Cameroon’s immense hydropwer potential remains largely untapped, but projects are proceeding across the country to meet the rapidly growing demand for power. Neil Ford reports
More plentiful and reliable power supplies are required to enable industrial development and boost electrification rates, so the government is continuing to look to the hydro sector to provide much needed new generating capacity. The biggest project currently under construction is the 420 MW Nachtigal hydro scheme, which is located about 65km from Yaoundé and which is now just over half completed. The CFA786bn ($1.3bn) construction price tag includes the cost of new transmission lines to connect the plant to the rest of the country.
In December, the Minister of Water and Energy, Gaston Eloundou Essomba, revealed that the three transmission interconnectors between the dam and the national grid were virtually complete, although the pandemic had held up work on both the new lines and the hydro scheme itself by about nine months. The interconnectors, including a 51km 225 kV line to Yaoundé, are being built by Bouygues Energies & Services.
The developer, Nachtigal Hydro Power Company, which is owned by Electricité de France, Société Financière Internationale, Africa50 and STOA Infra & Energy, now expects to bring the first turbines on stream in July 2023 and all seven within a year. All power from the project will be sold in other parts of the country but a small 4.5 MW plant will supply communities in the immediate vicinity of the dam. When complete, the project will account for 30% of Cameroonian generating capacity and it is hoped that the low cost output will help reduce power tariffs. Nachtigal should help increase the proportion of the population with access to electricity beyond the current level of 74%.
An even bigger project has been given the green light following the conclusion of a concession agreement between China Gezhouba Group Company and the governments of Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville in April 2021. The $700m Chollet hydro scheme will be built on the River Dja, which forms the border between the two countries, and will supply electrcity to both markets. Generating capacity of 600 MW is expected to be installed by 2025. According to Yaoundé, the Chinese company, which has signed a build operate transfer (BOT) contract, was chosen via a restricted tender process that was launched in December 2019.
Work on the 30 MW Lom Pangar dam in eastern Cameroon is also more than half completed. Here too, work has been held up by the pandemic but also because some imported equipment was held up in customs. In December, the government began talks with China’s Exim Bank over funding for yet another hydro scheme, the 72 MW Menchum dam in the northwest. Essomba told the National Assembly’s Finance and Budget Commission: “Detailed studies are being completed and the fundraising process is ongoing with Exim Bank China”. The project has had several false starts and it remains to be seen if the two North Amercian firms selected to undertake the work in 2015, Cima International and ARQ Engineering, will actually build it.
Regional power sector integration has proceeded very slowly but a financing agreement on two planned Cameroon-Chad interconnectors was signed in December. The World Bank Group has agreed to provide $306m to the Cameroon-Chad Electricity Grid Interconnection Project. The two 225kV lines will connect Ngaoundéré in Cameroon with N’Djamena in Chad, as well as Maroua in Cameroon with Bongor, Guelendeng, and N’Djamena in Chad. The combined 1,024km of new high voltage line will enable trade in electricity in both directions but the spate of new Cameroonian hydro schemes suggests that Cameroonian exports may dominate.
This article is part of a special report supported by Stratline Communications and investiraucameroun.com. The editorial content was commissioned separately and produced independently of any third party.
Read more articles from the special report on Cameroon.