Giant hydro project could illuminate half of Africa.
Inga (Congo): Deep in the bowels of the giant Inga hydroelectric
dam that straddles the mighty Congo river stands a fading map named
"The motorways of electric power from Inga". From a dot in
western Democratic Republic of Congo, lines extend across the African
continent. They run southwards through Zambia, Zimbabwe and South
Africa, and northwards via Sudan and Libya, reaching as far as Morocco.
For decades, governments dreamed of harnessing the Congo river's
enormous energy at the Inga rapids with an expansion of the dam large
enough to power half of Africa. Years of conflict and misrule in Congo
meant the project was never realised. Instead, in the cavernous halls of
Inga's two dams, water drips from the ceiling and rusted pipes sit
above puddles. Five of the 14 turbines no longer spin at all, a sign of
the decay. Fast-growing economies Now a deal with South Africa to buy
electricity from Inga has revived talk of the giant hydro project that
could illuminate a continent whose economies are rapidly expanding but
lack the power supply to sustain it. "We had to find a buyer for
this energy. Otherwise we cannot build Inga," Bruno Kapandji,
Congo's minister of energy and hydro power, said. "South
Africa is a solvent and credible buyer." Following a year of talks,
South Africa has promised to buy at least half the electricity from Inga
III, a $12 billion dam that, once built, will produce 4,800mw of energy.
Much of the rest may go to Congo's power-starved mining industry.
This is nearly three times the amount produced from Inga's two
existing dams, which are decades old and have been crippled by neglect,
government debt and risk-averse investors. Success for Inga III would
help to raise investors' confidence in the remaining five stages of
the Grand Inga project. At an estimated cost of $50-80 billion, Grand
Inga would produce 44,000mw, dwarfing all other hydro-electric projects
in the world, including China's Three Gorges Dam. "This
incredible feat of human ingenuity, when completed, will have the
capacity to power Africa and indeed to export electricity beyond the
continent," South African President Jacob Zuma said at a signing
ceremony in Kinshasa. Talk of progress at Inga comes at a time of fresh
optimism in Congo. Its army, backed by South African troops in a UN
peackeeping mission, has defeated the most serious rebellion to plague
the mineral-rich east in a decade. Ethiopia building dam It also comes
amid a drive to ensure Africa's era of growth isn't brought to
a halt by lack of power. According to the World Bank, sub-Saharan
Africa, with its 800 million people, produces the same amount of power
as Spain, home to 45 million. Uganda has recently completed the 250mw
Bujagali dam near the source of the Nile. Ethiopia is building the
6,000mw Grand Renaissance dam, which will be Africa's largest once
completed. To the west in Sierra Leone, hydro-electric power is central
to a $3.5 billion plan to increase power production tenfold by 2017.
None come close the scale of Grand Inga. But experts urge caution, even
for just the first stage of the process. In February 2012, the previous
plan for Inga III fell through when the dam's main source of cash,
an aluminium refinery planned by BHP Billiton, was shelved. This led to
talks with South Africa to secure a market for Inga's power.
"The major issue is whether the financing for the project will come
through. The cost of Inga III is twice the official voted state budget,
and is actually four times the executed budget," said a Congo-based
diplomat who follows the issue.
Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2013 Provided by
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