Why coal

Despite negative media coverage about its future, coal is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Renewable energy has been proven unreliable for base load electricity supply, leaving only the alternatives nuclear, hydro and coal. Nuclear is prohibitively capital intensive, hydro is hamstrung by the global water shortage which leaves coal-fired power generation. In addition, a large volume of coal continues to be used in numerous industrial processes other than power generation. Many of these processes are dependent on coal with no practical substitutes. It is forecast that by 2030 the world will be short of 380 million tonnes of seaborne thermal coal due primarily to increased or at worst steady consumption, coupled with decreased production due to mines reaching end of life, lack of investment and production cut backs in China.

In the African context and as highlighted by Miriam Mannack in the article “Power for Progress”, Africa urgently needs power. Approximately 620 million Africans rely on firewood, kerosene and charcoal for cooking, heating and lighting and the African Development Bank says that 600 000 Africans, mainly women and children, die prematurely every year due to illnesses caused by indoor air pollution. In addition, Africa’s population is expected to double to 2.5 billion by 2050. Besides this, the use of charcoal and firewood leads to alarming deforestation with Zambia, as an example, losing 250 000 to 300 000 hectares of forest annually.

Furthermore, off and on-grid renewables have a role but cannot support base load requirements. In 2017, seven million tonnes of coal was exported from South Africa to the African continent. This is forecast to rise to 38 million tonnes by 2030 and Botswana has a significant role to play going forward by utilising the South Africa handling facilities, the most sophisticated in Africa.

Demand for coal

  • In the World Energy Outlook 2016 report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that coal will remain the largest single source of electricity generation through to 2040.
  • The World Coal Association sees coal playing a crucial role in meeting global energy demand.
  • Coal still makes up 41% of global electricity generation and 29% of primary energy demand.
  • Coal will continue to play a major role in delivering energy access and security long into the future