13 September 2013 - Inga on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the oft referred to benchmark for Africa’s electricity potential, with its 40 GW hydroelectric potential. However, the difficulties of fulfilling a much smaller step in the development of this resource illustrate how far off the dream of realising this potential remains. The Congo River drops 102 meters in elevation over 15 kilometres at Inga. The waterfall’s total flow range is estimated at 30,000 cubic metres a second during the dry season and can peak at 55,000 cubic metres a second during the peak wet season.

Since May 2013, the Democratic Republic of the Congo been seeking potential financiers to invest in the US$12 billion 4,800 MW Inga III project. Inga III is the first of six potential phases of a possible US$80 billion Grand Inga hydroelectric scheme. The existing 351 MW Inga I and 1,424 MW Inga II facilities are currently operating below capacity due to a lack of maintenance.

Following an announcement that South Africa has committed to buying 2,500 MW of Inga III electricity, in June 2013 the DRC signed agreements with the African Development Bank to set up of structures to implement the hydropower project. A team led by Electricité de France has completed a US$15 million project design with bank financing. However, subsequently no lenders have made a firm commitment to invest in the project, which will take six years to complete.

The Congo also has yet to identify a project developer, although three international consortia have expressed interest, these being China’s Sinohydro and Three Gorges Corporation; Spain’s Actividades de Construcción y Servicios (ACS), Eurofinsa and AEE; and South Korea’s Daewoo and Posco with Canada’s SNC-Lavalin.

According to ENR.com http://enr.construction.com/infrastructure/water_dams/2013/0826-congo-pushes-on-with-12billion-hydropower-project-despite-criticism.asp?elq=92380b787dfb46bcbf9e760f23f1a312&goback=%2Egde_1873750_member_269910172#%21 analysts speculate that new efforts to revive the project will not succeed because of a lack of government commitment in the past and increasing insecurity caused by civil conflict between the administration of president Joseph Kabila and several rebel groups.

According to the publication, analysts also say the delayed World Bank-funded rehabilitation of Inga I and Inga II and the failure to compensate millions of people who were displaced during construction of those two dams decades ago indicate how risky investing in Inga III could be.

The Inga I and Inga II rehabilitation projects, initially slated for 2003 at a cost of US$200 million, involves turbine replacement and refurbishment, construction of a second transmission line to Kinshasa and rehabilitation of the Inga-Kolwezi grid, which operates at 25% of capacity. The rehabilitation and new transmission-line projects now are estimated to cost US$883 million.

Roman Grynberg, a senior research fellow at the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis, says that, despite the push to integrate regional electricity supply by developing Inga III, it is far from certain whether the DRC can execute the Inga III project.

In 2007, the country partnered with metals giant BHP Billiton to construct a US$5 billion aluminium smelter and a US$3.5 billion, 2,500 MW hydro-power project by 2018. But the company abandoned both projects and said it was withdrawing from the agreement, citing economic difficulties.