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Balancing Climate Risks and Hydropower Potential of the Mambilla Project


The Mambilla hydropower project is a proposed hydroelectric power plant in Nigeria that has been in the works since 1972. The project aims to generate 3 GW of hydropower, which will help Nigeria achieve its Vision 30:30:30 goal of 30% renewable energy and 30 GW capacity by 2030. The Mambilla Dam is expected to provide about 4.7 billion kWh of low-emissions electricity per year.

While hydropower is a renewable energy source, it is not without its challenges. The Zambezi River, for example, has over 40,000 MW of electricity generation potential, but climate vulnerability may impede the long-term advantages of hydropower. Dams will underperform during droughts, and some cannot handle severe flooding. To mitigate this, transboundary governance of shared water resources must reflect climate risk factors to decrease reliance on fossil fuels and energy importation.

It is important to balance the potential benefits of hydropower with the risks associated with climate change. The Mambilla hydropower project has the potential to provide low-carbon electricity to Nigeria, but it is crucial to ensure that the project is sustainable in the long run.

In August 2017, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved $5.792 billion (approximately N1.140 trillion) for the project. The contract was awarded to the Chinese Civil and Engineering Company for the engineering and turn-key contract, encompassing civil and electro-mechanical works.

Babatunde Fashola, the former Minister of Power, had highlighted that Nigeria initiated discussions about the Mambilla power project in 1972, estimating its construction duration to be about 72 months (six years). He outlined the financing structure, with the China Export Import (EXIM) Bank contributing 85 percent of the cost, and the federal government covering the remaining 15 percent.

The project's scope includes constructing four dams and laying 700 kilometers of transmission lines. Fashola emphasized that upon completion, the project would bolster the nation's economy, unlocking Mambilla's potential in agriculture, tourism, and energy. Additionally, it would contribute significantly to Nigeria's commitment under the Paris Agreement, addressing climate change through renewable energy at a competitive cost.

In 2023, the government allocated N1.1 billion from its N232.6 billion capital funding to the Mambilla project. This allocation covered consultancy fees, community enumeration, land surveyors' fees, and counterpart funding for pre-commencement activities. However, the absence of allocation in the 2024 budget proposal raises questions about the project's continuity and its potential impact on national development.

However, the 2024 budget proposal lacks provisions for the construction of the multi-billion naira Mambilla Hydro-Power plant in Gembu, Taraba State, according to a report by Daily Trust.

The impact of climate change on Mambilla hydropower

The Mambilla Hydropower Project, a cornerstone of Nigeria's energy ambitions, finds itself at the intersection of progress and the challenges posed by climate change. This ambitious infrastructure initiative not only holds the promise of addressing the nation's energy deficit but is also susceptible to the evolving impacts of a changing climate. As global temperatures rise and weather patterns become increasingly erratic, the Mambilla project faces both obstacles and opportunities in its quest to harness the power of water for electricity generation.

Climate change introduces a level of uncertainty into the Mambilla Hydropower Project's hydrological dynamics. The anticipated alterations in precipitation patterns and the heightened variability in rainfall may disrupt the predictability of water inflow into the project's reservoirs. These changes could have cascading effects on the efficiency and reliability of the hydropower plant, influencing its ability to meet the energy demands of Nigeria's growing population.

Temperature fluctuations associated with climate change further compound the challenges faced by the Mambilla project. Rising temperatures contribute to increased evaporation rates from the reservoirs, potentially diminishing the overall water availability for power generation. If the region relies on glacial meltwater, the project may confront additional complexities as climate change-induced glacial melting impacts the stability and consistency of the water supply.

Extreme weather events, a hallmark of climate change, pose direct threats to the physical infrastructure of the Mambilla Hydropower Project. Floods and landslides, amplified by changing climate conditions, become potential disruptors, emphasizing the need for robust infrastructure that can withstand such challenges. The resilience of the project hinges on its ability to adapt operational procedures and incorporate climate change considerations into its design and management.

Mitigating climate change for long term hydropower

despite the methane emissions associated with some large hydropower schemes, certain forms of hydropower stand as effective means to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. It is crucial for development practitioners to prioritize the diversification of the energy mix to enhance overall sustainability.

Secondly, local communities play a pivotal role in advising developers on optimizing water resource utilization, thereby preventing investments in impractical projects with high upkeep costs. Rather than pursuing ambitious yet economically unsustainable projects, the focus should be on achieving universal electricity access for riparian states. This entails developing energy infrastructure that directly benefits nearby communities, as opposed to channeling electricity over hundreds of kilometers to major cities.

Achieving the full hydroelectric potential of the Mambilla project requires a delicate balancing act. This involves the institutionalized protection of ecosystems while concurrently mobilizing water resources. The sustained success of the project hinges on establishing measures that safeguard the environment and its ecosystems, ensuring their long-term viability. Simultaneously, efficient mobilization of water resources is crucial for maximizing the project's impact and meeting the energy needs of the region. This delicate equilibrium ensures the responsible harnessing of the Mambilla's hydroelectric potential.


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