Engineers call for Inga project revival
SADC countries must reinvigorate their commitment to a long-term strategy on energy by pooling resources from both local and external funding partners to develop the long-standing proposal to expand the Inga Hydroelectric Dam which has the potential to generate more than 44 000 MW for the region, engineers say.
Engineers who met recently at the Unesco Africa Engineering Week in Victoria Falls added new urgency to a decades-old debate about the best way to secure reliable energy supplies for the region which is confronted with the challenges of inadequate generation capacity and limited funding.
“The Inga hydroelectric project has a huge potential that still needs to be harnessed to avert serious power shortages in the region,” said Eng Gloria Magombo, chief executive of the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority. We need to tap the untapped energy. We need to double our energy production by 2050 when our population doubles. The Grand Inga project is the way to go. It can generate more power for the region and for Africa as a whole.”
Engineer Ben Rafemoyo of the Engineering Council of Zimbabwe said the SADC region will pay a heavy price if it does not take practical steps to pool resources and map out practical steps to unleash the power potential of the Inga hydroelectric project.
“The energy crisis we are facing will not go away unless we take urgent steps to harness the potential that lies with the Inga Dam,” he said. “The SADC region needs to jointly develop the dam and share power.”
Dr Martin van Veelen, of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering, said SADC countries needed to prioritise the Inga hydroelectric project to enhance access to power by the majority of people on the continent.
“Only 30 percent of the population in Africa has access to power,” he said.
“It’s the reliability of power that is the biggest problem. We need to develop our energy infrastructure to close this energy gap, reduce costs and enhance access to the majority.
“The Grand Inga project holds one-third of Africa’s energy.
“It has huge untapped potential. In terms of energy development, we are lagging behind extremely and much will depend on public investment on energy projects like this one to move out of the crisis.”
The long-stalled Grand Inga hydroelectric project, seen as the world’s biggest hydropower dam, is not far from where the Congo River flows into the sea.
The Inga project has suffered numerous setbacks including environmental lobby, lack of political and financial commitment from regional leaders as well as a lot of uncertainties on how energy can be shared once this project is developed jointly.
“Now is the time to stop talking,” said Dr van Veelen. “Its time for action. Our governments have to mobilise funding to make progress on Africa’s infrastructural development.”
Engineers urged regional leaders to seize the opportunity presented by the Inga hydroelectric project to the energy crisis facing the region characterised by frequent power outages or load shedding.
Without decisive action, African engineers said, SADC’s resolutions and statements on energy will ring “hollow.”
They said SADC should live up to the demands of the energy strategy and ensure all its components addressed the region’s core issues, including the development of other renewable energy sources such as solar energy.
At an estimated cost of between $50 and $80 billion, Grand Inga would produce 44 000MW, dwarfing all other hydro-electric projects in the world, including China’s Three Gorges Dam, engineering experts say.
Despite, a gloomy picture painted on the Grand Inga project, there are flickers of hope.
The World Bank and several other financial institutions like the African Development Bank, are funding the project to complete some of the phases through grants and loans.
Recently, the World Bank’s board approved a $73 million grant to help the Democratic Republic of Congo develop an expansion of the Inga hydroelectric dam.
The funding, combined with another $33 million from the African Development Bank, will fund technical studies to analyse the dam’s environmental and social impact and ensure it is sustainable.
The grant will also help establish the independent Inga Development Authority, which is meant to follow best international practices in managing the project and selecting private companies to help fund it, the World Bank said.
For several years, projects to expand the Inga dam never got off the ground due to conflict and misrule apart from lobbying by environmental groups, delays and budget overruns.
South Africa, too, has also joined in. In 2013 it was reported that R200bn was set aside and state-owned power company, Eskom, would receive 2 500MW of the 4 800MW produced by Inga III, the project’s first phase.
The project was set to benefit SA and mines in the Katanga region while 1 000MW would be sold to national power company Société Nationale d’Electricité (Snel) for consumers in Kinshasa and surrounding areas.
SADC has been facing challenges in meeting energy requirements for more than a decade due to growth in demand, forcing most countries to implement Demand Side Management (DSM) programmes such as load shedding.
Analysts say while load shedding has succeeded in restraining the overall electricity demand in the region to some extent, the measure has also affected socio-economic growth since the availability of energy is one of the key enablers of sustainable development and industrialisation.
By 2019, the region aims to have commissioned a massive 24 062MW, allowing SADC to fully recover from the energy crisis, according to the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP).
The region is also aiming for an increased uptake of renewables to allow the 15-member bloc to achieve a renewable energy mix of at least 32 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2030.
Currently, SADC generates about 74 percent of its electricity from thermal stations, according to SAPP.
Southern Africa plans to commission new projects that will add 2 763 megawatts to the regional grid this year as the region targets to meet its energy needs by 2018.
Of the planned capacity from the 13 projects being undertaken in six SADC member states, the majority will come from South Africa where at least five projects are targeted for commissioning this year, producing an additional 1 828MW for the regional grid, a regional publication reported.
According to SAPP, southern Africa plans to commission 24 062MW of power between 2015 and 2019 if all proposed projects come on stream.
Experts say this development will see the region finally meeting its power needs after decades of crippling energy shortages.
Since 2007, the region has been battling to meet its energy requirements.
This forced most SADC countries to implement demand-side management policies such as load shedding to cope with limited electricity supplies.
The long-stalled Grand Inga has for decades been the stuff of dreams but with the support from the World Bank, AfDB, the South African government and other funding partners, there is a growing momentum that it will be the stuff of cogent plans.
Already, signs are there, despite uncertainties that lie with political instability in the DRC.