Sunday, January 16

(Empty) promises of ‘clean coal’ power generation technologies for South Africa

The promises of new coal-fired power generation capacity in South Africa (after the Medupi and Kusile power plants), and in particular, the promise of ‘clean coal’ technologies, has long been on the planning line. of the country, but it may have been brief. of a reality check as to actual delivery potential.

In terms of the previous Integrated Resource Plan for South Africa Electricity, IRP 2010 – 2030, the construction of a new 6,250 MW coal power plant was planned for 2030, in addition to Eskom’s 4800 MW Medupi coal power and Kusile. stations that were still under construction at the time.


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In 2014, as part of this plan, the Office of Independent Power Producers (IPP) of the then Department of Energy began a process to acquire 2,500 MW of coal-fired electricity from IPPs, in the first rounds of the so-called Coal Baseload IPP. Procurement program.

In 2016, two preferred consortia were finally announced as a result of the first bid window: one is the Thabametsi project in the coal-rich Waterberg area in Limpopo, and the other is the IPP Khanyisa project near Emalahleni in Mpumalanga.

The Thabametsi coal-fired power plant would be located on the outskirts of the city of Lephalale and would have been largely owned by Marubeni Corporation of Japan and South Korean energy company Kepco. The first phase of the project would have a capacity of 557 MW, with the expected final capacity of 1200 MW.

Khanyisa’s 306 MW coal-fired power plant would have used waste coal from the Kleinkopje thermal coal mine, which was previously owned by Anglo American, and would have been largely owned by Saudi Arabia’s power company, ACWA Power.

Both the Thabametsi and Khanyisa power plants had to be designed around circulating fluidized bed (CFB) boiler technology operating at subcritical pressure and temperature, yielding efficiencies of approximately 32%.

However, despite obtaining preferred bidder status in 2016, neither the Thabametsi nor Khanyisa coal power projects were able to achieve financial closure by 2021. Both projects were ultimately abandoned when commercial banks withdrew their funding, amidst multiple legal challenges regarding the weather. change, water license, air pollution and environmental concerns.

It is therefore quite remarkable that South Africa’s latest Integrated Electricity Resource Plan, IRP 2019, still foresees 1,500 MW of new coal-fired power generation capacity by 2030, with the first 750 MW scheduled to enter the grid in 2023, and the second 750 MW planned for 2027.

It is practically inconceivable that financial institutions are financing such new coal generating capacity in South Africa.

But even if this were possible, it is evidently impossible for 750 MW of new coal-fired generation capacity to be built to supply electricity to the grid by 2023.

DMRE goes ahead

However, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) seems oblivious to these “challenges.”

DMRE Minister Gwede Mantashe has already issued a Section 34 determination under the Electricity Regulation Act for the 1,500 MW of new coal-fired power generation capacity by 2030 detailed in the 2019 IRP. He has also indicated that the Office of IPP will issue a request for proposals before the end of 2021 for the first tranche of 750 MW, through a new bidding window of the Coal Baseload IPP Procurement program.

While few details are provided regarding the specific characteristics of the technologies to be used for the 1,500 MW of new coal-fired power generation capacity, the 2019 IRP expresses a preference for high-efficiency, low-emission technologies (HELE ). These would include underground coal gasification, integrated gasification combined cycle, carbon capture utilization and storage, ultra-supercritical, supercritical technologies and the like.

IRP 2019 continues to claim that the previous Coal Baseload IPP Procurement program has demonstrated that there is a business case for the smallest (300 MW and 600 MW) coal and modular power plants, ignoring the fact that the Thabametsi and Khanyisa projects have been abandoned.

Meanwhile, a new report by Dr. Ranajit (Ron) Sahu, internationally renowned coal power plant expert, confirms that the proposed 1500 MW of new coal power generation capacity will cause significant air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, including using the cleanest technology available today.

Sahu, an engineer with more than 30 years of experience in power plant design, has evaluated potential air emissions from the most likely types of HELE technology that could be used, as part of a report commissioned by the Center for Environmental Rights ( CER) for groundWork, the Vukani Environmental Movement in Action and the African Climate Alliance.

WATCH: Chris Yelland interviews Dr. Ranajit (Ron) Sahu

Sahu has found that even in the best of cases, using the cleanest technology available, large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions are unavoidable.

In particular, Sahu considered two likely technologies that could be used: pulverized coal units and circulating fluidized bed technology. It found that pulverized coal units, even when operating at ultra-supercritical efficiency, will not be able to capture emitted carbon dioxide due to extremely high costs.

In the case of circulating fluidized bed technology, which the IRP considers preferable due to its ability to handle low-quality coal, Sahu found that this technology emits two to ten times more nitrous oxide than pulverized coal technologies. Nitrous oxide is a powerful and long-lasting greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 300 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.

Sahu further concluded that none of the so-called ‘clean coal’ technologies could meet the IRP 2019 requirements if they are proven in service, economically viable and deliverable within the required time frames by 2030.

“I want to emphasize that, contrary to the implications of the 2019 RIP and the ministerial determination, there is simply no ‘clean coal’, regardless of whether HELE technologies are used to minimize atmospheric emissions from coal (or gas derived from coal), Sahu says.

The report is the latest research to support the view that the new generation of coal in South Africa will be unnecessary, expensive and highly damaging to the environment. Go on previous research in the coal cycle (mining, production, supply and disposal) showing that “clean coal” is currently an impossibility.

“The new generation of coal contravenes the obligation of the South African government under international and South African law, including the South African Constitution, to take all reasonable measures to protect its population from the impacts of climate change.”

It is clear that not only is it impossible to substantially and sufficiently mitigate the harmful effects of burning coal and the associated high greenhouse gas emissions, but also that the more efficient a coal plant is, the more expensive it is.

This makes coal-fired power even less competitive with cleaner alternatives, and begs the question: Why pay more for so-called ‘clean coal’ technologies when there are cleaner, cheaper alternatives that create more jobs, use less water and have a much lower greenhouse effect? Gas emissions?

Certainly from the Sahu report it would appear that South Africa’s coal mining, coal transport and coal burning industries are being fed with empty promises of new and clean coal power generation, which are unlikely to materialize at all. time. Jokes from the energy sector suggest that these empty promises may simply be meant to keep noisy coal sector stakeholder groups quiet with optimistic and misguided hope.

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Chris Yelland is editor of EE Business Intelligence

This article cannot be published without the written permission of EE Business Intelligence.

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