The Grand Inga - A False Solution to Energy Poverty

Ange Asanzi
Inga 1 dam, Bas-Congo
Inga 1 dam, Bas-Congo

The Grand Inga hydropower scheme in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be located on the Congo River, near the city of Matadi, about 250 km southwest of Kinshasa and 150 km upstream of the Congo Estuary. When built, the Grand Inga would form the world’s largest hydropower scheme, on the lower end of the Congo River, with a capacity of 40,000 MW, enough power to supply one-third of the current electricity demand in Sub-Saharan Africa (except for South Africa). SADC, NEPAD, SAPP have listed the Grand Inga as a priority project for the region because of this huge potential power.

The Inga 3 Basse chute (Low Head) is currently a topical subject for discussion in many energy meetings on the continent. This dam is the first of the seven dams that will form the Grand Inga when completed. The Inga 3 Dam (4800 MW) is still at the planning stages. The power generated from the Inga 3 will be distributed to South Africa (2500 MW) and Katanga mines (1300 MW); the balance would go to Kinshasa. Clearly, the rest of the country will not be served by Inga 3 and is likely to remain in the dark for longer.

Inga 3's beneficiaries will be people from Kinshasa who already have far more energy access than anywhere else in the country. The table below shows energy access by province based on the DRC Renewable Energy Atlas of 2014. At the moment, DRC has an energy deficit of 3040 MW (1760 MW less than what would be produced from Inga 3), and Kinshasa is the only province with a significant energy access rate. 


Table 1: Energy deficit and potential of the DRC


Energy deficit

Access rate (%)

Energy potential


343 MW


Solar, hydro


108 MW


Solar, wind, hydro


399 MW


Solar, hydro


292 MW


Solar, hydro


303 MW


Solar, wind (high), hydro


333 MW


Solar (high), wind (high), biomass, hydro


103 MW


Solar (high), hydro


398 MW


Solar, hydro


180 MW


Solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, natural gas, hydro


139 MW


Solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, natural gas, hydro


442 MW


Biomass, solar


3040 MW



In addition, it is important to note that even if the DRC wanted to increase energy access, Inga 3 is not the answer. The national grid connections are of poor quality and don’t reach majority of the country; they only service major centres. As such, all small centres and the rural population will not benefit -- it would be just too expensive to provide for sparsely populated areas.

The Congolese government has repeatedly mentioned that revenue generated from the Grand Inga project would be re-invested into the energy sector to expand and provide small hydro plants for the rest of the provinces. If the rest of the country has to wait for Inga 3 to be constructed and start operating, they may as well wait forever. Looking at projects elsewhere, it's unlikely that Inga 3 would be completed in the next ten years. It's also unlikely the project will raise revenue from day one to initiate projects in the rest of the country, as developers are promising. The developers have simply assumed that there will be profit and that funds would be channeled to where they should go. History, however, does not support these assumptions. Large infrastructure has been shown to incur cost overruns and time overruns, and it attracts high levels of corruption. These factors make Inga 3 an unsustainable and unsuitable model to meet the Congolese energy needs. Inga 3 is a colonial model that serves the few privileged in urban centres. The 55 million people outside Kinshasa also need electricity. The DRC government cannot continue the Mobutu legacy of sending power to places that are thousands of kilometers away while bypassing villages and cities with no electricity.

In the last couple of years, officials in the DRC and the region have largely focused all resources and efforts on the Inga site, which holds nearly 40% of the country’s hydro potential; they've sadly overlooked the potential to generate electricity from the other 60% hydro sites in the country. These would require smaller plants and less capital and would help meet the needs across the country. Other renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind are becoming competitive and would go a long way to reduce the energy poverty gap. Solar and wind are also fast to deploy and climate-resilient; they are now even competing with hydro in terms of price -- according to Engie, an average price of 30 USD/MWh has been recorded for solar power in very specific contexts.

We need to embrace new technologies that are clean and affordable and that increase access for the majority. Inga is and will remain an old-fashioned project that stands to benefit elite groups: construction companies, mines, consultants, but not the Congolese people at large.

So why Inga? And why should this matter to the Congolese people? It should matter because, if not thought through, the project will follow the legacy of DRC’s minerals, benefiting everyone except its people. It should matter because the Congo Plume is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world, essential for mitigation in this era of climate change. It should matter because we care about the environment, and about the innocent people who will pay the price. Above all, this should matter because it is morally wrong for the DRC to export power while 91% of its population has no electricity access. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016