JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The use of coal to generate power in South Africa would only stop when the resource was depleted, and not because it would be replaced by renewable energy, XMP Consulting senior coal analyst Xavier Prevost said on Tuesday.
South Africa, the world’s sixth-largest coal producer, aims to move away from its 93% dependence on coal for power as it undertakes to reduce domestic greenhouse-gas emissions by 34% against a ‘business as usual’ baseline by 2020.
Renewable energy forms a key part of the country’s Integrated Resource Plan, or IRP, which envisages that renewable energy technologies will contribute 42%, or 17 800 MW, of South Africa’s new generation capacity by 2030.
But, Prevost said coal, which earns the highest foreign exchange earnings for South Africa, would continue to play a role into the future.
Speaking at the Fossil Fuel Foundation’s 16th Southern African Conference on Clean Coal to Clean Energy, he added that there were many challenges related to the application of the IRP, particularly funding.
The South African government, he believed, did not take into account the reality of the costs associated with renewables.
“When we enter the renewable energy space and compete internationally, electricity prices will be affected with higher prices coming on line. This will further affect industries [as is currently], business and economic growth,” he told Mining Weekly Online.
The main challenge surrounding coal, Prevost pointed out, was that people did not adequately understand the concept of clean coal technologies.
“The way forward for the coal industry is to clean coal to such an extent that it would be impossible to say that it emits carbon dioxide.”
South Africa needed to move forward in developing clean coal technology solutions, as the country looks to mining coal in areas that are deep and difficult for mining, such as in the Waterberg region, where the coal was found in layers unlike the seams of the Central basin.
One solution, which Prevost strongly advocated for was underground coal gasification (UCG), which he believed would soon be applied in South Africa.
He added that this application of UCG would be a “surprise” for Eskom as there was “serious money” being invested into research.
He also believed that mining the Waterberg region was not for small mining companies. “Mining has to be done on a large scale as the tectonics of the region are complicated.”
With regards to shale gas exploration and fracking, Prevost said that it was “more a dream than a reality”. He added that there was not enough gas in the shale to make it possible. “It has been successful in the US, but this is a different country.”
Meanwhile, while logistics and materials handling in the coal sector was a significant challenge constraining South Africa’s competitiveness, the controversial nationalisation debate was also hurting investor sentiment contrary to Minister Susan Shabangu’s view, Prevost said.