The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has a population of 85 million. Of this number, only 9 percent have access to electricity. Decades of corruption and war are two reasons for poor electricity access and economic development in the Central African country. More than 95 percent of the total electricity comes from 2,542 MW (megawatts) of hydroelectric power. However, a potential capacity of up to 100,000 MW of hydroelectric power is in reach thanks to the Congo River. Investors were once disinterested in updating the Inga Dams located on the river. However, some are finally attempting to make use of the DRC’s massive hydroelectric potential. British firm Bboxx and Power Africa, an initiative that USAID launched, are working to expand the DRC’s energy sector to reach millions of Congolese.
The Massive Hydroelectric Power Potential of the Congo River
The rapids and many waterfalls provide the potential for expanding the Congo River’s hydroelectric power. About two million cubic feet of water flows from the river into the Atlantic Ocean every second during rainy seasons. This makes the river’s hydroelectric power a viable option to expand the lagging energy sector. Construction on the Inga I and Inga II dams on the Congo River finished in 1972 and 1982, respectively.
Construction on Inga III, however, has halted. Inga III’s establishment could help power 40 percent of Africa. Its hydroelectric power would equate to at least 40,000 MW, with some estimating more than 100,000 MW. The Grand Inga is the name of this $14 billion project. It has had a long history of delays due to foreign investors dropping out of the project for various reasons such as a lack of transparency from former DRC President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. If the development of the Grand Inga completed, the DRC could export power as well. The country could then become a major energy exporter in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Completed Projects in the DRC
Zongo 2 is a hydroelectric plant on the Insiki River that feeds into the Congo River. Chinese company Sinohydro completed the dam in 2018 with the help of assistance through the Howard G. Buffet Foundation. It has a capacity of generating 150 MW and will generate $47 million of income annually. Currently, the DRC’s energy sector uses only about 2,500 MW of hydropower. However, projects such as Zongo 2 have proved that hydropower could benefit the country and surrounding countries in need of power. Zongo 2 might seem to be a small-scale project compared to the Inga III project. However, 150 MW could power more than 100,000 households.
Power Africa is an initiative to provide more than 30,000 MW of clean energy to 60 million homes and businesses. As part of its goal, Power Africa teamed with power company Virunga Sarl to expand hydropower facilities in the DRC. The Virunga region has eight potential hydropower sites. Two of these, the 13.8 MW Matebe and the .38 MW Mtwanga, are operational and located in North Kivu. The Mtwanga plant supports more than 400 jobs in the region. As of 2017, more than 4,000 customers were under Virunga Sarl’s grid. This included small- and medium-sized businesses, homes and social infrastructure. Virunga Sarl is also expanding to the Nyirigonga district of Goma, which has about 20,000 households without power.
The Potential of Congo’s Power Sector
In January 2020, British firm Bboxx signed a memorandum of understanding to bring clean energy to more than 10 million Congolese by 2024. Bboxx has already provided power to more than 200,000 households in the country. Power has transformed lives, granting access to services that were previously unreachable, such as health care and schooling. President Félix Tshisekedi said that his goal is to use “decentralized and renewable energy solutions as a foundation to improve the country’s electrification rate from 9 percent to 30 percent during my presidency.” For perspective, the length of the presidency in the DRC is five years, and Tshisekedi first took office in January 2019. The DRC’s energy sector is growing slowly, but the president’s massive goal could increase growth in the near future.
– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Wikimedia Commons