South Africa’s Cabinet has approved a treaty with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the development of the so-called ‘Grand Inga Project’, which could produce hydroelectric power for the DRC and surrounding countries, including South Africa.
The project, which would be developed on the Congo river in several standalone phases, could eventually yield as much as 40 000 MW of capacity.
The treaty, the South African government said, created an enabling framework, linking the DRC and South Africa into the mega project.
It would allow for the two countries to jointly explore different economically feasible options for the development of what could emerge as the largest-ever cross-border energy project undertaken in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Cabinet said the two countries would also seek support for the initiative from other African countries, especially from its partners in the SADC region.
The Congo river had been identified as a major potential energy source more than four decades ago, but had failed to move beyond the Inga I and Inga II, which were commissioned in the 1970s and 1980s.
Prior to the treaty process, the next significant phase, dubbed Inga III, was meant to have been developed by an entity known as Westcor, whose shareholders included the DRC’s Société Nationale d'Électricité Société a Responsibilité Limitée (SNEL); ENE, of Angola; NamPower, of Namibia; the Botswana Power Corporation; and South Africa’s Eskom.
But progress on the proposed 3 500 MW to 5 000 MW project stalled, reportedly owing to DRC disquiet over some of the structural arrangements. The treaty was designed to reinitiate the process under a regime more acceptable to the host country.
Cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said that “different times” and “different dynamics” had led to previous failures to advance the project, but that the South Africa government was confident of delivering this time around.
“The project will form part of South Africa’s government strategy to promote renewable energy in the region, contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions, ensure security of supply and develop energy infrastructure on the continent and the SADC region in particular,” Manyi added.
A technical committee comprising senior officials from both countries drafted the formal accord. The drafting team was established following the signing, in November 2011, of a Grand Inga memorandum of understanding at a ceremony presided over by Presidents Jacob Zuma and Joseph Kabila.
The treaty was also viewed as a precursor to the initiation of negotiations on an implementation agreement, which South Africa hoped would begin before year-end.
Energy Minister Dipuo Peters indicated recently that she was considering the issuance of Ministerial determinations to open the way for further power generation projects in line with the Integrated Resource Plan for electricity.
The plan, which was unveiled in early 2011, envisaged the integration of 2 609 MW of imported hydroelectric power into South Africa’s power mix between 2021 and 2023. This initial capacity is expected to flow from countries such as Zambia and Mozambique. However, both Zuma and Peters have indicated that Grand Inga is receiving priority attention.
It is understood that Eskom and SNEL would also enter into an agreement to facilitate the execution of the project.
Eskom CEO Brian Dames said recently that initiatives were under way for the creation of a high-voltage “super grid” across Southern Africa by 2030. Such a system would be able to integrate renewable energy, nuclear, coal, gas and hydropower.
“We think the Southern African electrical system should leverage the hydro on the north [of the continent] all the way to the Congo . . . and leverage the gas fields of the east and the west,” Dames stated.
Should it eventually proceed, Grand Inga could be developed into an emission-free-power hub, almost equal in size to South Africa’s current installed base. In fact, South Africa’s newly released National Development Plan 2030 argues that the project could even provide power, through interconnecting links, to southern Europe.
To reach its potential, three major African interconnection projects would be required: the northern highway, between Inga and Egypt; the southern highway, between Inga and South Africa; and the western highway, between Inga and Nigeria.