Will ‘world’s biggest’ hydro power project light up Africa?

Story highlights

DR Congo moving ahead with plans to build the world's biggest hydroelectric project

When complete, Grand Inga could have a massive capacity of 40,000 megawatts

Project construction will begin in October 2015

But critics argue that the project will only serve the mining firms and not benefit the rural poor

CNN  — 

The world will have seen nothing like it.

It is being hailed as the holy grail for power, the biggest hydroelectric project ever built that would harness sub-Saharan Africa’s greatest river and light up half of the continent.

But will the ambitious plan to tame the mighty Congo River, a mega-project first conceived in the 1970s, finally get going and what will be its actual impact?

Last month, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo announced in Paris that the construction of the first phase of a new set of energy projects at the country’s Inga Falls would begin in October 2015. The new $12 billion development, dubbed Inga 3, is expected to have a power output of nearly 4,800 megawatts (MW), with South Africa agreeing to buy half of the electricity generated.

Grand Inga site. Click to expand

But the DRC government’s bold vision ultimately involves five further stages that would complete the “Grand Inga” mega-project, giving it an astonishing capacity of 40,000 MW – that’s twice as much as the Three Gorges dam in China, currently the world’s largest hydro project.

When completed, Grand Inga could provide more than 500 million people with renewable energy, say its proponents.

“A myth dreamed of for 40 years, Grand Inga is becoming a reality with an action plan spread over several plants which will be added in stages,” the DRC government said in a statement after the Paris meeting.

Powerful river

With a length of 4,700 kilometers, the Congo is Africa’s second biggest river, after the Nile, and the world’s second largest river in terms of flow, after the Amazon. At the Grand Inga site, some 1.5 million cubic feet of water flow steadily through a network of cataracts every second, dropping about 100 meters to form the world’s biggest waterfall by volume.