Visiting General Electric execs stress importance of coal
Share this article:
This was as President Cyril Ramaphosa prepared for his first State of the Nation Address (Sona) and Eskom group executive for generation Matshela Koko resigned.
Russell Stokes, president and chief executive officer of GE Power, held a media briefing in Pretoria ahead of a visit to the Kusile coal plant under construction by Eskom near eMalahleni (Witbank) in Mpumalanga.
Once its six units are completed, Kusile will be the fourth-largest coal-fired power station in the world and add to the national grid enough electricity to power 3.5 million households. Medupi in Limpopo will provide another six units.
Stokes said in countries such as South Africa, blessed with significant coal resources, there was a need to appreciate coal in the total energy mix, with GE’s ability to use ultra super-critical steam technology to ensure significantly higher efficiencies of the plants (up to 47.5% efficiency rates) and limit the environmental impact of coal-fired power stations.
Kusile is the first power plant on the continent to incorporate GE’s wet flue gas desulphurisation technology, which drastically reduces sulphur oxide emissions from power plants, said George Njenga, GE regional executive for sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, he outlined the Khanyisa Coal IPP which will use discard coal dumps in Witbank that emit CO2 and dust into the environment for energy, and recycled water from mining so that no precious groundwater is wasted in the power-generation process, a significant environmentally-friendly component of the project.
Stokes and Njenga were not drawn into the political debate, saying Eskom was a long-term partner and they welcomed leadership changes. Rather, the focus of their visit was to "understand the South African situation” by being with their team on the ground.
Stokes spoke of the team’s visit to Ghana, where an innovative gas-to-power project was announced which turns waste gas into electricity as opposed to it being released into the environment; and of a project in Angola, where the focus is transforming their energy sector, including bringing fast, reliable gas generation into the market.
In South Africa, with its “endowment” of coal, the question was how to use coal more responsibly for smart clean power, with low emissions, but also to take a long-term view in which coal, gas, nuclear and renewables such as solar and wind all fed into the energy mix, said Njenga.
Stokes said a mix of sources to generate electricity was important for a consistent and balanced supply.
He expects the world to see increasing levels of renewable penetration, and for nuclear to grow. But the ratios of each source will differ from country to country, depending on their access to local fuel sources, their policies and cost structures.
It is about what is best for South Africa, added Njenga - about what sources of energy are efficient, what mix gives the country stability, and what cost structure will make South African manufacturing competitive with the likes of Brazil, China and India.
He stressed the need to provide power responsibly, and mitigate risk, citing as a hypothetical example the risk should Cape Town, now in grip of drought, have an economy reliant on hydro power.
Whatever policy decisions the Ramaphosa-led government makes, GE will continue to support all sources in the mix, including nuclear, Njenga said.
Its history of investment in South Africa extends to training of technicians and graduates to create local skills to run its power projects; support of small and medium enterprises; its technology hub; transportation through its partnership with Transnet building diesel electric locomotives; health care in the provision of diagnostic technology; and expertise in the digital and aviation fields.