Africa’s second largest country, and one of its poorest, the Democratic Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the neighboring Republic of Congo) has finally placed a big bet on renewable energy. The government there has finally gone for a $100 million investment off grid hybrid solar projects that will provide power to three cities in the country. While no details have been shared on the size of the project, we estimate a size of no more than 3-10 MW for each city. The success of these projects is vital to pave the way for plans for 30 mini-green hybrid projects across the country.
According to IRENA, Congo currently has only 20 MW of installed PV capacity . Total installed capacity of power is just 2.67 GW, of which 2.54 GW comes from hydropower and 135 MW from thermal power. Most of the Hydro power is courtesy the two Inga Dams, on the Congo River, that are rated at almost 1800 MW capacity. However, there are plans for a massive Grand Inga Dam on the same river, that will potentially have a power generation capacity of upto 39 GW, though that remains at an idea stage right now.
For the current off grid solar project, a mandate for 22 years was give to British power network company Gridworks, Spanish developer AEE Power, and Eranove, a French company active in the management of public services and in the production of electricity and drinking water in Africa. The Ministry of Hydraulic Resources and Electricity is the ministry that decided finally, with power from the project to be supplied to the three cities of Gemena, Bumba, and Isiro, with three separate, off grid solar plants. Off grid Hybrid is the chosen mode simply because a viable distribution grid does not exist in the country, the world’s 11th largest by area. A problem not uncommon across Africa. The Hybrd component here remains diesel powered generators, the default option in countries across the continent.
The three cities are based in the norther region of Congo, and are all effectively outside what passes for the national grid. Only 10% or less of the country’s 90 million population have access to grid power.
Even this initiative was possible thanks to the Essor Access to Energy (A2E) Initiative, a UK government-funded program launched in 2019 to support the DRC Government’s mini-grid auction and project preparation process. Which might also explain the win for a British backed consortium.
A statement from Gridworks says that “the initial investment for the three sites will be at least US$100 million, funded with a mixture of equity from the consortium, debt provided by development finance institutions (DFIs) and capital grants from donors and DFIs,” . The consortium is also in discussions for debt finance from both the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund and the African Development Bank (AfDB), and for the potential provision of grants with the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), the Rockefeller Foundation and the AfDB’s Sustainable Energy Fund.