Coal will 'be around for a long time', says Mantashe on energy mix

Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe (Gallo Images/Business Day/Freddy Mavunda)
Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe (Gallo Images/Business Day/Freddy Mavunda)

Coal will continue to play a significant role in electricity generation for the country, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has said.

The minister on Friday briefed media on the recently gazetted Integrated Resources Plan 2019. 

The plan was approved for promulgation by Cabinet this week. The Integrated Resource Plan is the state's official blueprint for future energy generation, including things like projected electricity demand, cost estimates, and from what sources power will be generated, for the next decade.

The IRP2019 promotes a diversified energy mix for the country, Mantashe said, including renewables, nuclear energy, gas, hydropower, nuclear power and coal.

Commenting on coal, Mantashe said the country's 16 coal-fired power stations will  be around for a long time".

"We are going to still have a big volume of electricity generation of coal. Therefore we are cautioning [those] who are saying coal is coming to an end - we have 16 power stations which are coal-fired. That is the reality of today. Coal will continue to play a significant role," he told journalists. 

Power stations which are reaching the end of their life will, however, be decommissioned. 

The minister said investors in coal have been urged to direct funds towards efficient coal technologies, underground coal gasification and the development of carbon capture and storage - so that coal resources can be used in an "environmentally responsible" way.

'Dominant' energy supply

Mantashe said government would be working with Eskom to ensure the power utility complies with the minimum emissions standard over time. Mantashe stressed there must be a just transition process followed as the country moves towards less carbon-emitting technologies. This is to ensure workers and communities dependent on the coal-fired power stations are not left worse off.

Additional capacity in the energy mix set out by the IRP2019 shows coal would account for an extra 1 500 MW of energy, while an extra 2 500 MW will come from hydropower, an extra 6 000 MW from PV, an extra 14 400 MW from wind, an extra 2 088MW from storage and an extra 3 000 MW from gas.

While coal's installed capacity is lower than the current installed base, Mantashe emphasised it will remain a "dominant" energy supply, contributing 59% of overall energy volumes. Nuclear will contribute 5% overall, hydro will contribute 8% overall, PV 6%, wind 18% overall, and gas, diesel and storage 2% overall.

Mantashe said that for energy demand to be met, the economy will need "all" technologies. "If we do not have technologies we do not have secure supply of energy," he said.

Nuclear energy

As for nuclear energy, Mantashe has reiterated previous statements by government that it would be pursued at a pace and scale that the country can afford. Nuclear is recognised as a clean energy source, and can contribute towards reducing emissions. 

Koeberg power station will reach the end of its life by 2024. Government will work on extending the design life of Koeberg and adding new nuclear capacity for the future.

He admitted that the commissioning and decommissioning of a nuclear plant is expensive, but said once operational, a nuclear power station gives the most reliable, efficient and cost-effective electricity.

Mantashe said government is in talks with Eskom, which owns Koeberg, to extend its life by 20 years. This means its capacity could be extended to 2044. There is a global trend towards developing small, modular reactors which are considerably more manageable investments than larger fleets, he added.

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