The South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi) has argued that coal still has a place in the country's energy mix as the country faces the prospect of a dark Christmas period due to intensified power cuts.
This comes as load shedding continues to wreak havoc in the economy as Eskom is forced to implement intensified power cuts due to breaking generation units.
Sanedi’s clean coal research specialist, Gcobisa Melamane, yesterday said peak demand had always been met by pumped-storage schemes that store and release water to generate electricity, as well as open-cycle gas turbines that run on diesel.
Melamane said that renewable energy options were increasingly adding to capacity and displacing some of the coal-generated supply from ageing power stations.
However, she said commercial, industrial and manufacturing enterprises could not function to capacity without a stable supply of reliable, baseload electricity.
“The point is that South Africa, and indeed the world, needs a mix of energy sources,” Melamane said.
“None of the sources and technologies we currently have can meet the needs of economies and societies on their own.”
South Africa is not alone in its reliance on coal as several of the European countries that had previously sworn off coal have had to fire up their coal power stations again to deal with the energy shortages that resulted from geopolitical circumstances in the northern hemisphere.
South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan places coal status at more than 80% of the energy mix, with coal expected to remain the dominant energy source for the foreseeable future, though that percentage is targeted to decrease by almost half to 42% by 2030.
However, Melamane said it was not business as usual in the coal space as significant time, effort and resources were being dedicated to developing technologies that would limit the environmental impact of coal-fired electricity generation.
“Sanedi is one of the organisations in the country researching technologies that can make the use of fossil fuels cleaner so that we can keep using it in a more responsible manner in South Africa,” she said.
Against this backdrop, Sanedi launched its Cleaner Fossil Fuels & Related Technologies programme in 2021 to develop a roadmap for the country to improve the environmental footprint of its energy mix.
The focal technologies in Sanedi’s cleaner fossil fuels roadmap include high-efficiency low-emissions (HELE) carbon capture and sequestration, underground coal gasification to produce syngas for power generation with lower levels of greenhouse gases, and equipment to reduce nitrogen and sulphur dioxides and particulate matter in flue-gas emissions.
The roadmap study is planned to be completed by the end of March 2024 and, once the relevant stakeholders have approved it, South Africa’s roadmap to cleaner fossil fuels will be published.
This comes as President Cyril Ramaphosa will lead South Africa’s delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s 28th Conference of Parties (COP28), which kicked off yesterday in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.
The Conference will witness the first Global Stocktake (GST), which will provide a comprehensive assessment of progress made since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
The purpose of the Stocktake is to help parties prepare their next nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement to raise ambition and accelerate climate action, as well as to enhance international cooperation.
350.org executive director May Boeve said experts have warned that 2023 would almost certainly be the hottest year on record, and limiting global heating to within 1.5°C was of utmost urgency that cannot be achieved without a global renewable energy target.
“COP28 presents an opportunity for a long overdue course correction: a global renewable energy target, poised for adoption, is a crucial step towards limiting global heating to below 1.5 degrees,” Boeve said.
“However, it must come with commitments to finance the just transition in the Global South and a rapid, equitable phase out of fossil fuels.”