Water, water everywhere

Volta River

Akosombo Dam from the sea

Yesterday, as I was considering the water and electricity situation in Ghana, I realised that I had never written about the Akosombo Dam, the hypdro-electric plant in the Eastern Region of Ghana. This dam, which I have visited on many occasions and which I will describe shortly, provides electricity to Ghana and to neighboring countries, Togo and Benin. Unfortunately, this plant has been unable to meet the ever increasing demand for electricity here. Many rural areas of Ghana do not have electricity at all. The Ministry of Energy website reports that only 30% of households in the northern regions have access to electricity. Those areas, rural and urban that do have electricity supply from the government, experience frequent “light out” as it is called here because the equipment is old and obsolete.

Volta River

It is quite a treat to visit the dam. It was built at Akosombo, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, about an hour’s drive outside of Accra. It is built across the Volta River which is the culmination of the White Volta, the Red Volta, and the Black Volta, all of which originate in Burkina Faso, the country immediately north of Ghana. The dam project was first promoted in 1915 by Sir Albert Kitson, a geologist appointed by the British Colonial Office. It was finally built between 1961-1965 with funding from several sources including the British government, the Export-Import Bank and the Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO), a high-energy demanding aluminum smelting company founded by Kaiser Aluminum, an American aluminum producer.

The dam is a 2,170 ft long, 374 ft high rock-filled embankment dam. It can hold over 10 million cubic yards of water. The force with which the water is pulled into the turbines turns them and generates electricity. The Volta River Authority website reports that the dam, with its six generating units has the capacity to generate 6,120 MW of electricity.

The Volta Lake water being pulled into the Akosombo Dam

When the dam was built, the Volta River Basin was flooded, creating the Volta Lake, then the world’s largest man-made lake, covering 8,500 sq. km., 3.6% of Ghana’s land area. This lake submerged about 700 villages which had existed along the banks of the river. Some 80,000 villagers were relocated before-hand and still receive support from the Volta River Authority (the body that manages the dam and the power that it creates) as compensation for being displaced.

Fishing on the Volta Lake

On the eastern side of the dam there are two spillways that can release water in the event that a rainy season of heavy rainfall leads to the possible overflow of the Volta Lake over the edges of the Dam.

Akosombo Dam spilling water

I was unable to find consistent statistic on the level of demand for electricity in Ghana. Estimates ranged from 6.5 GWh to 9 GWh, however, it is generally agreed that the hydroelectric power generated at Akosombo and Kpong (another small dam) is not enough to supply the country’s current needs. Hydroelectric power is supplemented with power from more traditional sources and steps are being taken to increase the supply of hydroelectric power.