Taking advantage of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC’s) significant solar energy potential, renewable energy developer, Bboxx, and telecommunications operator, Orange Telecom, partnered this month for the launch of a solar mini-grid project in the Central African country that aims to connected over 600 households to clean energy solutions by the end of the year.
Situated approximately 10km from Bakavu, the capital of the South Kivu Province, the solar plant was constructed by GoShop, the largest distributor of large solar systems in the country.
Despite the DRC’s immense endowment of varied renewable energy potential which includes hydroelectric, biomass, solar, wind and geothermal power, the current installed generating capacity is approximately 2,844 MW, providing access to merely 19% of its nearly 85 million-strong population. By 2030, however, the government and the country’s parastatal utility company, the Société National d’Électricité (SNEL), have indicated the intent to increase access to over 32% of the population through the development of additional energy supplies, primarily hydroelectric and solar.
The Congo River has the potential to bring up to 100,000 MW of hydropower capacity to the DRC, representing approximately 6% of the global energy potential and 37% of Africa’s overall potential. Despite the government’s efforts to launch programs to develop the hydroelectric sector and exploit the power of the Congo Basin’s numerous rivers, the current exploitation rate of these resources remains less than 3%, demonstrating significant, untapped opportunities.
The DRC’s energy mix is comprised primarily of hydroelectric power, with the bulk of the country’s domestic generation produced from the country’s Inga I and Inga II dams located in the Kongo Central Province, boasting an installed capacity of 351 MW and 1,424 MW, respectively, for a combined capacity of 1,775 MW. A high priority for the government has been the rehabilitation of Inga II’s turbines as well as the development of a third phase of the dam. Originally equipped with eight 178 MW Francis turbines between 1977 and 1982, Inga II’s Turbine five is currently in the process of refurbishment, with a financing agreement having been agreed upon between SNEL and Canadian mining company, Ivanhoe Mines, in April 2021, which would see an additional 162 MW of electrical capacity added to the plant’s output upon rehabilitation.
Additionally, plans are currently underway for the development of a third phase of the dam, Inga III, which would see the addition of approximately 4,400 MW of generating capacity, divided to support the DRC’s copper mining and smelting operations in the Haut-Katanga Province, with roughly a third to be allocated towards SNEL to power the country’s capital city of Kinshasa while additionally exporting to South Africa. The government has stated that the development of the Inga III hydroelectric dam would serve as a stepping stone towards the construction of the Grand Inga Dam, an envisaged eight-dam project with the potential to generate as much as 40,000 MW, enough to meet the majority of the country’s energy needs. If constructed, the plant would be the world’s largest power station.
In addition to hydropower, the DRC possesses significant potential for solar energy, offering a potential of 70 GW with noticeably high solar radiation averaging 6 kWh/m2/day. Accounting for a total operating power of 83 kW, the DRC has a total of 836 solar photovoltaic systems installed, with the government looking at increasing capacity significantly.
In addition to connecting more than 600 households to solar power by the end of the year, Orange and Bboxx are currently also working towards the construction of 24 solar-powered mini-grids to power 150,000 people across the country by 2024. This will serve as the first of many partnerships within Bboxx’s Connected Community Program that will see the implementation of 750 mini-grids over the next five years, which will bring clean, reliable energy to over one million people.
Meanwhile, potential for wind energy in the DRC is also significant and largely untapped. Offering a potential of 15 GW, with wind speeds averaging 6-6.6m/s throughout the country, there are a number of high potential areas where wind power could be leveraged across the country.