FILE PHOTO: Chinese miner works at coal mine in suburb of Tangshan
JOHANNESBURG - South Africa could not afford to disregard coal, despite stiff opposition that power from new coal projects would be dirty and expensive, said General Electric (GE) Gas Power Systems managing director for sales, Nosipho Dlengezele, yesterday.

Dlengezele said South Africa still needed coal as a source of energy, arguing that like the rest of Africa, the country still needed to take care of its developmental needs.

“In a perfect world, we would do away with all the coal projects for example. But the question can South Africa - with the coal reserves that it has, paired with the best coal technology - afford to shy away and say we no longer need (coal)? We need to have a transition that takes us to the least carbon emissions. But we must be given a chance to go through that journey,” she said.

The government’s preferred options to shape the country’s energy landscape will get clearer next month, when Energy Minister Jeff Radebe tables the long-awaited update of the integrated resource plan (IRP). The plan will reveal the proportional contributions of different technologies to the country’s energy mix.

The contestation for a share in the future energy mix has been intense, with environmental groupings going to great lengths to derail new nuclear and coal capacity. Earthlife South Africa and the South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute last year scored a major victory when the Western Cape High Court set aside all nuclear deals with South Africa.

In 2016 former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pet- tersson announced Thaba- metsi and Khanyisa power plants in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, respectively, as the preferred bidders in the government’s coal baseload independent power producers (IPP) procurement programme, the country’s first baseload programme which allows the private sector to generate energy using coal resources. Eskom will buy the power from the IPPs.

GE is the technology provider for the Khanyisa coal plant. The Khanyisa project would use discarded coal available as waste piles in the nearby Anglo American collieries.

Shem Chelliah, GE’s senior sales manager, said using the discarded coal would mitigate the negative environmental impact of stockpiled discarded coal. “It is poor-quality coal that has already been mined that sits on existing mine dumps. That coal is going to be used to generate electricity,” said Chelliah.

Dlengezele also lauded the prospects of gas as a viable option for baseload capacity, especially as some of the Eskom’s older power stations would have to be decommissioned.

“The new IRP needs to talk clearly and specifically about Eskom having excess electricity today, but with the decommissioning of the plants that is coming, what are the next baseload solutions? We believe that is gas,” Dlengezele said. “The success stories around the world allude to that. It is very important that with the policies and frameworks they take a look at the bigger picture at the industry as a whole.”

South Africa could not have a successful gas-to-power programme without a regulatory framework to secure the interests of IPPs and technology providers.

- BUSINESS REPORT