New energy in South Sudan


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This weekend marked the beginning of an important new chapter of nation-building, with the celebration and formal launch of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan.  United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a host of dignitaries were on hand. The civil war with the north ended in 2005, and the World Bank has had an office there since just after that.

I spent several days there two weeks ago, pre-independence, but very much in a moment of great excitement about what the nation the size of the Iberian peninsula with a population of 8 to 9 million could accomplish.

South Sudan will begin life as both a tremendously poor and under-served nation in terms of the services for its people, and a fantastically rich one in terms of resources and potential. The country has less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) of paved road. At present, conflict with the north’s Khartoum-based government continues over the key oil, gas, and mining provinces of the border region, where much of the international press is focused, as well as great deal of investment interest.

My focus was in the other direction, south of the sprawling capital of Juba, along the dramatic White Nile. With fantastic logistical support from the World Bank Juba office, from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s South Sudan conservation team, and from the director of the Nimule National Park.

Nimule is a remarkable site, with the White Nile variously raging and idling through as it expands and contracts from a wide flood plain to a series of raging rapids. Nimule is also home a large elephant population  (largely spared during the conflict). Nimule was also the sole beachhead of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, when the north and south engaged in bitter trench warfare on the very edge of the park. 

Traveling by small plane, land rover, and foot with the Wildlife Conservation society’s South Sudan team and its dynamic director Paul Elkan, we visited the series of White Nile rapids on the edge of the park. WCS is engaged in regional biodiversity conservation, eco-tourism development, and nation-building for South Sudan, and has been a partner in the region for a number of projects and programs. I have never seen such a roar of water (see and play the embedded video) where boils and cauldrons flow violently upstream due to huge volume and narrow channel the Fula Rapids occupy. Several photos of the rapids, the fishing communities on the banks, and the park rangers illustrate this blog.

The site raised a number of fundamental development opportunities and challenges for a nation that now has less than 200 megawatts of electric power generation. First, how can ecologically sustainable run-of-the-river hydro and eco-development be designed and implemented in such a removed and underdeveloped region? By some estimates, the Fula rapids could yield 60 megawatts of electric capacity. Meanwhile, there are several 700 to 800 megawatt projects large dam projects envisioned for the White Nile. Can efforts to build energy infrastructure and conservation dovetail with the needs to build regional power grids, and at a higher level, a regional power pool? How would smaller-scale run-of-the-river hydro compare to large dams, which will be always be on the agenda for a river and region as underdeveloped as the White Nile?

These sorts of sustainable energy developments hold great promise to support nation-building in a region that very much is ready for this push.





Daniel Kammen

Former Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Erick Fernandes
July 13, 2011

Great blog, Dan! Thanks for sharing.

Ensuring that local communities benefit from energy, infrastructure, and conservation programs will be key to successful outcomes. Far too often, unfortunately, one drives through 'dark villages and towns' for a radius of hundreds of miles next to mega energy projects!

The recent flap in a nearby country (!) re local people being forcibly evicted from their tribal lands for a new national park also flags the importance of early, local participation in project conception and design and especially in project benefits (local employment, sustaining local languages, culture, art, traditional knowledge in local schools.)

Given expected changes (+/-) to hydrological flows from climate change, it will also be important to ensure that local communities are aware of likely changes to future flows when situating projects, settlements (often attracted to areas where projects are being implemented), and for future agricultural (food security) resilience. The potential for multipurpose energy investments to also facilitate local irrigation could greatly contribute to future food security in the face of increasing climate extremes.

Exciting times in southern Sudan and wish them all the very best of success in the future!

July 13, 2011

Given the already considerable demands on the Nile, and the high sun intensity and large number of sunny days would something like the GemSolar Concentrated Solar Power array with storage providing close to 20MW around the clock not be of interest in South Sudan's case? Of course it is expensive technolgy but given the lack of transmission lines, such a system of generation involving maybe 3 or 4 or so of smaller decentralized plants could make sense. They could be operated regionally (a bit like the old US energy cooperatives) so as to avoid to have to pull wires clear accross this relatively vast country. Plus it could be a testing site for large firms that are interested in refining the technolgy but often do not find the land to do so.… The ability to store the energy produced in this plant for 15 hours makes it also quite functional providing energy to consumers at night as well.

Maureen K. Muthaura
July 19, 2011

I am a young 25 year old female aspiring entrepreneur from Kenya and looking to invest in the solar industry in South Sudan. I was researching the viability of this and came across your article on National Geographic online. Are there any studies or further sources of information you can recommend to gain further insight on this and the kind of energy requirements in The RSS (The Republic of South Sudan).

I also read on the same website about the Millenium Dam project coming up in Ethiopia, which is great due it's potential, save for the lack of an EIA to determine the impact of this project down stream (which may seem to obvious). In your opinion, how do you think this project (set to be complete in 2015) will affect the current energy situation in The RSS?

Achuei Chol
June 12, 2016

That's fabulous to bring the solar energy tto the poor communities of the rular areas and countryside where women have babies in the hospital in a dark while snake bites is another problem, evening classes also need solar lights so hospital and schools in rular areas of South Sudan need solar energy. People will be very excited about the development in a changing climate that will make a bright and better future to our people in South Sudan

July 01, 2018

Energy Infrastructure remains the bloodstream of economic growth and the magnet to investment without which the country is non-existence. Therefore, Fula Hydropower Project is viable for the development of South Sudan.