China’s hydro dominance in Africa and beyond

By Ma Danning   14:37, August 08, 2017

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (front) inaugurated the
construction of the Caculo Cabaca Hydropower Project in Dondo, Angola
on Aug. 4, 2017. (Xinhua/Xu Kunpeng)

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos on Aug 4 laid the symbolic
first stone for the Caculo Cabaca Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam
ever built in the country, adding a new mega project to the growing
reach of Chinese contractors in Africa.

The $4.5 billion scheme, being financed by the Industrial and
Commercial Bank of China, will be constructed by the state-owned China
Gezhouba Group.

When complete around 2023, it will generate 2.2 GW of power from the
Kwanza River in North Kwanza province, expected to meet more than half
of the country's power needs. Nearly 10,000 local jobs will be created
during the peak construction period.

Addressing the opening ceremony on Friday, Energy and Water Resources
Minister Joao Baptista Borges called the project "crucial" to the
economic construction of Angola. “It will solve the power shortage in
Angola and bring jobs to the country,” he said.

Chinese state-owned conglomerates behind colossal dams like The Three
Gorges and some of the world’s highest-situated dams on the Tibetan
Plateau have flexed their engineering muscles in Africa.

By late June, according to survey by People’s Daily Online, Chinese
firms have raised or contracted to build hydropower plants in at least
24 out of 54 African countries. The dams form a circular web linking
nearly all hydroelectricity sweet spots in the continent: in northeast
Africa's Nile Basin, Sinohydro is at the heart of the Merowe Dam and
the Roseires Dam in Sudan, and Dongfang Electricas contracted Africa’s
3rd largest hydro station to date,  the 1.87 GW Gilgel Gibe III in
Ethiopia, the dubbed“Water Tower of Africa". In western Africa, myriad
Chinese-built stations are rising in “hydro-hegemon” Guinea, the
source of the region’s longest river Niger, and its drainage area
countries Mali and Nigeria. In central Africa, Gezhouba Group has just
laid the groundwork for the 240 MW Busanga Dam along the Congo River
in DR Congo in March,  joining the China’s hydro legion in the Congo
Basin following projects in Central African Republic, Congo Republic,
Zambia, Angola, and Cameroon. To the south, China-built dams cover
Zambezi river basin countries Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

But this is not the whole African presence of Chinese hydro giants.
Exemplifying Sinohydro alone, the Chinese company known for building
China’s Three Gorges Dam is actively taking on irrigation, waste
treatment, water conveyance, drainage, and other water-related
projects, as well as real estate and transportation construction in
Africa. The company has more than 430 projects conducive to livelihood
betterment in nearly 40 African countries, covering 3/4 of the
continent, according to the company’s website.

Despite all the progress, experts predict that the potential for China
to boost profits and expand African market share remains huge.

“By 2014, only 8-9% of hydro power potential in Africa had been
tapped. The rate is in the double digits in Southeast Asia, much lower
than the 70-80% potential realized in developed countries. Power
Construction Corporation and its subsidiary Sinohydro can still thrive
in the overseas hydro market for another 30-50 years,” Zhang Boting,
vice secretary general of China Society for Hydropower Engineering,
said in an earlier interview.

Bakun Dam by Sinohydro in Sarawak, Malaysia, on the Balui River.

World's Contractor

In fact, outside the more saturated and mature markets in North
America and Europe, Chinese hydro power makers have been exporting
their technical prowess across all continents and regional blocs.

In Latin America, where half of its electricity production is from
hydroelectric sources, Chinese companies have laid roots in 11 out of
its 34 countries and regions, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Chile,
Costa Rica, Honduras and more.

In Equador, with over 200 enormous water bodies, Sinohydro
manufactured the country’s largest energy project in history, the 1.5
GW Coca Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Complex that was inaugurated in
April 2016. Once fully operational, the station will supply 40% of the
nation's electricity needs and export $200 million worth of power to
neighboring countries including Columbia.

In Bolivia, a country that sits at an average altitude of 3,700
meters, Sinohydro has flexed its engineering muscles by raising the
$235 million San Jose hydro project on the rim of the Altiplano
highland. The project is expected to send 124 MW of energy to the
national grid, powering 3 million residents in the country’s
Cochabamba department. Bolivia's President Evo Morales has visited the
site three times and gave high recognition of its importance to
consolidate the nation's electric power infrastructure.

Chinese hydroelectricity makers have also made headway in seven out of
eleven countries in Southeast Asia; five out of seven South Asia
countries; Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in Central Asia, Turkey, and Iran
in the Middle East. In 2013 and 2014, respectively, Sinohydro was
awarded contracts to build in Romania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, a
springboard to enter the high-end European market with stricter
standards for new players.
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