Rebuilding the Congo’s electrical infrastructure

2012-05-07 - ABB is helping the Democratic Republic of the Congo to modernize its electrical infrastructure and transport much-needed electricity from the vast hydropower resources of the Inga Falls to the country’s mining heartland, 1,700 km to the south.

By ABB Communications

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in natural resources. Besides holding vast mineral deposits of cobalt, copper and diamonds, the DRC is also fortunate in having the Inga Falls - the world’s largest waterfall by volume and probably the biggest untapped source of renewable hydroelectric energy on the planet.

According to the World Bank, the Inga Falls have the potential to generate around 45,000 megawatts of renewable hydroelectric energy, enough to power as many as 20 million African households – not only in the DRC but throughout southern and western Africa as well.

With this sort of capacity the Inga Falls have long been the object of plans to harness its vast potential by building new hydropower plants and grid systems to generate and transport the power throughout southern Africa and create an efficient regional power market.

Before such plans can be realized, however, the DRC’s electrical infrastructure must first be modernized to bring it up to the required transmission levels. This is now underway, thanks to investment by the DRC’s national electricity company Société nationale d'électricité (SNEL) and the international community.

ABB is playing a key role by supplying many of the power technologies that make the modernization possible – a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission link, flexible AC transmission systems (FACTS), high voltage substations and power plant rehabilitation.


Inga Falls has the potential to produce twice as much renewable energy as the world’s largest hydropower complex – the 22,500 MW Three Gorges in China.


At Inga Falls, ABB is rehabilitating the electrical systems of the two existing hydropower plants – Inga 1 and Inga 2 – to restore them to full production and enable them to generate 1,300 MW of much-needed power reliably and efficiently. The plants were built in 1972 and 1982 respectively, and many of the 14 units are no longer working at full efficiency.

ABB’s scope of supply includes dismantling and replacing the medium and low voltage systems, transformers and supply lines, as well as integrating a new distributed control system for the auxiliary systems. ABB is also responsible for engineering, supply, installation, commissioning, final tuning and power-on. All onsite activities are being performed by ABB with online units to minimize the loss of production during project execution. Completion is scheduled for 2012.

From Inga 1 and 2 the power is transported along a 1,700 kilometer HVDC link to Kolwezi in mineral-rich Katanga province. ABB supplied the original HVDC link in 1982, which at the time was the longest power transmission link in the world.

ABB is currently participating in the refurbishing of the link to restore it to pristine working order by modernizing the 30-year-old converter stations with state-of-the-art ABB technologies - new thyristor valves, new high-voltage components, and a MACH2™ control and protection system.

The MACH2 control solution includes a new human-machine interface, a new look control room, operator access to more and better data, and greater system redundancy. This will maximize the link’s reliability and availability, and extend its operating life.

Left: Map of the DRC showing the 1,700 km Inga-Kolwezi HVDC link between the Inga hydropower plant and the Kolwezi converter station in Katanga Province. Right: The two valve halls at the Kolwezi HVDC converter station, which ABB is currently modernizing.
When the power reaches the Kolwezi converter station, it is converted from DC to AC for transfer into the 220 kilovolts (kV) AC network. In separate contracts ABB has been selected to rehabilitate five 220 kV substations and strengthen the transmission network to enable the power to be reliably delivered at maximum capacity throughout the Katanga mining area, as well as to Zambia and other countries in southern Africa.

The solution is comprehensive in scope and includes new feeders, substation control and protection systems, a new dispatching center, and a static var compensator (SVC) to ensure that the voltage is at a constant 220 kV AC throughout the AC transmission corridor, regardless of operating conditions. SVCs are part of ABB’s portfolio of FACTS technologies to enhance the security, capacity and flexibility of AC transmission systems.

ABB was awarded all the contracts in separate public tenders by the DRC’s national electricity company, SNEL.

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