Hydroelectric energy: the DRC wants to unite Africa around the Grand Inga

Hydroelectric power could become the spearhead of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the years to come. While its energy economy has historically been based on minerals, gas and oil, the DRC is beginning its energy transition.

Hydroelectric power to complement hydrocarbon production?

The country has significant hydrocarbon resources. According to Africanews, the DRC is even the second largest holder of oil in sub-Saharan Africa. However, exploration and production of this resource have remained minimal since the end of the 20th century. The country has refused a number of exploitation contracts, notably with the South African company DIG Oil Ltd.

Président de la RDC Félix Antoine Tshisekedi,
President of the DRC Félix Antoine Tshisekedi,©BELGA

Currently, the new president has decided to direct his policy to enter the circle of the largest producers of hydrocarbons and place his country in third place in Africa. This desire could lead to energy conflicts with Nigeria and Angola, the leading African countries in terms of oil exploitation.

The government has therefore based its policy orientations on the joint development of hydrocarbons and hydroelectricity.

A 44,000 MW hydroelectric dam project

“With an estimated capacity of 44,000 megawatts, the Grand Inga project will be able to meet a significant portion – up to 40% – of Africa’s electricity demand at a competitive price and in a sustainable manner.”

This dam, which will be built in 6 stages, is the largest hydroelectric project in the world. It will be located in the west of the country on the Congo River. This project would meet 40% of the continent’s electricity needs, according to Félix Antoine Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This capacity is double that of the Three Gorges Dam in China.

This project complements the 351 MW Inga I and 1,424 MW Inga II sites, commissioned in 1972 and 1982 respectively.

A new energy exporter for the African continent

Currently, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s electricity demand is only 4,200 MW. With this new project, the country seeks to become the region’s leading exporter of sustainable energy. For the promoters of the dam, Africa could see this construction as a solution to electricity shortages and an open door to the development of renewable energy.

The country is also on its way to becoming one of the largest exporters of lithium, with the discovery of the Manono site managed by AVZ Minerals. However, there is a risk of increasing competition with Mali to meet this growing global demand. The country has, in fact, discovered two new sites Goulamina and Bougouni. The two countries will soon be vying for the position of Africa’s leading exporter of energy and metals.

A 110,000 MW hydroelectric potential for the DRC

The Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest hydroelectric power capacity on the continent. The state has therefore decided to develop this resource to stimulate the country’s economic development and meet its environmental objectives. The government has created an agency dedicated to the development and promotion of the dam project (ADPI) to carry out the project.

Federating the African continent around a sustainable project

On June 12, 2020, during a council of ministers, the president of the DRC announced the meeting of African heads of state to make this project a continental concern. He suggested that the development of renewable energy could only be done with regional cooperation.

Two African discussion forums

Organized in two phases, the conference began on June 22, 2020 with a multi-national and multi-sector virtual forum. Around the table were gathered; the African Union DA-Nepad, the high representative of the African Union, Raila Odinga, DR Congo, South Africa, Zambia, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana. UN agencies, the African private sector and continental African organizations have also been invited.

The purpose of this meeting, according to the president of the DRC, was to present the opportunities of the project and the potential of hydroelectric power. Questions of project feasibility and financing were also addressed. The state hopes, through its advocacy, to gain consensus around the project.

“This conference, which will take place in two stages during this month of June and in September-October 2020, among other objectives is to present the current and future opportunities of Grand Inga and to promote all the hydroelectric potential of the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to encourage calls for expression of interest for the purchase of energy to be produced,

A second meeting will be held in September or October 2020. However, the coronavirus pandemic has caused some delay in the project.

A project estimated at 80 billion dollars

The price includes the construction of the site but also the transport lines necessary to evacuate the electricity to the rest of the continent. However, this figure remains an approximation, and requires the search for power purchase agreements to ensure investor confidence. Many proposals have already been discussed.

In addition, the Government of the DRC has made significant progress in its technical, environmental and commercial preparation and in the selection process of promoters. This is due to the assistance of ADPI, the DRC Ministry in charge of water resources and the African Development Bank.

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