Following the initialling of an energy co-operation treaty between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of South Africa on 7 March, the DRC has now re-launched the process for the selection of a developer and established the first stage objective for the Inga dam – to lay the first foundation stone in October 2015 of what will be the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. With a planned power output of almost 40 GW, the Grand Inga project is expected to bring electricity to half of the African continent.

The first phase of construction will start on the banks of the Congo River. This was decided at a meeting in Paris on 18 May, organised by the government of the DRC and including a high level delegation from the Republic of South Africa. All the stakeholders participated in a consultation process regarding the implementation of the first phase of the project, Inga 3, with a power output of almost 4800 KW.

The meeting brought together the principal financial institutions, the candidates for the role of project developer, as well as technical, financial and legal advisors and experts. The aim of the meeting was to permit discussion with the project’s key stakeholders of the main issues facing the project (the selection process, the perimeter, technical definition options, structuring, financing) with a view to determining how each partner might be involved. The central aim was to clear various obstacles so that the development of Inga 3 could begin. 

The co-operation agreement between the DRC and the RSA is critical and at the centre of the project. It was a historic moment, one that confirmed co-operation on energy matters between the two states and is a major milestone for Grand Inga. The Republic of South Africa expects to purchase a significant share of the electricity production of the new dam, thus confirming itself as a key partner. This starts with RSA taking 2500 MW of the power production of Inga 3, thereby becoming the principal purchaser. "We have affirmed our commitment to the project by already provisioning for this purchase in our budgetary plan," says Garrith Bezuidenhoudt, chief of staff of the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of South Africa.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of Inga 3. Apart from its significance as the start of a much larger project, it is expected to fill the power gap in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to meet the growing needs of the country’s population and industries, particularly mining, and to meet demand in South Africa. To this first phase will be added subsequent steps that will permit countries in Southern Africa, the North East of the Continent and parts of West Africa, to benefit from the production of the site.
However, the issues surrounding the transportation of the energy and levels of connectivity have yet to be addressed. Nonetheless the project is in line with the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), a joint initiative of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the African Development Bank. It provides for the implementation of regional projects in the sectors of transport, energy, information technology and communication (ICT) and management of cross-border water resources (GRET). Grand Inga will eventually provide more than half of the continent with renewable energy at a low price.

Long awaited
This international partnership, together with the commitment of major financial actors has rendered possible a project that had been conceived at the beginning of the 1970s.
The Africa Development Bank has been involved in the project since 2009 and is financing the base studies and consultants. It has been joined by the World Bank, the French Development Agency, the European Investment Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
Three consortia are involved in the project as candidates in the competitive selection process for the role of developer: Sinohydro and Three Gorges Corporation from China – the operator of the Three Gorges Chinese dam, currently the world’s largest; Actividades de Construccion y Servicios (ACS), Eurofinsa and AEE from Spain; and the Daewoo-Posco-SNC Lavalin consortium from Korea and Canada.

A consortium comprising the American law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; the investment banks Lazard Frères and Tractebel Engineering, the engineering consultancy of GDF Suez, is assisting the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the management and implementation of the project.

"The question of financing is a major issue in the selection process. It is the public/private partnership financing solutions which will be vital for the success of the project", says Mrs Héla Cheikhrouhou, director of the energy environment and climate change department at the African Development Bank.

Social and environmental impact
The first phase of Grand Inga, Inga 3 Low-Head, will provide 4800 MW. The environmental and social impact study shows that this phase has no impact on the population. They will not be affected by the flooded areas, which will remain relatively limited. The Inga 3 Low-Head will have no environmental impact on the flora and fauna of this area of ​​sparse savannah.

"The original aim of the technical feasibility study was to structure the Grand Inga project in several plants," says Edouard Dahomé, director for Africa at EDF, which, alongside the American and French consultancies AECOM and Nodalis Conseil, conducted a feasibility study for the project.
The Grand Inga site offers a combination of exceptional natural features: the tributary zone of the Bundi to the Congo River has a fall of 100 metres over approximately fifteen kilometres, with a rate of 40 000 m3 / s. Inga 3 is divided into two phases. The Low-Head phase, starting in 2015, is located downstream. It does not involve a dam on the river, but an intake from its tributary. These conditions will produce electricity at a very attractive cost. The second phase called Inga 3 High-Head, with a dam across the river and the raising of the water retention of the Low-Head will add 3000 MW of capacity. After that, five other plants will be installed on the same dam to provide a capacity of 40 000 MW. Estimated construction cost is USD 8.5 billion (value in 2011), estimated total financing needs, including inflation and financial costs: almost USD 12 billion.

A hydroelectric installation already exists on the Congo River at this level with dams Inga 1 and 2, two plants in operation since 1972 and 1982 respectively and a total capacity of nearly 1800 MW.