A transmission link which carries power from the Inga hydropower station on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the mining district of Katanga in the south-east of the country, while also exporting excess electricity to the Southern African Power Pool countries, is to get a partial upgrade following the award of a contract worth more than US$30 million to ABB.

The Inga-Kolwezi high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power transmission link contract was awarded by Société nationale d'électricité (SNEL), the national electricity company of the DRC. The contract is part of the FRIPT project financed by Glencore and managed by Congo Energy, a subsidiary of Forrest Group International.

The retrofit will make it possible to increase transmission capacity from 520MW to 1000MW, securing power supplies to the mining region in Katanga and strengthening the power infrastructure in the DRC.

The 1700km 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 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 help ensure the efficient transmission of hydroelectricity across the region. ABB’s project scope includes system studies, supply of key equipment such as high voltage apparatus and commissioning.

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% of the population still lacking access to electricity. The total installed generation capacity is estimated at around 2500MW, 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% of its estimated 100,000MW of hydroelectric potential, 40% of which is concentrated at Inga, where the government is boosting capacity.