Source – Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town.
Source – Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town.
In the early morning smog and heat of Ahmedabad city, in the Indian state of Gujarat, the 400MW Torrent coal-fired power station looms over homes and businesses that huddle a stone’s throw away from the plant.
The scene is emblematic of a nation in thrall to its need for energy.
According to SM Krishna, the country’s minister for external affairs, India wants to achieve a double-digit growth rate by 2012, up from the 9% projected for the coming year.
Astronomical growth such as this is a basic necessity to provide for a population of more than a billion people, particularly if it aims to lift a further 185-million people out of poverty by 2015, Krishna said.
But a secure supply of electricity is crucial to meeting those targets and India’s appetite for energy is good news for South Africa, as the Asian tiger looks outwards for energy resources.
SA coal imports to increase
Coal imports from South Africa hit a reported 17-million tonnes last year and are likely to increase.
“We are planning substantial coal imports from other countries. Even though we have coal, it is not up to the mark,” said Krishna.
He noted that, with Australia and Indonesia, South Africa is a likely source for increased coal imports.
Moves are already afoot to increase coal procurement, with state-owned Coal India, which provides 80% of India’s coal demand, setting aside six billion rupees ($135-million) to buy coal mines in the United States, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa, local newspaper The Hindu reported.
While South Africa faces looming power shortages in the coming years, the odds seem surmountable when held up against the challenges that a country the size of India faces.
Challenges for India
The nation relies chiefly on thermal power generation — or electricity from oil, gas and coal-fired power stations.
The energy mix, according to the country’s ministry of power, is made up of 65% from thermal power, 24% from hydropower, 3% from nuclear power and 8% from renewable sources.
Unlike South Africa, where electricity generation and transmission falls mainly on to the state utility, Eskom, India began work to reform its electricity sector a decade ago.
It has split its generation, transmission and distribution networks.
Generation has been opened to independent power producers, distribution networks have remained with the state but have been corporatised to improve efficiency, while transmission has remained state run, according to Debajit Palit of The Energy and Resources Institute.
Palit said the process had begun to bear fruit, particularly when it comes to curbing technical losses and improving non-payment.
He estimated that technical losses decreased from about 40% to about 20% while tariff collection in some regions is up 90%.
But the country faces huge challenges, particularly when it comes to providing electricity to the rural poor.
A report released by the International Energy Agency in March noted that 64.5% of India is electrified, with a 93.1% electrification rate in urban settings but only 52,5% in rural areas.
Demand for more
But when 850-million people, or around 70% of the population, live in the rural areas, a huge number of Indians still need access to power.
And, despite the room created for private sector players, only 13% of the country’s 164500MW of installed capacity is provided by independent power providers.
More than half the capacity is generated by the federal state sector (India has 28 states) with the rest, or 34%, coming from the central government.
This is compared with South Africa’s total installed capacity of just over 40000MW, almost entirely sourced from Eskom.
“Although India has considerably improved its generating capacity, it still has difficulty in meeting demand and there are persistent power shortages, which constrain India’s economic growth,” said the report.
“With the development of the industrial and commercial sectors, as well as the wider use of electrical equipment, electricity demand keeps increasing.”
It stated that in 20 years’ time India will need to increase its capacity to a massive 96 0000MW.
Implications for climate change
This has huge implications for climate change. But the country, and its fellow Asian powerhouse, China, is reluctant to subordinate its much-needed development in the name of going green — particularly in the light of Western nations, which have been free to pollute the planet to reach their current levels of wealth and economic development.
“We believe sustainable development is good for all. But we have millions of people who require access to commercial power and have none,” said Vivek Katju, a senior official in India’s ministry of external affairs.
“There can’t be a shift in the world’s fundamental approach to climate change. But countries with historical responsibilities must discharge those responsibilities.”
In a bid to address concerns about climate change India is planning to increase its nuclear power production extensively.
It hopes to take the share of nuclear power production from the current 5 000MW to about 20 000MW by 2020.
Meanwhile, the nation makes do. India’s businesses have worked around the problems of power shortages either by installing generators or by building their own captive power plants to ensure security of supply.
One such example is Hero Honda Motors in Delhi. It is the largest manufacturer of two-wheeled motor vehicles in the world, producing a bike every 18 seconds.
The company has a 20MW plant that runs on furnace oil and natural gas to keep it going 24/7.
“We need power all the time – we can’t rely on the grid,” a company manager said.
As for the millions of rural and urban poor, fire and lantern light is the only option until power reaches them.Source – Mail and Guardian
The world’s top polluter, China, is a surprise leader in clean energy efforts, a study showed Tuesday, outstripping the United States and Japan and leaving Australia lagging far behind.
The Vivid Economics report, commissioned by Australia’s Climate Institute thinktank, showed China was second only to Britain in the value of its incentives to cut pollution from electricity generation.
Britain’s efforts were estimated at 29.30 US dollars per tonne of carbon to China’s 14.20 US dollars, with the United States clocking 5.10, Japan 3.10, Australia 1.70 and just 70 US cents for South Korea.
The six countries account for just under half of all global emissions.
“The Chinese leadership have made a strategic decision that they missed out on the last two industrial revolutions and they don’t want to miss out on the third one,” said Erwin Jackson, director of the Climate Institute, of China’s “surprising” dominance.
“They are now commanding the largest market share of clean energy investment at a global level as a result,” Jackson told AFP.
China’s investment in clean energy topped 35 billion US dollars in 2009 compared with 11 billion in Britain and 18 billion in the United States, and Jackson said it was set to increase tenfold over the next decade.
The main driver of China’s performance was its commitment to shutting down more than 100 small coal-fired power plants for cleaner coal stations by 2011, which the report said would reduce emissions by 15 percent.
It also offered subsidies worth billions of yuan for green energy projects, aiming to generate 15 percent of the nation’s total energy from renewable sources by 2020.
In Japan, 10 major power producers had joined a voluntary scheme aiming to cut emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2012, a major initiative which accounted for more than half of its clean energy rating.
Variations of an emissions cap-and-trade system were in place in South Korea, Britain, Tokyo, and parts of the United States, the report said.
The study said there were few policies which applied directly to coal, despite the fact it was the major source of fuel and carbon pollution for the six countries.
It also warned that none of the countries was on track to meet reduction targets agreed after last year’s global climate summit at Copenhagen, with Japan lagging worst in relative terms.
Jackson said the report showed that Europe and China were ahead of the game on pollution reduction investment, far outpacing countries such as Australia — the world’s worst per capita polluter due to its heavy dependence on coal.
Without action to price carbon, he said Australia risked falling foul of anti-pollution taxes, with countries such as Japan and India already taxing imports of coal and similar moves foreshadowed in the United States and Europe.
Australian Climate Change Minister Greg Combet welcomed the report, saying a carbon price “will not only provide an incentive to reduce pollution but also … drive this country’s long-term competitiveness”.
The ruling Labor party in Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, has shelved emissions trading laws after failing to pass them and nearly lost power at August polls, with the eco-minded Greens party winning a record vote share.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, now at the head of a Greens-backed coalition government, has urged penalties for carbon pollution and formed a cross-party committee to investigate the best way to slash emissions.Source – The Times
About 250000 hectares of potentially high-yielding farm land in the Middelburg, Wonderfontein, Hendrina and Ermelo areas in Mpumalanga have been lost as mining companies scramble for prospecting and mining rights in the mineral-rich province.
Many farmers tried all they could to fight off the mining companies
The Transvaal Agricultural Union SA (TAU) says the land expropriated from farmers could have yielded between eight and 10 tons of maize per hectare.
The fields now look like a war zone, filled with heavy trucks and bulldozers, with dust from blasting operations and hills of open-pit mining residuals.
Farmer Piet Kemp, the Ermelo-based TAU SA regional manager for Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, estimates that 15 coal mining companies operate in Ermelo alone and a further 64 have already prospected and are now waiting for mining rights to be granted.
“It seems like the only sector that the government does not want to see is farming. I understand that coal mining has a lot of money and creates many more jobs than agriculture, but we need to think about food production also,” Kemp said.
“Mostly the mines in the province use open-cast mining methods. They remove the top soil in order to reach coal. This leads to coal dust polluting the air, obviously affecting human health and livestock and degrading the environment generally,” he said.
He said farming in the area had come to a virtual standstill as dust from mining explosions coats the grass and prevents cattle from grazing – and also causes plants such as maize and soya beans to fail to pollinate.
“Many livestock farmers were forced to sell because they had to resort to buying feed – and chickens bearing eggs had their capacity severely hampered because they were frightened by the blast noise,” Kemp said.
Farmers complain that they were not adequately consulted about the process. They claim consultation took the form of notices at public places calling for meetings for interested and affected parties.
“Now when you are a farmer, where are you going to find time to produce food for yourself and the rest of the country when you have to constantly go to town and see if the notice is not about your farm?” asked Kemp.
Mining operations along the N2 route from Ermelo to Piet Retief in KwaZulu-Natal are being conducted on wetlands which were home to various endangered species.
The farms on the route are subject to prospecting, or companies are awaiting mining rights.
All the farms are near the Witpunt Spruit which flows into the Vaal River – a source of water for household consumption for about 62% of South Africans.
“You should remember that the problem concerns not only the people in Mpumalanga. The mine drainage carried by the Witpunt Spruit into the Vaal River carries heavy metals which are dangerous for humans. It gets more concentrated as it moves on. I would not want to imagine the rate of concentration by the time it reaches Gauteng,” Kemp said.
He added that many farmers tried all they could to fight off the mining companies, but “these guys (mining companies) have thick chequebooks.
“Let me tell you that if you go to seek legal advice, it can cost a minimum of R100000 just to look into the case. Many people give up because they cannot afford it.”
Kemp and Dr Koos Pretorius, director of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, agree that a handful of companies near the Vaal and the Komati rivers are operating without water licences, even though they have applied for them. This means the manner in which they discharge their waste water is largely unregulated.
Pretorius warned that, in certain areas that have been mined for more than 100 years, the acid mine drainage has polluted rivers to a point where water sources are no longer sustainable for either industrial or human consumption.
Kemp said the situation could have been worse had mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu not put a moratorium on the granting of prospecting rights.
“We hail the decision. But it expires in February. Prior to the moratorium, you would have found more than 20 companies claiming to have prospecting rights because the DMR books are not in order,” he said.
DMR spokesman Jeremy Michaels said that, contrary to complaints from TAU that the department did not have any capacity to conduct inspections, his department does carry out compliance inspections and also responds to complaints as part of its enforcement initiatives.
Source – The Times
South Africa has more coal than it can ever burn, right? If you think this, as many of us do, think again.
Research by international and local scientists has shown that coal, like other resources, is finite and can be expected to comply with peak resources theory.
The theory shows that production in commodities such as oil grows until a peak is reached, whereafter production declines.
In the case of South African coal, the studies show production has already reached its peak, or soon will.
“It is commonly believed that South Africa has abundant coal reserves which will last 200 years or more,” says Jeremy Wakeford, chair of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (Aspo) in South Africa, in the organisation’s latest newsletter.
“But recent research [from] three scientific journals suggests that usable reserves are much smaller than previously thought, and that annual production could reach a peak and begin to decline within a decade — or might even have peaked already.”
Wakeford says that “given the country’s overwhelming dependence on coal, this issue has huge ramifications for our future development path”.
Coal provides 70% of the country’s energy supply, supports 90% of electricity generation, is used to make a quarter of the country’s liquid fuels using the Sasol process and is a big earner of foreign exchange through exports to foreign users.
Geologist Chris Hartnady, in a paper to be published in the SA Journal of Science, has forecast peak production in 2020 at about 285-million tonnes a year.
This compares with total production last year of 242-million tons. This was mostly used by Eskom (123-million tonnes), Sasol (40-million tonnes) and export (66-million tonnes).
Eskom’s current expansion programme could use an additional 50-million tonnes, and if the Sasol Mafutha project goes ahead it will need another 20-million tonnes annually, says Wakeford.
David Rutledge, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, has meanwhile forecast South African production to peak in 2011 at about 253-million tonnes a year.
This is supported by research by two American professors, says Wakeford, Tadeusz Patzek and Gregory Croft, published this year in the journal Energy.
“They estimate that South Africa’s coal production from existing coal fields, when measured in energy units, peaked in 2007.
“They further contend that future mines are unlikely to reverse the trend since the economics of mining dictates that most accessible reserves are mined earlier on, so that the net energy return from the coal mining declines while the production costs rise over time,” says Wakeford.
Eskom chief executive Brian Dames bemoaned the poor quality of coal Eskom is receiving in a briefing to parliamentarians earlier this month. Dames said that Eskom was losing 1 000 megawatts of power each day because of the low quality of coal it was being supplied.
He warned that the utility may have to start paying higher prices to improve the quality of its coal supplies and that these costs would be passed on to consumers.
Hartnady said that between 2003 and 2004 the then department of minerals and energy downsized substantially South Africa’s coal reserves from about 50-billion tonnes to 30-billion tonnes.
Reserve data is so open to interpretation and, you could say, manipulation, that peak resource theorists typically base their analyses on actual production data rather than on claims of what is mineable.
Patzek and Croft in their article, which was published in May this year, said that world energy from coal production could peak as early as next year, leading to a spike in coal prices as demand continues to outstrip supply.
They predicted that production rates of coal internationally will decline after 2011, reaching 1990 levels by the year 2037.
They noted that Transnet has had difficulty in achieving the 70-million tonnes nameplate value for the Richard’s Bay Coal Terminal.
They quote acting chief executive Chris Wells, who said that undersupply problems from the mines had led to rail volumes falling over a three-year period.
“Rail volumes last year fell to a very disappointing 61.9-million tonnes, capping a three-year trend in underperformance.”
Wakeford said that the implications of peak coal are stark. “The cost of coal is almost certainly going to maintain a rising trend — albeit with greater volatility — resulting in increasingly expensive electricity and steel.”
“Domestic demand for coal could increasingly compete with exports, raising questions around how the country’s natural resources should best be utilised and the role and rights of privately owned mining companies. This is nothing new in the global energy context.”
Wakeford said that leaving aside social and environmental concerns around carbon dioxide emissions, water scarcity, pollution and health impacts, entrenching dependence on a depleting fossil fuel is taking the country down a cul-de-sac.
He said that the solution is to embark on an aggressive drive for energy conservation and efficiency while diversifying our energy mix away from coal as an imperative. “We should not wait until coal becomes too expensive or scarce, but invest now in renewable energy infrastructure and industries.
“Renewables have proven environmental benefits, are becoming increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels, generate more jobs per rand invested and are essential for South Africa’s long-term sustainable development.Source – Mail and Guardian – Kevin Davie We at www.waterandsolar.co.za want South Africa to start seriously looking now at renewable energy and reduce its need for coal fired power stations. As individuals we can start in our homes by switching to solar water heaters, introducing a greener way of living with greywater systems and rainwater harvesting. Together we can start reducing our homes carbon footprint and our need for coal hungry Eskom.