Coal isn’t going away anytime soon – by Nastassia Arendse ( – November 4, 2015)

Its a problematic trade-off between climate change and economic development.

Even as coal prices remain depressed, weighed down by oversupply, coal in South Africa isn’t going away. As more countries phase out their coal-fired power stations to decrease carbon emissions, South Africa may not find that easy to achieve.

The country is a big player in the production of coal although not as significant as countries such as China, the USA and India, who are much larger producers. Coal mining is a major employer and has helped power giant industrial companies like Eskom, Sasol, ArcelorMittal SA and the mining industry. The country has large coal reserves and is also a major consumer of coal; mainly for electricity production.

The outright replacement of coal-fired power plants will come at a great cost and the reduction of coal-fired generation capacity is expected to be minimal. “We have to acknowledge that we do have very significant coal reserves in South Africa, and we also have a huge fleet of coal-fired power stations and its not like we can just suddenly scrap them,” says Chris Yelland, managing director at EE Publishers.

The country is currently building two new large-scale coal-fired power stations (Medupi and Kusile) that will account for 25% of South Africa’s generation capacity and is about to embark on a programme to procure coal base load capacity from independent power producers (IPPs). “The new mega power stations are just starting their life and they have a 50-year life. Together with our existing fleet and the new ones we are building, coal will be with us for decades,” says Yelland.

The average age of Eskom’s base load fleet is 34 years and is dominated by coal power stations, which the country wants to phase out in order to meet its CO2 emissions. South Africa’s emissions are about 0.9% of global carbon emissions, while Africa as a continent accounts for about 3% of global emissions.

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