Coal to stay - but SA to clean, diversify

Chris Bathembu

2 December 2011

South Africa will probably continue to make use of coal as its primary source of energy, but will increasingly explore clean energy initiatives as it moves towards a lower-carbon economy, says Energy Minister Dipuo Peters.

Addressing journalists at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban on Thursday, Peters said the government could not ignore the fact that South Africa was a coal-rich economy, "nor can we ignore the significant contribution of the coal mining industry towards the economy".

Environmentalists critical

Her comments came as protesters outside Durban International Convention Centre, venue for COP 17, called on the government to consider alternatives that would cut the country's use of coal.

The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently taking place in Durban.

Environmentalists both in South Africa and abroad have criticised the decision by the World Bank to grant South Africa a US$3.75-billion loan to build the world's fourth-largest coal-fired power plant, in Mpumalanga.

Last year, South Africa had an estimated 32-billion tons of coal reserves, which at current local consumption rates could last the economy more than 100 years.

Environmental lobby group Greenpeace Africa says more than 90% of South Africa's electricity comes from coal, and that SA is coal's fifth-largest producer and sixth-largest consumer.

Govt 'committed to cutting emissions'

Peters maintained, however, that the government was committed to reducing the country's total carbon emissions, citing President Jacob Zuma's pledge in Copenhagen two years ago that South Africa would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent over the next decade and by 42 percent by 2025.

She said the recent signing of the Green Economy Accord by the government, business and trade unions marked a "milestone" in the move towards clean energy policies in South Africa.

The government aimed to achieve its target of installing one-million solar water heaters in SA homes by 2014, and to secure commitments from the private sector for other renewable energy needs, Peters said.

Clean coal technologies

The accord also committed the state to an increased focus on advancing clean coal technologies through projects such as underground coal gasification as well as carbon capture and storage.

The minister said carbon capture technology remained a key mitigation option for the country, and the energy sector was committed to implementing it.

The government's Integrated Resource Plan for renewable energy was also expected to generate more than 3 700 megawatts of power through various alternative technologies, including gas, wind, hydro and solar power.

"If we are serious about diversification towards a low-carbon economy, we cannot ignore the role that natural gas can play as a bridging option in this transition, because natural gas emits significantly lower greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels," Peters added.

South Africa imports a substantial amount of gas from neighbouring Mozambique, and there are plans to construct a gas-powered fire plant with 140MW capacity through a joint venture between Sasol and Mozambique's power utility.

Source: BuaNews

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