The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is lining up to become the latest importer of South African electricity. The country’s Chamber of Commerce announced its intention to look at South Africa for power imports to help its struggling mining sector, which has been affected by low dam levels affecting reliable power supply.
Reports indicate that the DRC is currently plagued by massive energy shortfalls and scarce rainfall could cause a near 50% drop in output in the country's main hydroelectric plants during the May to September dry season. The country’s mining operations rely on generators or imports in addition to the national grid, which only supplies approximately half of the DRC’s mining needs.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), national electricity access rates across the Nile Equatorial Lake region are low, ranging between 2% and 17%, with only 4% access in the DRC. The AfDB approved $11 million to help improve access to electricity coverage in the country last year.
The DRC’s main imports of electricity come from neighbouring Zambia, and South Africa does not supply the country as yet. In fact, the DRC has plans to construct a new 4 800 MW, $14-billion dam on the Congo River by 2020, with 2 500 MW earmarked for export to South Africa. However, the Congolese government has yet to select a developer.
Eric Monga, president of the DRC’s Chamber of Commerce in the south-eastern mining region of Katanga, told Reuters that each mining company would be free to negotiate with Eskom individually for the power it requires, despite the fact that the importing of power would be expensive. “It's clearly more expensive, but the economic interest is so great that we are obliged to go hear them out,” he is reported to have said.
The DRC would have to receive its imported South African power via grids in Zimbabwe and Zambia, making it an extremely expensive option, but one that members of the Congolese Chamber of Commerce are actively pursuing. Meetings were recently held between representatives of the DRC’s public power utility, miners such as Glencore, Ivanhoe Mines and Randgold, and other members of the Chamber of commerce to “table ideas” for imports from South Africa.
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