Rhein on Energy and Climate

Only specialists know about INGA, the site for the biggest hydropower potential in the world, situated on the Congo River, some 200 km downstream from Kinshasa. With its 44 GW, it is able to generate more hydropower than either the Itaipu or the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, so far the biggest hydropower plants on earth.
If developed, it would be able to supply all of Africa with electricity, without any C02 emissions. Unlike most hydropower plants INGA would not flood either major cities or forests and fertile land, just rocks and barren land.

INGA has been known for decades. The first small hydro plants have been built in the 1970s and 1990s; both need rehabilitation. A third much bigger plant (with an estimated capacity of >4 GW) is in the planning stage. A first feasibility study for the Big INGA been prepared in 1997; in 2007 the African Development has launched additional studies.

Most recently, the World Energy Council has tried to muster political and financial support for INGA. It has organised a workshop on the financial aspects of the power plants and transmission lines. The total financing required might be in the order of at least 30 billion over the coming 10-20 years. So far the G8 has failed to express special interest, despite its political commitment to speeding up Africa’s development.

Nor has the EU, with almost € 2 billion grants and loans annually the main donor to Africa, It does not seem to appreciate the huge contribution INGA might make to African economic integration and to climate change.

When will the EU rise to the challenge?

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  1. Grand Inga would primarily benefit foreign companies under the guise of poverty alleviation. Inga’s high-voltage power lines will pass over more villages than they light up because the project excludes funds to extend distribution systems. Like other mega projects, Grand Inga’s $80 billion budget would be a magnet for corruption. A greater number of smaller, distributed supply projects would be less prone to corruption.

    The EU is particularly well poised to help Africa identify a better energy path by supporting investments in real renewables: geothermal, solar, wind, micro hydro, and bagasse. Such investments could help these technologies gain a greater foothold and bring greater benefits to Africans than Inga.

    Inga would not affect Africa’s vulnerability to climate change. Inga will not reduce deforestation caused by the use of charcoal and woodfuel, as electricity rarely displaces their use in cooking and heating. The EUEI and UNDP are supporting excellent work in Africa to promote regional targets for access to energy and to energize the Millennium Development Goals. EU should first allocate resources to fulfill such targets. This would promote energy access for more Africans than Inga and would improve their resilience in the face of climate change.


  2. I would like to support everything that Ms Hathaway stated and add that the DRC Minister of Energy has stated at various round tables that the electricity generated by Grand Inga would NOT be for the benefit of the civil population but would be used to power industries and outside clientele. The fishing industry in Bas Congo has already been devastated by oil pollution. What effect will the construction process of Grand Inga have?

    Right now there are talks concerning diverting the Ubangi River to Lake Chad…what is the environmental impact on the Congo River as a whole? The reality is that the government of DRC (Depts. of Plan; Energy; Industry; etc) needs to have in place a long-term well developed national water sector strategy that incorporates the positioning of dams that will generate electricity and provide as-needed agricultural irrigation to communities and industries throughout the DRC.

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