Two major solar energy projects have been announced in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the space of a week as investors target one of Africa’s least electrified markets.
A consortium led by Gridworks, a UK government-backed developer and investor in African electricity, has signed a deal with the government of DRC to create a new company, Moyi Power, to build greenfield solar-powered distribution and generation infrastructure for half a million Congolese. The initial investment for the three sites will be at least $100m, funded with a mixture of equity from the consortium, debt provided by development finance institutions and capital grants from donors and DFIs.
The consortium, which includes French firm Eranove and Spain-based AEE Power, has signed concession agreements with the Ministry of Hydraulic Resources and Electricity to develop, build and operate three large scale, solar-hybrid off-grid utilities to supply the cities of Gemena, Bumba and Isiro. The consortium was selected as the winning bidder for the 22-year concession under the Essor Access to Energy (A2E) Initiative after an international tender process run by the government with the support of the UK.
The development and financing process is expected to take at least 14 months, with construction expected to take 18 months thereafter. The firm anticipates an initial deployment of 14MW PV panels, 40MWh battery storage and 4MW diesel generation, and aims to connect more than 23,000 households and commercial consumers across the three sites in the first five years. The plant will then need to double its size every three to five years.
The new company has committed to offer opportunities to local suppliers, consultants, and employees in the development, construction and operation of the solar-hybrid infrastructure.
“In serving these three cities, Moyi Power has the critical mass and regulatory support that is missing from most mini-grid models. It can set an example to the off-grid industry, pushing down costs for consumers and attracting long-term capital from investors,” says Gridworks chief executive Simon Hodson.
Separately, Swedish-based investment platform Trine has partnered with Altech Group, a DRC-based firm, to accelerate investments in solar in the DRC and expand access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy for off-grid and poor-grid households. The new partnership totals €5m across multiple tranches. The first debt financing round will finance over 3,000 solar home systems and is expected to reach nearly 14,000 people with clean energy across 21 of DRC’s 26 provinces. Later debt financing rounds will follow in 2021.
Less than 20% of DRC citizens have access to electricity, according to the World Bank data from 2019, with almost all current electricity generation coming from hydropower. The International Energy Agency reports that solar energy will account for up to 5TWH of energy in 2040 compared to around 30TWH for hydro.