Congo’s Energy Divide

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“The Democratic Republic of Congo is rebuilding its power grid as part of the war-torn country’s reconstruction. Originally built to power copper mines, the grid reaches just 6% of the nation’s people and bypasses some of its biggest cities. Rather than improve its citizens’ access to electricity, the government plans to provide electricity from the rehabilitated power grid and new dam projects for mining and exports to South Africa and other countries. The rehabilitation’s slow pace, ballooning costs and emphasis on energy exports raise serious concerns that it will only perpetuate Congo’s great energy divide.

The Congo River is the deepest river in the world, and one of the most powerful. It has long been targeted by hydropower developers, particularly at the Inga Rapids. In the years following independence, the Inga 1 Dam (350 megawatts, commissioned in 1972) and the Inga 2 Dam (1,750 MW, commissioned in 1982) were built despite feasibility studies that found both projects uneconomical and far in excess of the country’s electricity needs at the time. Neglect, financial mismanagement, and years of war caused the dams’ turbines to deteriorate long before the end of their expected lifespan. By 2002, the dams were producing only 40% of their capacity.

he related transmission line, which runs for 1,725 kilometers, was the single largest contributor to the DR Congo’s debt burden. Budgeted at US$250 million, actual construction costs for the Inga-Kolwezi high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line quadrupled to $1 billion. he “state of the art” HVDC technology was meant to deliver large amounts of electricity to copper mines in the faraway Katanga Province, not cities or villages along its route. Within 10 years, poor maintenance, theft, and the ravages of the tropical climate caused the line to deliver less than half the electricity it was designed to carry.”

Read more: International Rivers

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