Developing Clean Energy Potential in the DRC
Read about African clean energy in the upcoming African Energy Series Special Report: Africa Renewables 2020 – the leading investor resource for understanding the scale of the continent’s renewable potential. Download other AES Special Reports here.
As global energy focus shifts towards renewables, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is gaining traction as an attractive investment destination due to its immense clean energy potential. Hydro, solar, wind and biomass are among key resources projected to contribute a sizable share to the country’s energy mix in the coming years.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is endowed with vast natural resources, including high-demand minerals, gold, cobalt, gas and oil. From a clean energy standpoint, the DRC has focused its efforts on developing its outstanding hydropower potential – indeed, if properly exploited, the Congo River could meet half of Africa’s energy needs. Nevertheless, other alternative sources of energy are available within the DRC, and are increasingly gaining interest among energy players. Solar, wind and biomass are set to become an integral part of the DRC’s energy mix in the upcoming years.
The DRC’s government has publicized ambitious goals in the energy sector in both the short and long term. H.E. President Félix Tshisekedi’s administration is aiming to provide universal access to power by 2035, while current access stands at around 20%. His leadership also seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2030, equivalent to a 70-million ton reduction. According to the International Energy Agency’s outlook for the country, required investment to develop the renewable energy sector is estimated at $13 billion between now and 2040.
The DRC’s vibrant mining industry could also benefit substantially from progress in the renewable energy sector by taking advantage of decentralized systems close to mining concessions where electricity is consumed. Thanks to the lowering cost of access to individual solar kits and small wind turbines, mining operators have the opportunity to lower their cost of operations, improve stability of supply and support climate protection by replacing diesel generators.
The country’s electricity sector was liberalized in 2014, establishing the Electricity Regulation Authority in the process. To date, the national utility company Société Nationale d’Electricité (SNEL) still produces 95% of the DRC’s electricity. Nevertheless, an improving business environment and the government’s commitment to privatizing the sector is gradually transforming the country into an attractive investment destination.
The DRC is home to Africa’s second longest river, the Congo River. Its water flow rate is the highest globally, only surpassed by South America’s Amazon. The Congo River is also the world’s deepest river, reaching 220 meters in some places.
Thanks to its sheer size and power, the Congo River boasts 13% of the world’s hydropower potential and if exploited correctly, could provide enough power to meet half of the continent’s energy needs. There are currently around 40 hydropower stations along the river, with a total capacity of 2,500MW. Much of that capacity remains unutilized, however, due to aging and inefficient infrastructure, as the two largest stations – Inga I (354MW) and Inga II (1,424MW) – were built in the 1970s and 1980s.
Located within the Inga Falls, the world’s largest waterfall by flow rate, the Inga III hydropower project is currently under construction. It is the one of several hydropower projects that together form the greater Grand Inga Dam complex. Once operational, Inga III will have an 11,000MW capacity, while the Grand Inga complex could reach 40,000MW.
Solar energy offers remarkable potential to power mini-grids and broaden electricity distribution. The DRC’s southern region features high rates of daily irradiation, reaching an average of 3.5 to 5.5 kilowatt-hour per square meter (kWh/m2). Six provinces in the area boast the highest daily irradiation in the country, averaging around 5 kWh/m2 and sometimes reaching 6.75 kWh/m2.
The Kinshasa Solar City project aims to build several solar power plants totalling one gigawatt of capacity. The project is being developed by TSG Global Holdings in partnership with the City of Kinshasa and SNEL. The overlying goal is to provide access to power to currently unelectrified areas in the DRC. Kinshasa Solar City aims to build several solar plants totalling up to 1,000MW of capacity. Construction works for the first plant of the project was launched in August 2020.
The DRC contains significant volumes of biomass, despite regular deforestation in recent decades. The local deforestation rate is estimated to have stabilized around 0.2% since the 1990s, which is lower than tropical regions in South America, where 300,000 hectares are destroyed every year. The Congolese tropical forests cover 67% of the country’s surface. This corresponds to the potential elimination of up to 19.5 billion tons of carbon, while other estimates suggest this figure could be doubled. Meanwhile, the agricultural domain has major waste potential due to its 25 million hectares of arable land. Waste collection logistics is the main inhibitor to capitalizing on agricultural biomass, as the process remains disorganized and limited in capacity.
According to a study by U.S. environmental non-profit International Rivers, the potential capacity for wind energy in the DRC within 25 km of existing transmission lines is 11-12GW. However, transmission infrastructure generally remains limited and is a primary inhibitor to powering households, businesses and industry. Consequently, mini-grid solutions are gaining traction among the authorities, as they represent a low-cost and high-yield solution to meeting power access goals. Government commitment, compounded by investor appetite and a large potential for development, should trigger many projects in the upcoming years, resulting in a more competitive industrial sector and an improved standard of living for millions of Congolese people.