Slowing coal-fired energy station decommissioning: A sensible transfer or sheer lunacy?

The South African authorities has mentioned slowing down the decommissioning of previous coal-fired energy stations resulting from a extreme electrical energy scarcity that’s inflicting rolling blackouts. Eskom, the state-owned electrical energy provider, at the moment makes use of solely half of its put in technology capability of 48GW. The Built-in Useful resource Plan of 2019 had projected the decommissioning of as much as 35GW price of coal-fired energy stations by 2050. Nonetheless, greater than 10GW of that was due by 2030, and 6GW by 2023. Vegter argues that the transfer in direction of renewable vitality sources in South Africa is being rushed and that the excessive value and technical difficulties concerned in renewable vitality have to be thought of. The article additionally notes that indoor air air pollution, notably in rural and township kitchens, is a far larger risk to the well being of South Africans than air air pollution brought on by coal-fired energy vegetation.

In the event you want electrical energy, don’t decommission energy stations

By Ivo Vegter*

A particular cupboard assembly on Wednesday mentioned slowing down the decommissioning of previous coal-fired energy stations. It’s one of many smarter concepts we’ve seen in current months.

If you’re critically in need of electrical energy provide – a lot so that you simply want rolling blackouts for as much as ten hours per day – it’s sheer lunacy to be speaking of decommissioning functioning energy stations.

The Built-in Useful resource Plan of 2019 tasks progressive decommissioning of as much as 35GW price of coal-fired energy stations by 2050, with greater than 10GW of that due by 2030, and 6GW due by 2023.

In actuality, Eskom at the moment makes use of solely simply over half of its put in technology capability of 48GW. This has mired South Africa into persistently excessive phases of load-shedding, which along with load curtailment (which rations electrical energy to giant industrial customers) has meant Eskom couldn’t provide as much as 8GW of electrical energy demand, which these days has been hovering north of 32GW.

That is the context through which we should take into account the proposed decommissioning of coal-fired energy stations, which had been deliberate in much less gloomy days to make approach for renewable vitality alternate options.

Learn extra: Eskom’s ‘massive lie’ about energy station breakdowns – age will not be the perpetrator


On Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa known as a particular Cupboard assembly to debate a plan by electrical energy minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa to decelerate the phase-out of coal-fired energy stations.

Some commentators have been fast out of the blocks with objections. Delaying the shuttering of coal-fired vegetation would, in keeping with some critics, jeopardise the $8.5 billion in bribes supplied by the so-called Simply Power Transition Partnership, consisting of Germany, France, the UK, the US and the EU, to persuade South Africa’s leaders to behave in opposition to its personal finest pursuits and quickly transfer away from coal in favour of photo voltaic and wind vitality.

At the very least the German embassy realised that making a scene over a slower transition can be moderately hypocritical, telling News24 that concrete dates for decommissioning coal-fired energy vegetation are for South Africa to determine, based mostly on technical and vitality safety necessities.

‘Germany itself has been compelled to quickly postpone the decommissioning of a few of its coal-based energy technology in an effort to safeguard vitality safety,’ unnamed embassy sources reportedly mentioned.

The article additionally highlights estimated deaths from air air pollution brought on by Eskom’s coal-fired energy stations, based mostly on a report produced by the Helsinki-based Centre for Analysis on Power and Clear Air (CREC).

The CREC couldn’t discover sufficient issues to unravel in rich, capitalist Finland, so it determined to poke its nostril into our enterprise.

It additionally informed us that plans to quickly exempt Kusile from full flue-gas scrubbing guidelines to allow it to carry three broken items on-line sooner may – they estimate wildly – kill 680 individuals by ailments brought on by air pollution.

Learn extra: SA’s Parliament: Shambolic governance and the pressing vitality disaster

Air pollution

After all, the air air pollution of coal-fired energy stations is not any joke. However neither is indoor air air pollution.

Way more South Africans are uncovered to indoor air air pollution than to outside air air pollution. Air pollution ranges brought on by wood- or coal-fed cooking and heating fires in rural and township kitchens is usually a thousand occasions worse than nationwide air high quality requirements.

What the meddling Fins did not account for, was the truth that load-shedding considerably will increase the danger of respiratory illness, acute toxicity, or fires brought on by thousands and thousands of individuals turning to indoor fires for cooking and heating. Particular person circumstances are not often reported, however they’re horrific. Globally, deaths resulting from indoor air air pollution exceed deaths brought on by outside air air pollution.

What each articles additionally fail to level out is that air air pollution, whether or not indoors or open air, is just a really small contributor to the disability-adjusted life years misplaced for South Africans:

Poverty is one other main explanation for lowered life high quality and untimely loss of life. Inasmuch as load-shedding causes unemployment, enterprise closures, misplaced revenues and decrease financial progress, it causes poverty.

Learn Extra: Andrew Kenny: Life or loss of life as Kusile Energy Station faces essential determination on air pollution


So, the environmentalists, unsurprisingly, are cherry-picking information to level out solely the adverse results of conserving coal-fired energy vegetation operating, with out declaring the optimistic outcomes of getting ample electrical energy accessible to extend residing requirements and provide individuals a safer, more healthy substitute to burning carbon-based fuels proper of their properties.

One may go additional, and argue that the strain upon South Africa to hurry right into a renewable vitality future itself runs opposite to the nation’s finest pursuits.

Environmental activists are keen on declaring that the worth of photo voltaic and wind is now lower than the price of gasoline, coal or nuclear vitality. However that’s solely true in case you’re very selective about the way you calculate your prices.

Photo voltaic and wind may be low-cost on the gate, however that gate is usually very removed from the place the ability is required. As a result of particular person photo voltaic or wind farms are very small (on the order of 100MW), an enormous quantity of transmission infrastructure is required to attach them to the grid.

Moreover, as a result of photo voltaic and wind will not be dependable, and can’t be turned on and off to match demand, they both require large grid storage capability, which is dear and technically troublesome, or they require backup within the type of fossil-fuel-fired energy stations. Each of those make renewable vitality far costlier than the worth tag first seems.


Within the UK, which has guess massive on renewables, the worth of electrical energy for non-domestic use (which not like home energy payments has not been subsidised) tripled in nominal phrases, and greater than doubled in actual phrases, within the final 20 years.

Typically, the extra international locations or states depend on grid-scale renewable vitality, the costlier their electrical energy turns into. Germany’s vaunted Energiewende (and its hare-brained abandonment of nuclear vitality) has made its electrical energy the most costly in Europe. Denmark, which will get greater than half of its vitality from wind, is a detailed second. In contrast, international locations that rely extra closely on coal, pure gasoline, nuclear or hydro-power have electrical energy costs properly under common.

Given the dire state of South Africa’s electrical energy infrastructure, we can’t afford something that may make electrical energy costlier than it completely must be, and can’t afford something that may in any approach curtail the quantity of obtainable electrical energy.

Let the wealthy international locations, who grew to become wealthy on the again of fossil fuels, fear about their very own continued reliance on coal each time it fits them, and let international locations like South Africa use the very best combine it may well give you, it doesn’t matter what the supply.

Learn extra: The coal play: Eskom energy stations that may put a cease to loadshedding


I might like to see a future with out coal. I might like to see a future that relied closely on clear, plentiful nuclear vitality. I’m sceptical that so-called renewables will ever out-compete nuclear, gasoline or coal, in actual phrases, but when they do, good for them. Non-public suppliers are free to compete to ship dependable electrical energy on the lowest costs doable. How they accomplish that doesn’t matter to me.

Residential and industrial photo voltaic additionally makes plenty of sense, offered you’re a property proprietor. It doesn’t work for renters, or for the overwhelming majority of South Africans whose whole homes value lower than a half-decent photo voltaic set up.

At grid scale, to artificially prohibit South Africa’s electrical energy technology in ways in which may elevate the worth of electrical energy, elevate the prices to Eskom, or elevate the danger of load-shedding, is not only unreasonable; it’s immoral.

Allow us to rely the price of insufficient electrical energy provide, the price of indoor air air pollution, the price of deindustrialisation, and the price of poverty and unemployment, earlier than we bow to the environmental whims of the city elites at residence and the neo-colonialists of the wealthy world hoping to suborn poor international locations to scrub up the supposed environmental mess the wealthy international locations made within the first place.


The world’s local weather objectives – even when we assume they’re each cheap and crucial, which they aren’t – don’t rely to any nice extent on South Africa.

Allow us to first generate sufficient electrical energy to re-ignite financial progress, and to construct a prudent reserve to deal with fluctuations in demand and unplanned upkeep, earlier than we begin pondering of luxuries that please Finnish activists corresponding to decarbonising our electrical energy combine.

Solely then can we future-proof our electrical energy sector, ideally by investing in new nuclear expertise, moderately than spoiling the countryside with windmills and photo voltaic farms and hundreds of kilometres of latest transmission pylons.

Credit score

There was a time when one may give substantial credit score to the ANC for rolling out water and electrical energy infrastructure to the townships and rural areas that the apartheid regime so cruelly uncared for.

These days are lengthy gone, sadly. These days, one can not often give the ANC credit score for something, particularly not relating to electrical energy.

On this case, nonetheless, we should give credit score the place it’s due. Within the face of crippling electrical energy shortages, Ramokgopa and Ramaphosa are fairly proper to be reluctant to decommission working energy stations. Run them for so long as they continue to be economically viable.

*Ivo Vegter is a contract journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses matters from the attitude of particular person liberty and free markets. Observe him on Twitter, @IvoVegter.

This text was first printed by Day by day Pal and is republished with permission

The views of the author will not be essentially the views of the Day by day Pal or the IRR

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