Report slams Eskom's use of water

2012-10-17 07:32

Cape Town - An environmental report has found that the use of water in electricity production is having a negative impact on the water resources for the country and may have long-term detrimental effects.

The Water Hungry Coal: Burning South Africa's water to produce electricity report produced by environmental organisation Greenpeace argues that the use of coal to produce electricity has resulted in an unsustainable outlook for South Africa's water.

"Ironically, burning coal to produce electricity is an incredibly water intensive process, with a number of serious implications for both water quantity and quality," Greenpeace said.

In Eskom's latest system status bulletin, the utility says that peak demand on Monday was 31 366MW which it met through running at near capacity of 34 250MW.

The utility has been under strain this year as it has been forced to conduct maintenance while avoiding the rolling blackouts that crippled the country in 2008.

Ground water resources

"The demand is increasing and we have not invested early enough," Eskom CEO Brian Dames told News24. "Some of our power plants are 30 and 35 years old; they have to be maintained."

New power plants Kusile and Medupi are scheduled to come online to take some pressure off the existing infrastructure. In particular, the Limpopo plants are expected to reduce the need to run the expensive open cycle gas turbines.

The Greenpeace report indicated the new power stations could have a serious negative impact on water availability.

"If new coal-fired power stations are built, this will reduce the availability and quality of South Africa's water, create stranded assets in the form of coal-fired power stations with limited or no water availability, while also accelerating climate change, which in turn will reduce water availability," the report says.

The report said that coal mining was of particular risk to ground water resources.

"Coal mining has unavoidable impacts on local water resources, both in terms of water consumption and pollution. For both underground and surface mining, groundwater is pumped out to dry the area being mined," it said.

Acid mine water represents a risk to the ground water in Gauteng and recently a Wits graduate discovered that the contamination may not be easily contained.

"That means that even if they build the treatment works further upstream which is what they're planning on doing, it won't matter because the contamination is coming in again," Wits BSc graduate and honours student Kirsten Olsen told News24.

Greenpeace conceded that the new power plants will use the dry cooling technology to reduce water use during operations, but added that this process was more expensive that older generation technology.


"Ironically, dry cooling does reduce water use, but is a less energy-efficient solution, and is also more expensive. Four coal-fired power stations currently use dry-cooling technology in South Africa and both Medupi and Kusile will use this technology," the report says.

The department of water affairs has indicated that water in SA is under stress and indicated that legislation was on the way to protect water.

"We realise that our water resources are under immense pressure from using water and from pollution impacts. We are taking various steps to improve that, even in our legislation where we make provision for the right of the natural water resource," head of the Western Cape regional office in the department of water affairs resource protection section, Wilna Kloppers recently told News24.

Greenpeace, however, argued that there was a lack of accountability with regard to water use in SA.

"The report highlights issues around lack of accountability and transparency in the water and electricity sector as a result of Eskom’s coal addiction, and the country’s coal expansion. It is critical for the people of South Africa to know how scarce water supplies are being allocated, used and polluted."

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  • judith.taylor.56 - 2012-10-17 08:11

    South Africa's water situation is moving beyond critical with no action being taken

      mark.j.porter.5 - 2012-10-17 09:02

      Increase investment in wind energy... SA will never run out of wind. Make it law for every new house to have a solar geyser and water tank. Will take massive pressure off water and energy demands. Not a complete fix but a step in the right direction.

      Andrew Nieuwmeyer - 2013-11-07 08:37

      Looking long term: The new power stations are all dry cooled but will be replacing old water intensive power stations like Komati, Camden, Grootvlei, Arnot, Hendrina, Kriel and others that are all around 40 years old or will be and need to be retired for good over the next 5-15 years. Kusile and Coal 3 are meant to replace them as well as increase supply. Over the longer term Eskom will begin to use less and less water. See: Eskom aims to reduce its water consumption by 260 billion litres a year by 2030.

  • frank.vankaapstad - 2012-10-17 08:27

    Catch 22: Government has to address the shortage of electricity by building new power stations, but neither Government or the electricity consumer can afford to pay a higher price for power generated by cleaner generators. So we end up kicking the can down the road by building more coal power plants to plug the hole in the leaking bath but the fundamental problems remain. Either we need to hope that Mozambique develops it's offshore gas fields very quickly and we can import cleaner burning natural gas from them, or we need to allow foreign energy suppliers to build and operate nuclear facilities in South Africa. But two things are very clear: 1. South Africa will face electricity shortages as well as serious inflation in the cost of electricity in the next few years, and 2. Both Government and all citizens really need to change their attitudes about looking after our limited and precious natural resources.

  • andrew.arnesen - 2012-10-17 08:41

    I've been saying for years that they need to build a desalination plant close to the Mozambique border. It is only 200km to Nelspruit and that is the farming region that needs water security most... This government needs to seriously re-consider their planning and agenda for providing the basic needs of South Africans into the future. Because as we are going now, they are simply ignoring the problems whilst lining their own pockets...

      horst.muller.7330 - 2012-10-17 08:55

      And what energy are we going to use for desalination?

  • andrew.mckenzie.566 - 2012-10-17 09:04

    This is a very poorly researched and written report. Well maintained closed cooling systems used in power stations loose little water. Steam made to power turbines that generate electricity is condensed and the water re-used. Mine acid water has little to do with the subject. Eskom has little choice but to use the abundant coal resources avaible in SA - at least in the shorter term. Only when practical applications of renewables become available on a large scale will they be viable. Of course new investment in fresh water resources would not go amiss! Thats the reality!

  • klasie.kitshoff - 2012-10-17 09:30

    By building a solar powerstation in the place of Medupi, you could do it for +- 20% cheaper (to generate the same amount of electricity). The price of the coal is not included. Now would not that save lots water? But guess who holds 25 % shares in Medupi?

  • denis.dendrinos - 2012-10-17 09:41

    Wind farms don;t use water..... oh tree huggers are to be laughed at right? Cos global wamring is "natural" and water is everywhere and if we dare mention this we're labelled white imperialists trying to stop Africa from developing....... except there are better ways of developing.

  • tony.baxter.737 - 2012-10-17 12:30

    A government bears the responsibility for two main objectives: To safeguard the citizens and to attend to the needs of the people for which they have sworn servanthood. Our government is certainly consistent in that they never fail to disappoint us with both their main responsibilities. All SA government affiliated departments look after themselves first and foremost and if there is anything left over then they might make a half-hearted attempt to put in an appearance at work.

  • - 2012-10-23 11:36

    when ground water is pumped out of a coal mine the chances of purifying it it will be extremely difficult due to the grease and oil which is spilt underground by the working machinery. I have seen this stuff float on the water like a sheet.

  • - 2012-10-23 11:38

    While most of us are proponents of wind energy it would be worthwhile to consider the fact that wind turbines and the entire installation is only 59% efficient.

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