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Why Should Tanzania Celebrate the Staggering Achievements on Hydroelectric Power (JNHPP) in Rufiji River?

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Worldwide, hydroelectric power accounts for about 16% of global electricity production and about 60% of renewable electricity production, as per the 2022 worldwide report. In a review of the energy demand in the world and Tanzania in particular, it is obvious that the demand surged during the COVID-19 eruption and was highly elaborated in the previous analysis.

However, as other countries struggled, several milestones were being attained, and Tanzania has underscored extremely beyond expectation and broke records that should not be underrated. This stage is worth bragging about as it is a big jump that aligns with the global sustainability initiatives solution for clean and reliable energy sources. So, to say that Tanzania has scored a super goal in sustainability and yet will be reaching several other sustainable goals parallel to this one is a necessary assertion to applaud. I will hereunder expound on that perspective.

Tanzania passed through critical moments in energy supplies, but the recent and fresh memorable was the electrical outrage, which was just a tweak to everybody. The electricity rationing was the order of the day, and the outcry was enormous and scary. Little did many know that the efforts were underway. However, it was a long walk that started in 2018 when the country embarked on the massive construction of a Hydroelectrical power production dam.

Read related: The Julius Nyerere Hydropower Project is Now 90% Complete While Conserving the Environment – What Should We Expect Next?

This is along the Rufiji River, which is within the Pwani and Morogoro regions in the heart of Mwalimu Nyerere National Park, which was part of former Selous Game Reserves and is the largest National Park in Africa which covers about 30,893-kilometre square area.

To put it into historical perspective, in 1901, a German engineer called Stiegler started surveying the gorge for his vision of the potential foreseen in the location. He was unfortunately cut off from life by an elephant in 1907, and the location was named after him as Stiegler’s Gorge. Later, in the 1960s, the government of Tanzania considered developing the site in the same. Still, it faced several stumbling blocks, and the plan was rested until 2018 when it was pronounced resuming to the current celebrated story of the Julius Nyerere Hydro Power plant.

Elsewhere in the world, Hydroelectric power has been used since time immemorial and globally, China is leading for the largest plant with a total of 1,303 terawatt hours generated from hydro sources, which caters for about 30% of demand internally as of 2022 worldwide report. Following in the list were Brazil (482), Canada (392), the United States (248), Russia (197) and Sweden (69) terawatt hours.

However, the hydropower industry’s inception dates to constructing the first hydroelectric plant in 1879 at Niagara Falls, North America. The drastic changes in the patterns of hydroelectric plants are varied and essentially influenced by the availability and distribution of sources of water supply, mainly rivers. In Tanzania as well, the first plant was founded in 1964, the Hale Hydroelectric power plant, followed later by Nyumba ya Mungu in 1967, Kidatu (1975), Mtera (1988) and many others until the Julius Nyerere Hydroelectric power plant in the discussion herein.

It should be clear in mind that this reference is based on Hydroelectric power, which has more advantages over many other sources of clean electricity production possible in Tanzania. In the same sense, it is worth noting that its advantage is subtle, so should Tanzania boast of this far-reaching achievement. Again, this time, Tanzania has stood out of the crowd, particularly during the epoch when the energy crisis is at its peak and hot debates are growing globally unanswered, especially on options for clean energy sources.

Hydroelectric power is a renewable source that comes from water sources pulling the generators and, therefore, does not include burning any fossil fuels. Although this technology existed many years back, the challenge has been mainly on the cost and availability of sustainable water supplies for running the generators.

Tanzania had several Hydroelectric power plants in various parts f the country which were not substantial enough to cater for the ever-increasing demand for the power supply in the country. This largest Hydroelectric power plant, Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station, to be completed by December 2024, has an installed capacity of 2,115 MW. As far as water continuing to flow, this indicates a power supply will be produced, which will cater to the electricity demand in the country based on the current demand and will even surpass the need.

The uniqueness of this new source is that it is emission-free, which means it does not release harmful gases or pollutants into the atmosphere. Much has been done in hunting for alternatives to power and energy demand, but the emissions have sparked in different countries and are obvious under fossil fuel generators. However, in this case, the power production here will be completely clean, fitting the current race of carbon emissions reduction initiatives.

Also, read Seke Sleepers Plant: How the SGR Lot 5 Project is a Testament to Tanzania’s Local Growth.

While the country is rolling out several emission reduction projects, this will be one of the unique examples to showcase how prepared Tanzania is to transform to clean energy as global efforts are concerned. This is one of the reasons why the country should brag about this landmark victory in this regard.

It is also a reliable source, providing a steady and consistent electricity supply throughout. Since these generators rely on water availability, the supply remains stable as much as water is stable. The station is state of the art, with a reservoir ensuring water supplies to support the 9 generators. Hydroelectric power uses the kinetic energy of flowing water to turn turbines and generators that produce electricity. The water is usually stored in a reservoir behind a dam and then released through a penstock pipe.

The water pressure and flow rate at the end of the penstock determine how much power can be generated. However, building a dam for hydropower production is a long-term and complex process involving many steps, such as diverting the water, preparing the foundation, supplying the concrete, creating the dam, and filling the reservoir, which was all observed in this project.

The Hydroelectric power plant is adjustable, which means it can respond quickly to changes in demand and grid conditions. It allows for adjusting the water flow and hydropower plants, increasing or decreasing the electricity output according to the demand and grid conditions. The plant is installed with generators and monitored separately by observing the conditions and possibility of switching on or off depending on the situation.

For example, when the water level is decreased, or the demand is reduced, either of the options can be used to switch off or control the volume of water through the turbines. This makes the plant customized to the condition, and the generators can be switched on or off as it appeals to the operator.

The creation of lakes is yet another additionality, whereby through dam construction, a lake will provide fishing activities, recreational opportunities, irrigation, and flood control. These are new features, among others, resulting from the power plant construction. The Julius Nyerere Hydroelectric power plant has resulted in a large lake, and currently, it is planned to be utilized for fishing activities and some water sports. This will once again create an escape for tourists wishing to indulge themselves in spot fishing, boating, and several other activities that will be developed in the lake.

This Hydroelectric power plant is an opportunity whereby it can develop land faster and stimulate economic growth and social development. The power plant’s location was inaccessible and limited to wild explorers. However, since the infrastructure and related services have been installed, the area has opened up and attracted more business opportunities. During the construction phase, the business has been increasing, and now that the production has started, it will increase in turns and volumes.

Although much has been said about the disadvantages of hydroelectric power plants, particularly water shortage due to droughts resulting from the impacts of climate change, it remains convinced that it is the right direction. The created dam has 34,000,000,000 cubic metres of water capacity, equivalent to about 13.6 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

It is quite a large dam, the fourth in Africa and ninth in the world. Therefore, With all these specifications, it makes a lot of sense to rest assured that this is one of the most valuable and great decisions made. This volume of water would end up in the ocean unexploited and would leave the country with an increasing demand for energy supply.

Hydropower has a median greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity of 23 gCO₂-eq/kWh, which aligns with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate of 24 gCO₂-eq/kWh. This value is comparable to renewable energies such as wind and solar, around 12 gCO₂-eq/kWh. In contrast, gas and coal have much higher emission intensities: 490 gCO₂-eq/kWh and 820 gCO₂-eq/kWh, respectively.

Although these are median values, and some hydropower reservoirs may produce significantly higher or lower emissions overall, hydropower remains a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels for electricity generation.

Independent research suggests that using hydropower instead of fossil fuels for electricity generation has helped avoid more than 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over the past 50 years alone.

To put this in perspective, that is roughly equivalent to the total annual carbon footprint of the United States for 20 years.

In terms of durability, which may be questioned, it is researched, and findings indicate that the lifespan of a Hydroelectric power plant can vary significantly based on several factors such as design and construction quality, type of hydropower plant, maintenance and upkeep, environmental factors, and technological bases.

However, these have been considered, and the plant is estimated to last over 100 years at the current installation level based on the factors above. In summary, a well-maintained hydropower plant can last several decades, with reservoir-based plants having longer lifespans. Regular assessments and adaptations are crucial for maximizing their efficiency and longevity.

The saying ‘Hitting the bull’s eye’ can clearly explain the state of the recent switching on one of the generators out of the 9 with a capacity of 235MW per each at the Julius Nyerere Hydropower station. The generators will be switched on progressively until the maximum designated supply capacity of about 2115MW is reached. It is a big win for Tanzania and a groundbreaking record of power production in the country, which will cover the country’s needs besides the benefits of clean energy.

The country has made history when the world is desperately searching for alternative clean energy. The long cries will now halt as the supply exceeds the demand. It will also back up other projects such as Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), industries and the growing mining industry, which is growing and attracting more energy for prosperous national development. The ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ will now shine to everyone, and small wins will continue as the country transforms economically.

Dr. Emanueli Ndossi, a seasoned EIA and EA Expert, directs J & Enviroconsult (T) Ltd, with over a decade of experience. His expertise covers Project Management, Monitoring, and Evaluation (M&E) for comprehensive environmental assessments. Dr. Ndossi, with impactful roles in WCST, TFCG, and the University of Queensland, has shaped conservation efforts work spans diverse sectors, contributing to sustainable practices in tourism and conservation. Dr. Ndossi holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Göttingen and an M.Sc. in Environmental Management from the University of Queensland. His active engagement in organizations like ISIE, Carbon Lab, Soil Science Society of Germany, WCST, and FCC showcases his significant contributions to the environmental field.

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