Nuke, re­new­able: S Africa’s am­bi­tious new en­ergy mix

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

JOHANNESBURG: Heav­ily re­liant on coal-fired elec­tric­ity, South Africa is launch­ing am­bi­tious new projects aimed at di­ver­si­fy­ing its en­ergy sources and avoid­ing the reg­u­lar power cuts that have hob­bled the econ­omy in re­cent years. So­lar and wind en­ergy plants are mush­room­ing across the coun­try while the gov­ern­ment is plan­ning a huge-and con­tro­ver­sial-ex­pan­sion of nu­clear power. But coal is not go­ing away any­time soon.

On the out­skirts of Johannesburg and near the in­dus­trial town of Vere­neeg­ing, six large tur­bines spew white smoke above the des­o­late land­scape. Lethabo ther­mal power sta­tion is gen­er­at­ing 3,600 megawatts (MW) of elec­tric­ity-around eight per­cent of na­tional pro­duc­tion. The Lethabo plant, op­er­ated by the state-owned util­ity firm Eskom, is us­ing in­ex­pen­sive, poor qual­ity coal which is found in abun­dance in this part of the coun­try. “We don’t have big re­sources in wa­ter, so­lar is still ex­pen­sive to build and wind isn’t 100 per­cent re­li­able be­cause wind can’t blow all day long,” said Thomas Con­radie, the Lethabo coal power sta­tion chief.

“The most af­ford­able op­tion to pro­duce the ma­jor­ity of our en­ergy re­mains coal,” which pro­vides 85 per­cent of the coun­try’s en­ergy, he said. Two mega coal plantsMedupi and Kusile-are un­der con­struc­tion and will each have the ca­pac­ity to pro­duce around 4,800 MW. But the gov­ern­ment be­lieves that for South Africa to cut down its ex­ces­sive reliance on coal, it has to ex­pand its nu­clear power gen­er­a­tion-de­spite op­po­si­tion from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and fears that the huge cost could crip­ple the econ­omy. South Africa cur­rently has the sole nu­clear power plant on the con­ti­nent, sit­u­ated at Koe­berg, north of Cape Town. The twin re­ac­tors there con­trib­ute nearly 2,000 MW, a lit­tle over four per­cent of the na­tional power out­put. The gov­ern­ment wants to pump an ex­tra 9,600 MW of nu­clear power into the na­tional grid by build­ing eight new re­ac­tors at an es­ti­mated cost of some $50 bil­lion (46.5 bil­lion eu­ros). China, France, Rus­sia, South Korea and the United States are bid­ding to con­struct the plants, with the win­ner ex­pected to be an­nounced early next year.

‘Re­al­is­tic’ tar­get Apart from nu­clear en­ergy, South Africa is press­ing ahead with re­new­able en­ergy op­tions. “Coal will con­tinue to be one of the sources of elec­tric­ity in South Africa for a fore­see­able pe­riod of time in the fu­ture,” said Brian Mant­lana, di­rec­tor of cli­mate change is­sues at South Africa’s en­vi­ron­ment min­istry. But “what is im­por­tant is how South Africa changes its en­ergy mix go­ing for­ward,” he said. Eskom this year launched its first wind farm near Vre­den­dal in the desert near Namibia. Forty-six wind tur­bines some 115 me­ters tall are gen­er­at­ing 100 MW of elec­tric­ity. Fur­ther north a so­lar scheme is un­der con­struc­tion that is ex­pected to pro­duce an ad­di­tional 100 MW. The out­puts are small so far, but Eskom plans a huge ex­pan­sion of en­ergy from re­new­able sources. —AFP

PRE­TO­RIA: Photo shows a view of a Bio2Watt gas power plant, founded by the French De­vel­op­ment Agency (AFD), where cow ma­nure is used to pro­duce en­ergy that feeds an Eskom grid. — AFP

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