Power sector in 2030
The DRC’s power sector is quasi emissions-free because it almost exclusively uses hydropower.
DRC’s hydropower potential is huge, estimated at 100GW. However, the country was only exploiting about 3% of this capacity in 2017. In 2017, hydroelectricity accounted for 99% of the total national production of electricity with the remaining amount provided by a mix of biofuels and waste (0.3%), other renewable energy sources (0.1%), and fossil fuels, mostly oil (0.1%). While the country relies heavily on hydroelectricity, this comes along with a high environmental impact and can lead to water shortages.
The country’s electricity demand is growing along with increased electrification of end-use sectors. It is important to ensure that the increasing electricity generation remains carbon-free by scaling up renewables and avoiding any introduction of fossil fuels in the power mix.
The DRC has one of the lowest access-to-electricity rates in the world at 19% in 2019. Access is also unequally shared between urban and rural areas, 41% and 1%, respectively. The government aims to increase the overall electrification rate to 32% by 2030. The DRC’s power system is in a poor condition due to lack of funds and technical skills required to carry out proper maintenance of equipment. This challenge concerns also the DRC’s larger hydropower projects and new power lines for the transmission and distribution of electricity.
Towards a fully decarbonised power sector
The DRC’s power sector is currently quasi emissions-free. Renewable energies, almost exclusively hydropower, contributes 100% of the national power mix. This makes the DRC’s power sector already aligned with 1.5°C compatible pathways. However, this could change due to the government’s ambition to reinvigorate the country’s oil sector.
The government faces the challenge of expanding electricity access and securing reliability of supply when transforming its power sector that is expected to experience more growth than any other sector. This challenge is compounded by the fact that the country’s hydroelectric production is at about one third of its total capacity and its electricity transmission network is in a poor condition. If these constraints are addressed, the DRC could become an electricity exporter through the Inga dam project and improve its energy security. However, relying heavily on hydropower comes along with a high environmental impact and can lead to water shortages.
In addition to investing in large scale hydropower plants, the growing demand for electricity could be met by investing in diversified renewables projects, in particular decentralised renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind. Potential for solar energy production and wind energy is estimated in the DRC to be of 70GW and 15 GW, respectively. Therefore, renewable energy solutions offer a low-cost option to overcome grid limitations and expand electricity access to the population in rural areas. At the current stage, fossil fuels play a negligible role in the DRC’s power mix. However, following the government’s plan to exploit sixteen oil blocks, investing in gas-to-power plants would lock in a carbon intensive pathway and risk stranded assets.