, we identified common elements between the two contexts.
Relevance of Community-Scale Hydropower
As in S/SE Asia, community-scale hydropower can provide affordable and reliable electricity to enhance rural livelihoods, towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Several countries in Africa have significant pico, micro, and mini hydro (<1MW) potential yet there has been minimal implementation, while large numbers of communities remain un-electrified. As in S/SE Asia, international donors in Africa target solar PV interventions, and non-PV solutions are not as popular. There are however small hydro projects (above 1MW and less than 30MW), developed and owned by foreign companies using foreign technology. Also, as in S/SE Asia, there is a geopolitical push for large hydropower despite its environmental and social consequences. This focus on large scale energy infrastructure is mobilizing civil society organizations (CSOs) to make the case for micro hydro and other decentralized renewable energy (DRE) solutions. However, most CSOs do not yet have the knowhow to do DRE project implementation.
Committed Local Practitioners
The portion of Africa's DRE private sector that is able to access funding and advance is the foreign-run private sector. In addition, there are passionate and committed local practitioners that are innovating and locally manufacturing micro hydro equipment to bring electricity to communities in need, who are not able to access foreign funds. This is because, similar to S/SE Asia, most government and international initiatives lack the mandate and expertise to identify, engage, and advance local practitioners so that they can also benefit from international resources. In S/SE Asia there is significant evidence showing that long-term sustainability of micro hydro projects is greatly dependent on how well ownership, management, and financing are anchored at the local level.
Missed Opportunity: Building onto Existing Local Technical Capacity
Local actors in Africa are paving forward local fabrication of micro hydro technology. While in a few contexts local fabricators are supported by international partners, e.g. the work of Energising Development (EnDev) in Ethiopia, most local technical capacities have not been leveraged or further built upon. Therefore, they remain at a nascent stage of development -- limited to the pace of self-learning and self-financing local technology development. Similarly in S/SE Asia, despite considerable international donor investments in micro hydro technology transfer during the last three to four decades, there is now hardly any international support for developing local capacities in design and manufacturing. The trending focus in both African and Asian Pacific contexts is on kilowatts installed and households electrified, and less attention to who is enabled to do energy access and how, and what implications that has on community empowerment.
With the start of the new year, HPNET seeks partnerships to move forward the following areas identified for South-South, two-way knowledge exchange between African and S/SE Asia regions.
In partnership with local organizations and practitioners committed to advancing community-scale hydropower, HPNET seeks to build the awareness of decision makers in both contexts on mini-grid technology differentiation and on proven thematic solutions,including:
- Policy and Regulatory Frameworks. African contexts such as Nigeria and Tanzania have established advanced policy and regulatory frameworks for mini-grid development, including interconnection to the main grid. Experience-sharing from these contexts will benefit S/SE Asia countries seeking to do the same.
- Ownership, Management and Financing Models. Asian contexts such as Nepal and Myanmar show how different types of ownership, management, and financing models impact the long-term sustainbility and socio-economic impact of projects. In S/SE Asia the lessons required 30 years of hindsight, however nascent African micro hydro contexts can use the Asian experience to avoid pitfalls and leap frog into appropriate best practices.
- Climate Resilience thru Watershed Strengthening. Rural communities of African and S/SE Asian regions will be among the worst hit as the climate crisis grows. The watershed strengthening and reforestation aspects of community-scale hydropower increase the climate resilience of micro hydro projects as well as the communities, reducing the impact floods and drought.
Technical Standards and Local Manufacturing
Utilizing the expertise of local manufacturing coaches and experts, HPNET seeks to build the capacities of local practitioners in both regions to locally design and manufacture electro-mechanical components of pico, micro, and mini hydropower, including various turbines and electronic load controllers. Technical standards appropriate for different capacities and the local context will be established using lessons related to standardization from African and S/SE Asian contexts.
Local Social Enterprise Development
In partnership with local implementing organizations, HPNET seeks to facilitate the development of projects that are established as local social enterprise. HPNET's initiative Social Enterprise for Energy, Ecological and Economic Development (SEEED) supports local practitioners and communities to transition toward financially viable projects, where the micro hydro project is run as a social enterprise that also powers productive end use enterprise.