South Africa; land of coal and CO2?


Why we’re still burning coal and why you should be concerned about it.

Firstly, South Africa with it’s 90% reliance on coal for electricity generation, is right up there with the main culprits contributing to the production of greenhouse gasses; on a per-capita basis that is.  Burning of fossil fuels is the main source of CO2 production and thus global warming. Clearly then, we have to apply our minds to alternative sources of energy. That’s easier said than done because not only is such green energy largely inefficient and not practical on a large scale (yet) but it is also very expensive.  For example, coal-based electricity is generated at approximately 44c/unit (kWh). Wind power costs about R1,50/unit to produce.

Eskom’s new Medupi  Power Station will have an installed capacity of 4800 MW (megawatts). By way of comparison, Koeberg Nuclear Power Station generates 1800 MW and the Lesotho Highlands Hydropower Scheme delivers 1000 MW. A wind turbine like the one visible at Coega outside of PE is about 2 MW. In order to power and drive industry in the PE-Uitenhage-Coega industrial hub it would be necessary to set up a wind farm of 1000 such turbines somewhere in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan area. What an eyesore that would be (and probably will not be allowed without great resistance).

Secondly, we need to consider the phenomenon called “peak oil”; the time when maximum extraction of oil is reached. Some might speculate that this moment has already been reached. History has shown that such “fears” have been unfounded. In 1973 there was general panic that the global oil supply could not keep up with demand so the price of crude (and gold for that matter) shot up. The higher oil price triggered a flurry of exploration (mainly into deeper) areas. Huge deposits like the deep Forties Field (3500m) in the North Sea were discovered and likewise the recent Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf Of Mexico, which is at a depth of 7km. It is no different in the case of coal.

Up until now relatively good quality steam coal has been used by thermal power stations but as such deposits run out (and producers find it expedient to rather export their coal) much lower quality coal will be exploited. The consequences of which are horrific. Export coal is in a beneficiated state and is thus relatively clean, containing very little sulphur but untreated low grade coal is an entirely different matter. Such coal is full of impurities and contains very high levels of sulphur which will end up in our atmoshere as sulphur dioxide and return to earth as acid rain; not to mention the CO2 that will be let off. It is such coal which cannot be exported that will be used in Eskom power stations of the future. Lethabo and the proposed Vaal South power stations in the northern Free State are typical. Point being that as current supplies start “running out” we just find more (and of a lesser quality) deeper down.

The northern half of the Free State, Springbok Flats, Waterberg and much of Botswana have huge deposits which could supply a dozen new Lethabo’s for the next century. It’s just so much easier and far more economical to do it that way our environment notwithstanding!  After all, China and India commission at least one of these every month to feed their industrial expansion.

So much for Kyoto and Copenhagen.

The CO2 “Koel is al deur die kerk” methinks! 390ppm today. Point of no return in 10 years time?
Not sure what Obama will or can do about that?  But you and I can do something. We can start by considering solar water heating. After all your geyser is responsible for about 40% of your electricity usage.

Article by Dr Nick Stavrakis (PhD Geology, Pr. Sci Nat)

Nick is a business consultant, providing advisory consulting services to Aquasolar.  After a successful career in the mining and energy industries, including the establishment of three companies listed on the JSE, Nick is semi-retired and consults to Aquasolar on strategic topics such as environmental, technical and economic matters.

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