All systems go for Inga's power

2014-08-31 15:00

Now that Cabinet has ratified the treaty governing South Africa’s participation in the Grand Inga project – budgeted at R200?billion last year – focus is turning towards construction and the delivery of output from the hydropower project.

But if steps are not taken to guard against technical losses (African networks typically lose power due to technical difficulties at power plants), South African consumers may end up with just more than half the power generated from the country’s share of the project.

On Wednesday last week, President Jacob Zuma and his ministers approved the treaty between Pretoria and Kinshasa, opening the way for the import of 2?500MW of capacity from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said the treaty provided a framework for power generation from the first phase of the 40?000MW project (Inga 3). Inga is situated on the Congo River’s Inga Falls, about 300km outside the DRC capital.

It also governed the delivery of this power to the Zambian border about 2?800km away.

“The project has the potential to supply clean and affordable imported hydroelectric power to meet the needs of the DRC, South Africa and surrounding countries,” said Radebe.

The treaty would now be tabled in Parliament, but it was not clear when, said acting Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams.

The department of energy did not respond to questions on the treaty, but Treasury’s 2013 Budget Review said R200?billion had been budgeted for the project, with funding sources to be discussed once feasibility studies were completed.

For now, the World Bank and African Development Bank have made collective funding commitments of $106.5?million (R1.1?billion) to be used for technical assistance.

A number of consortiums had vied to develop the project, including the Chinese Sinohydro Corp and the Three Gorges Corp, Spain’s Actividades de Construcción y Servicios and the Eurofinsa Group, and South Korea’s Daewoo Group, said environmental lobby group International Rivers.

The group said construction was set to begin in 2016. However, Tom Harris, an energy analyst at Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm, said large hydropower projects were subject to delay. He said the department of energy’s latest Integrated Resource Plan update had estimated the earliest procurement of power from

Inga 3 would be in 2022.

The plan estimates that South Africa will need 61?200MW by 2030, meaning government needs to intensify its efforts beyond the current Eskom build and Inga 3 (see graphic).

It has been reported that the Congolese government would construct 1?841km of power lines to the Zambian border, while Pretoria would put up the 1?540km from there to South Africa through Zimbabwe.

“This project will carry a large price tag,” said Harris.

Much of Africa’s transmission infrastructure was aged, outdated and in need of replacement, he said, meaning South Africa would need to consider partnership agreements with other countries, such as Zambia, to invest with it in the construction and implementation of new transmission technology.

This was especially important because previous research had shown African transmission and distribution networks were beset by high technical losses of between 30% and 40%. This meant just more than half the electricity generated at the plant reached the end customer, said Harris.

Nontechnical issues like theft at the distribution level had also hampered profits, but Harris said this was less likely to happen in the transmission of high-voltage power between the DRC and South Africa.

The key concern would be hedging against technical issues. Harris said this could be achieved through a combination of investment in new infrastructure and the use of other power utilities’ existing transmission networks, where possible.

“The costs of investment in new infrastructure could be shared between South Africa and its neighbours if projects can be designed in such a way as to simultaneously meet the needs of all the parties involved,” he said.

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