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Hydroelectric Power Generation in the Kunene River Basin  

Dams and weirs also allow hydropower generation along the course of the Kunene River, with a current total installed capacity along the river of around 350 MW, and a potential capacity of over 2 300 MW. All of the major hydraulic structures in the basin are in Angola, with the exception of the Ruacana Plant, which straddles the border with Namibia. Whilst the weir and inlet structures for the hydropower plant are in Angola, the power plant is on Namibian territory.

Turbine in Ruacana power station.
Source: Dierks 2008
( click to enlarge )

At present three power stations along the Kunene River are installed:

  • Gove Dam (in Angola, completed in 1975, currently under rehabilitation, 60 MW capacity will be installed, start of operation foreseen in 2011);
  • Matala Weir (in Angola, 225 km downstream of Gove dam, completed in 1954, rehabilitation started in 2010; 51 MW capacity will be installed); and
  • Ruacana Power Station (weir in Angola, power station in Namibia, completed 1978, 240 MW capacity installed; NamPower are planning to increase production capacity by adding a fourth turbine).
Outlet of the Ruacana power station.
Source: Rautenbach 2007
( click to enlarge )


Hydroelectric Power Generation

Hydropower, hydraulic power or water power is power that is derived from the force or energy of moving water, which may be harnessed for useful purposes. Prior to the widespread availability of commercial electric power, hydropower was used for irrigation, and operation of various machines, such as watermills, textile machines, sawmills, dock cranes, and domestic lifts.

Hydroelectric power now supplies about 715 000 megawatts (MW) or 19 % of world electricity. Large dams are still being designed. The world's largest is the Three Gorges Dam on the third longest river in the world, the Yangtze River. Apart from a few countries with an abundance of hydropower, this energy source is normally applied to peak load demand, because it is readily stopped and started. It also provides a high-capacity, low-cost means of energy storage, known as "pumped storage".

Hydropower produces essentially no carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions, in contrast to burning fossil fuels, and is not a significant contributor to global warming through CO2.

Areas with abundant hydroelectric power attract industry. Environmental concerns about the effects of reservoirs may prohibit development of economic hydropower sources.

The chief advantage of hydroelectric dams is their ability to handle seasonal (as well as daily) high peak loads. When the electricity demands drop, the dam simply stores more water (which provides more flow when it releases). Some electricity generators use water dams to store excess energy (often during the night), by using the electricity to pump water up into a basin. Electricity can be generated when demand increases. In practice the utilization of stored water in river dams is sometimes complicated by demands for irrigation which may occur out of phase with peak electrical demands.

Not all hydroelectric power requires a dam; a run-of-river project only uses part of the stream flow and is a characteristic of small hydropower projects.

Hydropower can be harnessed from various sources:

  • Flowing rivers: Using hydropower stations;
  • Ocean currents: Energy is drawn in much the same way as wind generators do; and
  • Ocean waves: Energy drawn from regular up and down of waves with various technologies.

Source: adapted from Wikipedia, 2010

Construction site of new hydropower station at Gove Dam.
Source: Vogel 2010
( click to enlarge )

A detailed description of the infrastructure facilities for hydropower generation on the Kunene River basin is comprised in the chapter Dams and Infrastructure.

Matala weir completed in 1954.
Source: Estevao 2009
( click to enlarge )




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

Video Interviews about the integrated and transboundary management of the Kunene River basin

View information on the dams and weirs of the Kunene Basin

Examine the virtual water trade and water footprints of SADC countries

Explore how hydroelectric dams work