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Eskom’s long-standing vision of harnessing the hydroelectric potential of the Congo River has moved a step closer with the pending formation of power supply company Western Power Corridor (Westcor).

The Democratic Republic of Congo has substantial untapped electricity potential, and a site on the Congo River called Inga Grand could generate 39,000MW of power if harnessed.

This would meet the demand for electricity throughout Africa.

South Africa’s Eskom Enterprises has already signalled its intention to implement five key projects falling under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) programme, located largely in sub-Saharan Africa.

Together with several other parastatals, Eskom was expected to be the driving force behind several infrastructure development projects around the continent.

Recently representatives from Eskom and the power utilities in Botswana, Namibia, Angola and the Congo held private meetings to find ways of establishing a company responsible for transmitting power from the Congo to Nepad members in sub-Saharan Africa.

Westcor would be a joint-venture initiative launched by Eskom, Botswana Power Corporation, Nampower of Namibia, Empresa Nacional de Eletricidade of Angola and Soci été Nationale D’ Électricit é of the Congo, as well as all the members of the Southern African Power Pool of the Southern African Development Community.

The venture was aimed at establishing a major power system across the five countries and incorporated power generation, transmission and telecommunications.

Once established next month, the University of Durban-Westville would be responsible for the research into human resources, manpower and infrastructure.

The university’s dean of engineering Nelson Ijumba claims that harnessing the hydro-electric power on the Inga Dam would be developed in phases.

Initially the Inga project would harness 3,000MW-5,000MW, or 10% of the total potential, over 3,000km to the member countries.

Later phases would develop and grow the project towards the 39,000MW potential.

“The technical challenge will be to engineer a power system that employs large-scale run of river generation and the associated long distance power transmission scheme incorporating the latest technology,” Ijumba says.

He says the overall power system must be capable of integrating with existing and planned power systems in each of the five nations, receive local generation and distribute energy to local customers.

The pool was created in 1995 when 12 countries in the southern half of Africa elected to pool their electricity supply resources.

These included South Africa, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Congo.

Their goal was co-ordinating the electricity activities across the countries with the benefits of reducing fuel costs and allowing members to help each other should they run short of power.

The power pool also runs a short-term energy market, which allows for the exchange of surplus power at a low price.

Eskom has emphasised the importance of implementing development projects in Africa as a way of driving revenue growth outside South Africa.