SA takes heat for burning coal

2011-03-29 07:09

Johannesburg - The global fight over fossil fuels has hit home in South Africa as the coal-dependent country debates its energy future before hosting UN climate talks later this year.

South Africa is overhauling its energy policy, looking to more than double its power supply by adding more than 50 000 megawatts of electricity to the grid at a cost of R860bn.

But as it seeks to ease power shortages that caused paralysing blackouts in 2008, environmentalists say it is not doing enough to cut its reliance on coal-fired power - currently more than 90% of the electricity supply.

The scrutiny is intensifying as South Africa prepares to host the next major round of United Nations climate talks in the eastern port city of Durban from November 28 to December 9.

The talks - the successor to the Kyoto Protocol and last year's conference in Cancun, Mexico - will see global leaders try to make meaningful progress toward a binding international agreement to curb climate change.

The meetings will be key in deciding the future of the Kyoto emissions targets, which expire next year.

Environmentalists say South African President Jacob Zuma faces embarrassment at the talks if his government doesn't move to massively slash the country's dependence on coal.

"What is the president going to do?" asked Richard Worthington, head of the climate programme at World Wildlife Fund South Africa.

"Say, 'Oh, welcome to South Africa, we want to play a leadership role on climate change. But excuse us, we're not going to do what we said we'd do in Copenhagen and Cancun.' I don't think the president wants to be in that position."

South Africa had pledged at the 2009 talks in Copenhagen to cut emissions 42% by 2025. But the country's draft energy plan proposed cutting carbon emissions just 30% by 2030.

Zuma's cabinet last week approved a new version of the plan that officials said would scale up renewable and nuclear energy, with new power generation coming 42% from renewable sources, 23% from nuclear and just 15% from coal.

But the full plan will not be released until late March, and it is still unclear what emissions levels or the final electricity mix will be.

"It appears that the department of energy would like to portray themselves as being more serious about renewables than they really are," Worthington said.

South Africa has announced plans to develop the world's largest solar project, a 5 000-megawatt plant in the arid Northern Cape province, and is betting heavily on nuclear power.

But it has also been criticised for forging ahead with construction of the new 4 800-megawatt Medupi coal-fired power plant.

Greenpeace Africa called on the continent's biggest polluter - South Africa emits 38% of Africa's carbon - to set an example by cutting its coal use.

"The true cost of coal has not been determined. It might seem cheap now, but it's really not. There's no such thing as clean coal," said Greenpeace Africa spokesperson Fiona Musana.

"Come Durban, Greenpeace will be looking to South Africa to really show the steps that it's been taking. We'll be holding them to account."

But Latsoucabe Fall, Africa manager for the 93-country World Energy Council, said it is unfair to ask South Africa to abandon coal and risk falling behind other emerging economies.

"South Africa is well-endowed in coal resources. It cannot abandon coal resources. China is not abandoning coal. India is not abandoning coal," he said.

"Clean energy should be developed in Africa, but this should not compromise the development of the continent."

  • Peter - 2011-03-29 07:35

    "It appears that the department of energy would like to portray themselves as being more serious about renewables than they really are," - nothing new being reported here. We have much wind and water (sea) power to harness. I wish someone would wake up to that fact!

  • Alibaba - 2011-03-29 08:17

    We could all sit under a tree and sing Kumbaja with them if that will make them feel better. Renewable energy sources (wind and solar) are at least 2.5 and 8 times more expensive than coal to generate electricity and cannot provide base load energy with present technology (and batteries to store power from solar is BS, they are just as much of a polluter) - I'm all for nuclear (and maybe the Karoo gas project could have contributed, but that is not good according to the tree huggers either) but you bet your bottom dollar the "Peace" part of GreenPeace will not be around if you try to build one of those either. And then - the Climate Change advisor for the Australian Government conceded on live radio the other day that you will not see temperatures drop for about 1000yrs even if we all hit the emission targets.

      Derrick - 2011-03-29 10:42

      I have to agree, I wanted to go solar on my house and it was gonna cost me thousands of rands. I then considered wind power which one would imagine is cheaper. It's just a pricey. To invest in one of these technologies it would take about 10-15 years to see a ROI, I can't remember if that included battery replacements.

  • ZACynic - 2011-03-29 09:52

    What a bunch of hypocrites. Baseload we can choose either Nuclear or Coal. That's it. If you don't like these options, run your laptop on a Kool-Aid energy extractor, or your exercise bicycle. LOL. In truth, there is no 'environmentally friendly' way of generating large scale power: 1. Wind turbines are expensive and hugely dependent on the vagaries of the weather - i.e. when the wind doesn't blow they generate squat. 2. Solar energy stops working when the sun sets (i.e. when enverybody wants power to cook!) and sterlise huge areas of land - environmental impact there too. Also if you want to store the energy, you have to use batteries - not exactly the world's most environmentally friendly product either. 3. Hydro - South Africa doesn't have any to speak of, and the World Bank is under huge pressure from environmentalists about the damage that dams cause to the environment. Do we're damned if we use Nuclear, and damned if we use coal for baseload. Take your dirty pick.

      Ross - 2011-03-29 10:51

      I pick coal because it generates jobs. They don't want Coal, they don't want Nuclear and the rest won't generate enough power. Maybe we should wear our animal skins and move back to the mountains.

  • Fikile - 2011-03-29 11:10

    A Feed in tariff, then everyone that can afford it put up a wind generators and PV cells. Oops I forget those are the people that are subsidising the rest of the non paying consumers and industrial users.

  • Rodney - 2011-03-29 12:16

    Hw safe is nuclear power? As clean as it is hw do we manage the radio-active waste,b look at fukushima! How reliable is solar or wind power? Hw do u manage hydro power in tyms of drought? Wat happens to the bio-diversity that relies on the flow of the rivers wen the hydro stations r being built? Has anyone visited Arnot Power station in mpumalanga and seen the latest developments in cutting out the pollution from their chimneys n let's nt confuse.chimneys with the steam towers!! Ryt nw coal fired power stations are the solution

  • Common_Sense - 2011-03-29 12:46

    Does South Africa really expect to gain the respect of the rest of the world in leading the fight for greener, cleaner energy? Please. When it comes to global perceptions we are fast becoming the laughing stock in everything we do. In AIDS we failed miserably by flippantly tossing asside science as if it was an old wives tail. In foreign policy we are fast overtaking the US for blatant contradictions and double standards when it comes to the message we attempt to portray - Haiti, Myanmar, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Libya. I mean how exactly are you meant to enforce a no-fly zone you voted for without some sort of force Mr. Zuma? In education, probably our single biggest failure, we have turned an education system rated as one of the best in the world into a national disaster ensuring that the only way black youths will ever get a decent start in life is if it is handed to them on a plate, sight affirmative action and BEE. This in spite of spending more on education than the rest of Africa combined. Service Delivery, fail. Housing construction, fail. Anti-corruption, fail. Now lets get on to energy. Eskom, our energy monopoly managed by incompetant ANC cadres better suited for typing jobs at Luthuli House. Failure to plan for energy growth despite countless warnings. The Koeburg incident followed more recently by the Duvha power station incident and costing the consumer and tax payer billions. And now we are intending to host a UN summit on climate change and clean energy. What a joke. It's quite incredible that SA does actually hold some weight when it comes to global policies but make no mistake, this is solely to do with our stance as the leading economy in Africa, our leading industries in mining and other technologies, and the colony guilt factor from the west, all positive legacies from the apartheid era. However when countries look at the present South Africa, although they wish us well, it is plain for them to see that we are fast becoming like EVERY OTHER COUNTRY GOVERNED BY AFRICANS. A country ruled by fear, incompetance, greed, corruption and bad governance. The sad thing is that this government has absolutely no incentive to change since provided people keep voting for them, the more they will keep lining their pockets and the more you will read stories about lavish spending trips to NYC. SA leading the charge in the fight for a greener future...hahaha.

  • MakeSense - 2011-05-05 12:15

    Unfortunately South African electricity generation has mainly come from coal. The ever-increasing eletricity demand from both industrial companies and the need to maintain a GDP growth of above 6.3% year on year, will be jeopardised if we invest in other sources. Lest i be misinterpreted, these alternative sources will provide good electricity but patience will have to be exercised as such projects may take 5 to 15 years to become reality. The Kyoto protocol was a good measure by the UNFCCC and I for one believe that countries such as China should be classified as Annex 1 because it is a major polluter.

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