river with a strong current
Sinoe Rapids, near the proposed site of a hydropower installation

NIRAS conducts an exciting but challenging hydropower plant feasibility study in Sinoe County, Liberia

A team of experts is investigating the feasibility of establishing a small, EU-funded hydropower plant in Sinoe County, an hour or so inland from Greenville City, a small coastal community in Liberia.

30. Jan 2019

Sinoe County is one of 15 counties in Liberia. The county capital, Greenville City, has approximately 17,000 inhabitants, 2,300 of whom reside along the road to the project site and make their living primarily through small-scale trade, vehicle repairs, and fishing.

Here, most of the people use electricity provided by private diesel generators, as the public generators that were installed in 2015 have been vandalised to the point where they can no longer be used. The lack of centralised electrification is a concern for people in the area, and holds back development on a whole range of fronts – a problem that as is worsened by the lack of proper roads and infrastructure linking Greenville to Monrovia and Buchanan further north.

As part of the solution, the EU has asked NIRAS’s team of experts to assess the feasibility of installing a small hydropower plant on the Sinoe River. If the community were to gain access to a reliable source of electricity, it would be a boost for many local sectors and businesses, including fisheries, cold storage, food processing, agricultural development, tourism, woodworking, traders, stores, and other SMEs. The nearby port, the third largest in Liberia, would also benefit significantly. />

A challenging work environment

Conducting any type of field work in rural Liberia is challenging, primarily due to lack of access to remote project sites. This is particularly the case during the rainy season, when the dirt roads become little more than mud baths and trucks can end up being stuck on the road for days. Another obstacle has been the dense forest surrounding the river, which has made surveying the area in question far more difficult than originally thought.

Stuck in the mud! Bad roads were a significant obstacle for the project.

The NIRAS-led study commenced in October 2018 and will be completed by mid-2019. The project has so far conducted very successful community meetings to assess the impact on local livelihoods and perception of the project among the local population, as well as developing an understanding of how people use the river in daily life and work. People from Greenville and members from Wedjah and Numopoh tribal groups who reside in the area were invited. An unintended capacity development aspect was included in the project, when the team recruited and trained locals to help conduct household questionnaires, something that both the EU and beneficiaries appreciated as it went beyond the original scope of the study. The questionnaire gave the team valuable insights and included the local population in the project in a practical way.

Findings and the way forward

One conclusion reached early in the process was that, both due to technical difficulties and how the local population uses the river, a so-called “run-of-the-river” solution was preferred over the original intention of a dam. This will allow the fish to migrate upstream and ensure the livelihoods of the people dependent on the fish the river provides.

A "run-of-the-river" hydropower installation is a type of generation plant where little or no water storage is provided, reducing the impact on the local ecosystem and allowing for fish migration and movement along the waterway.

In connection with the end of the first phase of the project, NIRAS’s project managers Relja Zambelic and Marko Babic visited the site. The purpose of their visit was to present the results of the field work together with the team of experts and discuss the next steps to be taken.

The next phase will commence in mid-February and will include continued geological surveys in the dry season to get a more holistic understanding of the situation at the site, investigating local construction capabilities, making a plan for procurement, conducting an economic and financial analysis, and estimating the cost of upgrading the road to the project site. The end goal of the study is to deliver all tender documents for the finally selected scheme, which will enable the EU to publish the tender for the actual establishment of the hydropower plant.


Hacking access through the dense forest.