Africa is home to some of the world’s largest dams. While the world transitions to cleaner forms of power, dams have been a reliable source of hydroelectric energy for decades, generating substantial amounts of electricity. Home to the Nile, Congo and Niger Rivers, the abundance of water systems in Africa has resulted in a resurgence in the construction of massive dams to manage the supply of water distribution and generate hydroelectricity throughout the continent.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) – 6,450 MW
Previously known as the Millennium Dam, the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia has been under construction since 2011 and is set to become the biggest dam on the continent upon completion. Located on the Blue Nile,in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region near Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, the dam will generate and estimated 6,450 MW per year. The reservoir, one of the largest on the continent, which began filling in July 2020, holds back approximately 63 billion m2of water. Plans to initiate power generation from the plant are expected between June and August 2021 and, once in production, the dam will become the seventh largest hydroelectric power plant in the world. The dam’s walls measure at 145 meters in height and 5,900 meters in length.
Aswan High Dam – 2,100 MW
Located near the city of the same name in southern Egypt, the Aswan High Dam ranks as the continent’s second largest dam. Built across the Nile, the dam is the largest embankment dam in the world, with a height of 111 meters and a length of 4,000 meters. Powering twelve generators, each at a rate of 175 MW, the dam has a total generation capacity of 2,100 MW.
Cahora Basa Dam – 2,070 MW
One of the two major dams on the Zambezi river, the Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique is the largest hydropower plant in southern Africa. Power is generated through five 415 MW turbines for a combined capacity of 2,070 MW. Most of the power generated from the Cahora Bassa Dam is exported to South Africa through the Cahora Bassa high voltage direct current (HVDC) line system, with two conversion stations located in Songo, Mozambique and Apollo, South Africa.
Gilgel Gibe III Dam – 1,870 MW
The Gilgel Gibe III Dam located southwest of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Abeba, is a roller-compacted concrete dam and hydroelectric power plant built on the Omo River. The Gibe III power station forms part of a cascade of dams including the Gibe I dam, with a capacity of 184 MW and the Gibe II power station, with a 420 MW capacity. Plans are currently underway to add the Gibe IV and V dams, with a capacity of 1,472 MW and 560 MW respectively, to the Gibe Cascade. Currently undergoing its commissioning process, future electricity generated by the plant is expected to provide half of its capacity to Ethiopia, with the other half being expected to export to Kenya (500 MW), Sudan (200 MW) and Djibouti (200 MW). Under the country’s current development plans, Ethiopia has pledged to generate 95% of its energy generation from hydropower.
Inga Dams – 1,775 MW
Comprised of two single dams, the Inga 1 (351 MW) and Inga II (1,424 MW), Dams in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) currently operate at a combined capacity of 1,775 MW. Built on the Inga Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world, the hydroelectric dams currently work at merely half of their potential capacity. Expansion of the dam has generated interest from nations and power companies all over Africa that have expressed interest in the pursuit of a Grand Inga project estimated to cost $80 billion, which would become the largest power station in the world, with a capacity of up to 70 GW.
The Kariba Dam – 1,626 MW
Located between Zimbabwe and Zambia, the Kariba dam, at 128 meters tall and 579 meters long, is the largest man-made dam in the world. Currently containing a total installed capacity of 1,626 MW, the dam is currently under to process of being expanded in order to increase its yield. Power stations located on the north and south banks of the dam provide Zambia and Zimbabwe with their own respective energy generation.
Merowe Dam – 1,250 MW
In terms of its size, with a length of 7km and height of up to 67 meters, the Merowe Dam in northern Sudan is the largest contemporary hydropower project in Africa by size. Situated on the Nile, the hydropower dam consists of 10 turbines, each with the capacity to produce 125 MW for a combined total of 1,250 MW.
Tekezé Dam – 1,200 MW
With a height of 188 meters, the Tekezé Dam in Ethiopia is the tallest dam on the continent. Situated on the Tekezé River, a tributary of the Nile, the $360 million dam is one of the largest public works projects in the country. The dam’s powerhouse contains four 75 MW turbines, each generating 300 MW of electricity for a combined total of 1,200 MW.
Akosombo Dam – 1,020 MW
Located at the base of Lake Volta, the Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam in southeastern Ghana draws its hydropower from the world’s largest person-made lake in the world, with a surface area of 8,502km2. Initially constructed to provide electricity for the country’s aluminum industry, the power plant currently has an installed capacity of 1,020 MW and provides electricity to Ghana, Togo and Benin.
Kainji Dam – 760 MW
Built on the Niger River in Nigeria, the Kainji Dam provides electricity to all of the west-African country’s major cities. Despite the intention of designing a dam with an installed capacity of 960 MW, only eight of the proposed twelve turbines have been installed, reducing the plant’s capacity to 760 MW. The Kainji Dam, with a length of 10km, is one of the longest dams in the world.