Inga Dam

The Inga Dams, located in western Democratic Republic of the Congo 140 miles southwest of Kinshasa, are hydroelectric dams on the largest waterfalls in the world, Inga Falls. Here the Congo River drops 96 metres and has an average flow of 42,476 m³/s.

Current dams

Currently, the two hydroelectric dams, Inga I and Inga II, operate at low output. The existing dams are famous white elephants, with total installed capacity 1,775 MW, of former Président Mobutu Sese Seko, part of the Inga-Shaba project. They also served a political purpose, by allowing Kinshasa to control the energy supply of the sometimes rebellious Shaba province.

Expansion plans

Plans are underway to rehabilitate the two dams. Also, there are plans for Inga III and Grand Inga, two massive new hydroelectric stations.

Projections indicate that Inga III would generate 4,500 megawatts of electricity. Inga 3 is the centerpiece of the Westcor partnership, which envisions the interconnection of the electric grids of the DRC, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, and South Africa. The World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, JFPI Corporation, bilateral donors and the southern African power companies have all expressed interest in pursuing the project, estimated to cost USD $80 billion.

Grand Inga would generate 39,000 MW - very significant to boost the energy needs of the African continent at a cost of $80 billion. Connecting Inga to a continent-wide electricity grid for main population centres would cost $10 billion more (est. 2000). This would be the world's largest hydroelectric project. Critics contend the huge amounts of money required for the project would be better spent with smaller scale, localized energy projects that would target meeting the needs of Africa's poor majority.

The NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) with a great involvement of South African electric power company ESKOM has suggested to start the Grand Inga project in 2010. With a capacity of 39GW the big dam can produce annually 250 TWh alone for a total of 370 TWh for the whole site. In 2005 Africa produced 550 TWh (600 kWh per capita). If the dam was to be completed somewhere in the 2020s the continent may be producing more than 1000 TWh at the time making its contribution less than 20% (still significant though).

Africa's electric energy disparity

The electric energy disparity in the continent makes Africa between the tropics the most in need of many small or big energy projects equivalent to Great Inga. The 550 TWh were produced in 2005 as follows:

  • 230 TWh (42%): South Africa with 5.5% of the continent population (4500 kWh per capita)
  • 150 TWh (27%): Five northern African nations with 16.7% of the continent population: Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya (1000 kWh per capita)
  • 170 TWh (31%): The rest of the continent or intertropical Africa with 77.8% of the continent population (250 kWh per capita)

This is an average power of 63 GW to be compared to the 43.5 GW the Inga and the Grand Inga would generate.

There is a common false belief saying that the Grand Inga can produce enough electricity for the whole continent. That was true before the 1990s. The continent has an annual economic growth of 5%. In 2005 six nations from the north and south regions with 22% of African population used 70% of the total electric energy produced. The remaining 47 nations with 78% of African population shared 30% equivalent to a per capita of 250 kWh on average. Those 47 countries are working hard to meet the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Doubling their per capita electric production in the next decade to 500 kWh means that the continent will need at least 1000 TWh from its 550 TWh in 2005.

However according to one commentator, Grand Inga would be too large a proportion of the African demand ( 43.5 GW combined output compared to a load of 63 GW) to be a practical power source without interconnection to other power grids - if for some reason there were a large scale failure of the dam or its connections to the grid, such as 2009 Brazil and Paraguay blackout- 17GW, or 2009 Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro accident- 6.4 GW, it would plunge large parts of Africa into a power failure due to the sudden very large and sudden power loss - the recent 2009 Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro accident total failure, which has had a disastrous effect on local aluminium smelters is cited as an example. Hence to be fully utilised it needs to be interconnected with Europe such that some power goes to Europe at some times, but that Europe can also back feed power Africa. This increases the stability of both systems and reduces overall costs.,

Some Africans argue that feeding Europe with power from Inga has nothing to do with stabilizing a possible failure. Europe needs cheap energy and getting something back from contributing in financing the project. These critics claim proponents use disingenuous technical explanations to justify exporting electricity to Europe when Africans need more whilst African nations are busy increasing their electric power production. Nigeria jumped from less than 10TWh per year before 2000 to more than 20 TWh in 2008 . Ethiopia is building a dam that will add 6TWh to her current 2TWh . By the time the Inga dam is completed in the 2020s or 2030s its share will be less than 20 per cent of the total African production. That means African electric grid will be able to stabilize the dam input perturbation in case of a malfunction. Big dams have many sections unless they are bombed. Apart from the 2009 Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro accident it has never happened that all the generator sections of a single mega dam malfunction at the same time. It is not part of solving African energy need to build electric lines that export Inga power to Europe when the same power lines can be used to interconnect regional African grids.

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