Proponents of coal as an energy source, The Fossil Fuel Foundation (FFF) has argued strongly for coal to be retained as a sustainable part of South Africa’s energy mix for the short to medium term during a presentation it made to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Energy
“Contrary to the popular belief that ‘coal is dead’, South Africa’s coal resources are abundant and can provide low-emitting, cost-effective reliable and sustainable power well into the future with the correct technology,” the FFF said during public hearings into the draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2018.
The organisation has called for an in-depth review of all energy sources, believing that the current IRP draft is over reliant on solar and wind energy. The FFF has appealed to government to appoint appropriate experts to undertake studies into all energy sources, to ensure the most appropriate energy mix.
The organisation said coal was the country’s highest foreign exchange earner, with R120-billion generated in sales for 2017. The FF argues that coal is also the largest mining income earner, beating gold, platinum and diamonds and that the coal industry employs 225 000 people
The FFF is advocating for circulating fluidised-bed combustion (CFBC) technology to be implemented. CFBC is a clean coal technology with lower emissions, when coal is co-fired with biomass.
“We need to ensure base load power for the country on a secure and reliable basis, including adding coal fired CFBC independent power producers and Eskom retrofits” explained Dr. Rosemary Falcon, co-founder of FFF. She was supported by Council for Geoscience senior scientist Dr Nandi Malumbazo.
”CFBC is flexible, tolerant, efficient, water-constrained and can be applied to ensure the optimal use of a range of low-grade materials, such as coal,” Malumbazo clarified. She said that said CFBC was proving to be the boiler technology of choice in many energy-intensive countries including Spain, India, China and Vietnam.
The FFF said that use of clean coal in Kenya’s Amu ‘Clean Coal’ power station was used as an example of how things could work in South Africa, thus reducing at a significant level the emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide emissions. The FFF has not indicated what the cost would be to migrate to the new CFBC technology.
If parliament agrees to FF’s proposal, supported by government’s own Council for Geoscience, it may lead to a decline in investment in renewable energy. This could spell problems for the Northern Cape economy, which has been benefitting from the foreign investment made by Independent Power Producers.