File photo: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA).
File photo: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA).

Coal will remain central to SA’s energy generation for time being

By Dineo Faku Time of article published Feb 5, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The Minerals Council South Africa said yesterday that coal would remain a central part of the country’s energy generation for the foreseeable future, alongside the transition towards more renewable and cleaner sources of power. Council president Roger Baxter said coal remained a necessity as the base load source of power, even with the expansion of renewables.

Baxter said that a number of communities and employees’ livelihoods depended on coal mining.

“So much of what South Africa produces is connected to coal,” Baxter said. “It is the largest component of mining by sales value and is a critically important source of primary energy that drives the economy.”

Baxter said new power stations represented an enormous investment that would be economically crippling to shut down.

“When we refer to a just transition, we mean that there are technical, social and economic grounds for a gradual, rather than an immediate, move away from coal.”

South Africa’s power generation blueprint, the Integrated Resource Plan which was unveiled last year, supports the decommissioning of ageing coal-powered plants and a diverse energy mix.

Mosa Mabuza, the chief executive of the Council of Geosciences, said there were more than 200billion tons of coal in South Africa and that coal should be developed in a responsible manner.

Mabuza said the country needed to experiment with clean coal technology to mitigate its impact on the climate.

“I think it is sad that as South Africans we have taken a view against coal,” Mabuza said. “We are not debating whether South Africa should transition into a low carbon economy. We are saying coal must be part of the transition, because coal is what we have.”

Mabuza said the council had discovered that the Molteno coal fields in the Eastern Cape had the potential to generate power. He said there were more than 350million tons of exploitable coal in the Eastern Cape.

“I am proposing that we put up a power station there, extract this coal and turn it into gas, which is more climate change friendly, and generate electricity as a source of development. The Eastern Cape will not be the same again,” said Mabuza.

On Monday, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told the indaba that the government was speaking to investors as part of an initiative to generate power outside of Eskom.

Mabuza said that the council’s mapping programme would be prioritised to be a magnet for exploration.

He said the council, a custodian of all geoscience data in South Africa, had embarked on the development of an updated and digitally interactive geological map of the country.

“My team are on the ground now, they are going to start drilling in the North West tomorrow for commodities, including phosphate.”

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