Unlocking green energy in Africa can impact climate change globally
According to a new International Energy Agency report, achieving the Paris Agreement’s climate goals requires more low-carbon hydrogen to fuel transport and industry. This emerging demand for hydrogen might unlock one of Africa’s untapped riches, the massive hydropower from the proposed Grand Inga dam (Inga). Reconfiguring the dam’s plan to add hydrogen production could help make the project a reality. It is also an option the Biden administration should consider examining under its new climate finance plan.
As the Congo River winds its way through the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it reaches Inga Falls, the site with the world’s largest hydropower potential. The location (which I visited for the World Bank) can produce 40,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity — more than the world’s two biggest hydropower plants, Three Gorges and Itaipu, combined. To date, however, only two smaller dams have been built there, with a total installed capacity of just 1,800 MW.
For decades, visions of Grand Inga providing clean electricity throughout Africa have tantalized power planners, governments and development experts. But the project is controversial, as the environmental and social concerns surrounding large dams are amplified by DRC’s governance issues.
Grand Inga’s projected output is so large it would require a transmission network extending from South Africa to Nigeria and beyond to reach enough customers to purchase all its electricity. Its sales, as a result, would be vulnerable to physical and political disruption as the electricity crosses numerous countries. Sales would also largely depend on distant customers located in markets with creditworthiness issues. These risks, coupled with the problematic governance context, have prevented DRC from raising the tens of billions of dollars needed to construct Grand Inga.
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