ABB has won an order worth more than $30 million from Société nationale d’électricité (SNEL), the national electricity company of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for a partial upgrade of the Inga-Kolwezi high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power transmission link. The contract is part of the FRIPT project financed by Glencore and managed by Congo Energy, a subsidiary of Forrest Group International. The link transmits power from the Inga hydropower station on the Congo River to the mining district of Katanga in the south-east of the country. It also exports the excess power to the Southern African Power Pool countries.
The 1,700 kilometer link was built by ABB in 1982 and was, at the time, the world’s longest transmission line. ABB upgraded the link in 2009, installing new thyristor valves, high-voltage apparatus and its MACHTM control and protection system. ABB’s advanced MACH system, supports the company’s ABB AbilityTM based digital offering and acts like the brain of the HVDC link – monitoring, controlling and protecting the sophisticated technology in the stations, managing thousands of operations to ensure the reliability of power supply.
ABB has now been entrusted to carry out a refurbishment that will boost transmission capacity, enhance grid reliability, extend life span and ensure the efficient transmission of hydro-electricity across the region. The retrofit will make it possible to increase transmission capacity from 520 megawatts (MW) to 1000 MW, securing power supplies to the mining region in Katanga and strengthening the power infrastructure in the DRC. ABB’s project scope includes system studies, supply of key equipment such as high voltage apparatus and commissioning.
“We are pleased to continue our long association with the Inga-Kolwezi HVDC Link and contribute to the strengthening of the DRC’s power infrastructure. This upgrade will boost supply of clean hydropower to industrial and domestic customers,” said Claudio Facchin, President of ABB’s Power Grids division. “This order reiterates our leading HVDC position, strategic focus on the service business and our growth drive in Africa. It also reinforces our position as a partner of choice for enabling a stronger, smarter and greener grid.”
The DRC is the 11th largest country in the world, with a land mass about one-fourth that of the US. It has a population of around 80 million, and one of the lowest rates of electrification in the world, with over 80 percent of the population still lacking access to electricity. The total installed generation capacity is estimated at around 2,500 MW which is almost completely hydropower. Most of this is allocated to the mining sector, especially in the copper belt, where lack of adequate power is seen as a constraint to growth. Currently, the DRC utilizes just 2 percent of its estimated 100,000 MW of hydroelectric potential, 40 percent of which is concentrated at Inga, where the government is boosting capacity.
ABB pioneered HVDC technology more than 60 years ago and has been awarded more than 110 HVDC projects, representing a total installed capacity of more than 120,000 megawatts, accounting for around half the global installed base. ABB further developed HVDC in the 1990s by introducing a voltage sourced converter (VSC) solution named HVDC Light and leads the way in this technology as well, having delivered 18 out of 24 VSC HVDC projects commissioned in the world.
ABB has operations in 23 African countries and employs about 5,000 people across the continent. As a pioneering technology leader serving utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure customers globally, ABB supports Africa’s growth with innovative solutions designed to address local challenges, from access to electricity, to industrial development, to sustainable transport. As part of its commitment to Africa, ABB provides scholarships and internships for talented engineers who need financial support to complete their studies. ABB has annual sales in Africa of around $1.5 billion and manufacturing operations in Egypt and South Africa.