Democratic Republic of Congo's Inga dam project could power Africa

Inga  Hydroelectric Dams 1 and 2

Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Grand Inga dam project, to be built on the Congo river, the world's second largest river, could provide enough electricity to power most of Africa.

With a projected output of 40,000 megawatts, the project which will be built on the existing site of Inga dams 1 and 2, would be the world's largest hydroelectric project with roughly twice the 22,500 megawatt output of the Three Gorges Dam in China.

There will only be one dam, but the project will entail six different hydroelectric power stations. Each power stations will represent a separate phase in the project, with the electricity coming online by 2020 when the Inga 3, the first power station, is due to be completed.

Inga 3 will produce 4,800 megawatts of electricity, 2,500 megawatts will go to South Africa, with 1,300  megawatts going to Katanga, where it will be used in the region's mines.

When Inga 1 and 2 were constructed by former president Mobutu Sese Seko in the 1970s and 1980s, 40 percent of the 2,000 megawatt output was consumed by the state. The government did not pay its bills, therefore 10 years later the facilities were in disrepair and  currently operate at only 25 to 40 percent of capacity.

Critics of the project say it will displace 30,000 people and if the current dams were renovated and put into full production they would satisfy the DRC's needs. And trying to provide electricity for the whole continent is overly ambitious for a country in which only 10 percent of the population has access to electricity.

Congo INGA Dam

However, proponents of the project say this time will be different because the project will be funded more independently of the government, by the World Bank, the African Development Bank and private investors, and they point to the deal to buy electricity signed by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma when he visited Kinshasa last month.

Given the DRC'c  history there is good reason for skepticism but the project has a good chance of coming to fruition given South Africa commitment to buy electricity when the hydroelectric project is completed in eight years. 

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