The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) holds the potential to light up a significant portion of Africa. The Congo River, the continent’s largest by volume and its most powerful, passes through ten countries before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. At 150 km from its mouth in DRC, the river holds its greatest hydropower potential at the site of Inga Falls.
The river currently plays host to 40 hydropower projects, nine of which are in DRC, including the country’s two largest: Inga I (354 MW) and Inga II (1,424 MW), although they are both currently producing at well below capacity due to insufficient maintenance and lack of funding for refurbishment.
Built in the wake of independence, the two Inga projects were completed in the 1970s and 1980s respectively. While they make up the majority of DRC’s total installed capacity (2,472 MW), significant additional capacity is planned as part of the Grand Inga project.
If fully developed, Grand Inga would become the largest hydropower project in the world at 40 GW, and could generate twice as much as the Three Gorges dam in China. With an estimated generation cost of USD 0.03 per kWh, it would also be one of the most affordable sources of energy in Africa and could theoretically provide 40 per cent of Africa’s electricity needs.
Grand Inga was originally envisioned in the 1950s, but has faced significant barriers to progress – the plans have been revised several times to lessen the local impact of the project and to increase the likelihood of attracting sufficient finance in today’s investment climate.
Today, the Inga site plans include a total of eight power stations, two of which are completed (Inga I and II). However, ongoing political instability in DRC, as well as the substantial investment required, has made further progress difficult.
A key hurdle to development has been the need for a firm market for the electricity generated; despite rates of electrification of only 9 per cent, DRC does not have sufficient domestic demand to justify development on such a large scale.
However, power can be exported over long-distance transmission lines to South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria, provided appropriate agreements and market structures are in place.
The next phase of Grand Inga to be developed is the Inga III project. In late 2013 and 2014, the African Development Bank and the World Bank announced a combined USD 106.5 million of funding initiatives to help establish the Grand Inga Development Authority and to prepare for competitive tendering of the Inga III and other medium-size projects.
In addition, in 2014, South Africa ratified an agreement with DRC to purchase over half of the output of Inga III (roughly equivalent to dedicating 2,500 MW of a planned 4,800 MW to South Africa) as well as subsequent phases, significantly strengthening the bankability of the project.
The remainder of the electricity would be sold to national power company Société Nationale d’Electricité for consumers in Kinshasa and the surrounding areas, as well as to the mining sector in the southern province of Katanga. Construction of Inga III is now expected to begin in 2017, with completion slated for 2020.
Furthermore, DRC has an additional 2,020 MW of capacity in the planning and construction phases, largely financed by the mining sector, as well as an ongoing rehabilitation of Inga I and Inga II, expected to be completed in 2015.
You can find all our latest country profiles and regional overviews in the 2017 Hydropower Status Report, which you can download here.
This profile was last updated in August 2015.