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China’s hydro dominance in Africa and beyond

By Ma Danning (People's Daily Online)    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.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Ma Danning, Bianji)

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