A vision of a lighter Africa
Stability in Central Africa will allow for the fast-tracking
of the multi-billion dollar Grand Inga Hydro electric
Project, which will see the development of what has
been dubbed the biggest power plant in the world.
It appears that the massive project, which is seen as a beacon of
hope for Africa, is already beginning to influence foreign policy
on the continent. The DRC is potentially Africa’s wealthiest nation,
with massive deposits of gold, diamonds, copper, uranium
and other minerals. With these wealth deposits the country is
seen as a major catalyst for growth and development in Africa.
The Inga project will see the construction of a 3 000 MW
hydro-electric power generation plant at the Grand Inga Falls
on the banks of the Congo river. The river drops 100 metres,
promising huge amounts of energy for powering turbines. The
Grand Inga hydroelectric project is expected to generate 40 000
megawatts of electricity.
Political turmoil in the
Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC) is being seen as delaying what could be the biggest
project ever undertaken by the New Partnership for
Africa’s Development (Nepad). However, African leaders
are on top of developments, moving behind the scenes
to ensure peace in the central African state.
Eskom has not been shy to announce its intentions to take a
leadership position in this project. Reuel Khoza, the chairman of
Eskom, is leading this latest quest to light up Africa. “We (Africans)
actually gave to humanity the first signs of civilisation, but
we actually did get overtaken. Now the challenge facing Africa
is to catch up and catch up substantively. All that is required is
the requisite political will and the leadership that will make sure
that we don’t develop incrementally, but actually leapfrog into
the 21st century. And develop Africa in a concerted fashion. In
a fashion that says we shall not be a follower. We shall be a coleader
at worst”, says
Eskom is clear that it needs the Inga project for additional
capacity and to will provide linkages to the western corridor. It is
expected that the project will be jointly owned and operated by
the power utilities in Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa
and the DRC. Energy ministers from these countries are said to
be close to finalising an agreement.
With Southern Africa’s electricity capacity expected to outstrip
demand by 2008, the Grand Inga Falls project has become
an emergency. The governments and the major shareholder,
Eskom, want it developed by 2008. If analysts forecasts that
Africa will require an additional 60 000 MW by 2030 to satisfy
demand, then the project will become even more critical for
Thulani Gcabashe, the Chief Executive of Eskom, says the
group has a policy to diversify its sources of energy as far as
possible. Currently, coal accounts for the largest primary source
of energy, at 90% of Eskom’s generation,
followed by hydro and
“In Hydra, there’s not much further potential within South
Africa, but outside South Africa there’s a potential on the
Zambezi, both in Zambia and Mozambique. There’s a potential
in Congo, DRC at Inga, where in fact there’s 40 000 MW of potential
that is there. Then nuclear is part of our suite of primary
sources of energy going forward.”
The Inga project is the brainchild of Eskom, which is ranked
among the top five energy utilities in the world. Eskom plans to
connect the plant to a continent-wide electricity grid. Currently,
Eskom buys the bulk of its power from the Cahora Bassa Dam
on the Zambezi River in Mozambique.
Eskom Enterprises, the driver of Eskom’s businesses across
the continent, is currently involved in the electricity sectors
of about 31 African nations. Its role in owning and operating
hydropower projects is growing. The group is buying up existing
dams, and in other cases it is proposing to
help finance or buy
the electricity from new dams.
Already three American Banks are said to be interested in
funding the Grand Inga Power plant, largely because of the
potential to export electricity to Europe, via Spain. The first
power lines would link the plant to South Africa via Angola and
Namibia, a distance of some 3000 km. As a follow-up, it could
go 4000km north through the Central African Republic and Sudan
to Egypt. Nigeria wants to take Inga power to West Africa.
Eskom is already talking about exporting power to Europe.
The World Bank is advising the DRC government on its
hydro power capacity. A survey undertaken by auditing firm
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) among Chief Executives of
power utilities in Southern Africa suggests that most believe
that NEPAD will encourage co-operation and the formation of
a common power pool. According to Stanley Subramoney, the
Deputy CEO of PwC Southern Africa, this is good news for foreign
in the region.
The Utilities Global Survey 2004 also suggests that hydropower
is considered to have the greatest potential on competitive
electricity pricing. The report suggests that “while there are
limited reserves in the region, benefits can be drawn from the
Congo river, through the centre of Africa”.
Construction was expected to begin in 2003, but instability in
the region has scuppered these plans. Now, all hopes are pinned
down on next year’s promised elections in the DRC, which are
expected to bring peace and stability in the region. Already,
there is hope, as President Josef Kabila has worked hard to stabilise
the country following his father’s death.
But there are other concerns. The Botswana Daily news has
quoted its Minerals and Energy Minister as saying the project
hangs in the balance because the DRC government wants a bigger
slice of the share as the host nation. The DRC is said to be
asking for more than just the 20%
stake that is supposed to be
spread equitably amongst the 5 nations involved.
Barring any major political instability, the Grand Inga Project
might just be the only hope for a lighter Africa, come 2008.
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