Inga, a key project for the future prospects of energy on the continent - Interview with Gilbert Mbesherubusa, Director, Infrastructure Department, AfDB

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DRC and the Inga Project
  • Location of the Inga hydro-electric site, from the name of Inga River: Bas Congo, RDC.
  • DRC has the third hydro-electric potential in the world, after China and Russia.
  • About 40% of the hydro-electric potential of some 100 000 MW of the DRC is concentrated on the Inga site.
  • Existing power plants on the Inga site:
    • Inga 1, started operating in 1970: 351 MW (6 turbo-alternator generating units)
    • Inga 2, started operating in 1982: 1,424 MW (8 turbo-alternator generating units)
  • Potential capacity of the site (Grand Inga): 39,000 MW

The Inga Hydro-electric Project has continued to inspire Africa, which badly needs energy to support its development plans. For some years now, the African and international energy community is talking about it, but nothing seems to be happening. Yet the ADB recently disbursed the amounts required to activate the project: 58 million dollars for the rehabilitation of Inga 1 and Inga 2 power plants, and more than 15 million dollars for a study to identify the optimal development scenario of the project. The figures are quite promising: an energy potential of up to 39 000 MW, which is enough to cover the long-term needs of some 800 million Africans.

An overview of the situation with Gilbert Mbesherubusa, Director, Infrastructure, AfDB.

Question: Until recently, a project like Inga would not have been approved by the ADB or the international community. However, now there is the feeling that this type of project is increasingly receiving attention. What is happening?

Several factors account for this renewed interest.

It is now generally accepted that unless Africa improves its infrastructure substantially, the continent will never be able to cope with competition or realize its productive potential. Reliable electricity supply is indispensable for achieving the basic economic and social development objectives of any country in general, and African countries in particular. Africa needs energy to catch up on its industrial lag, and improve the standard of living of its populations. Not to mention that the reinforcement of energy infrastructure will contribute directly to the development of other sectors such as health, water supply, education and agriculture.

Hydro-electric Power Production Electricity is produced by power plants. A power plant has turbo-alternator generating units. The turbine transforms energy from water, vapor or wind into mechanical energy that turns an alternator. The alternator then transforms the mechanical energy into electric power. In the case of hydro-electric power plant, it is water that acts as the motive power to turn the turbine of the hydro-electric power plant. However, to do this, it is necessary for the flow of the river, that is the volume of water it transports, to be strong enough and for its head height to be high enough. The more the height, the more water falls rapidly and exerts force on the turbine. The powerful mechanical effort exerted by water on the turbine is transmitted to the alternator which, transforms it into electric power.
The power of a plant is expressed in watts:
  • 1 kilowatt (1 kW) = 1,000 W
  • 1 megawatt (1 MW) = 1,000,000 W

Furthermore, since Inga is a hydro-electric project, it is all the more relevant in the struggle against climate change. Even ecology groups recognize this, and have changed their attitudes towards such projects. Despite its size, Inga is a renewable energy project which seeks sustainable development. The environmental and social studies to be conducted will facilitate the project implementation, taking into account the environmental and social concerns of the affected populations.

Furthermore, with the return to peace in the DRC, the country enjoys the stability required to attract investors seeking an enabling environment to generate a return on their investments. Lastly, the country badly needs energy, since its access rate to electricity is only 7%. Not to mention its neighbors, which are also in "dire need" of megawatts, and are interested in buying power from Inga.

Question: Given its scope, will it really be possible to implement the project?

The development of Inga, like any other hydro-electric project, effectively requires huge investments in tens of billions of dollars. However, its cost price, that is the price of power per kilowatt/hour (kWh) generated by the site, is so competitive that the power produced, which is clean energy, could be sold at competitive prices throughout Africa, despite the related transmission costs. This gives the project a key role in the future energy and socio-economic prospects of the continent.



Title: Director, Infrastructure Department, AfDB