$50 billion run of river project to be world's largest hydro plant, supplying 40 GW to African nations

South African power giant Eskom has proposed developing a huge hydroelectric complex on the River Congo with an installed capacity of 40 GW, making it the world’s largest such project.

Having presented the $50 billion plan to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), where it received a cautious approval, Eskom is now reportedly seeking funding for the project from southern African governments and multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and its private sector equivalent the IFC.

The plans would see the run of river development take place at the Inga rapids near the mouth of the river in the western Democratic Republic of Congo. Two existing hydro projects would be redeveloped and a third will also be built before the scheme will go ahead, possibly a decade away. When completed, the scheme, which is also supported by the utilities of Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Congo, will provide low-cost power to 13 southern African nations and may also enable export of power to North Africa and even Europe. However, environmental organisations have expressed concerns that even run of river plants may disrupt sediment flows and fish migrations and the UNEP has stressed that any plans for developing the hydroelectric potential of the river had to be sensitive to the Congo’s fragile environment. But, with some 526 million of about 800 million inhabitants in southern Africa without access to electricity the chance to develop such a project is nonetheless attractive.