HomeRegional NewsAfricaCoal, Africa’s conundrum as energy demands increase

Coal, Africa’s conundrum as energy demands increase

African countries are turning to coal-powered plants to meet growing energy demands despite the environmental impact.

The continents growing energy needs has led some governments to turn to coal-powered plants. Critics say that’s not a smart move in times of climate change and point to the continent’s renewable energy resources.

In South Africa, power outages are not the exception but the rule. In the past, those power cuts often occurred in the cold winter, but today the lights also go out in the summer. The country’s power grid and power plants are outdated, and energy demand has increased.

Like South Africa — where around 90% of energy comes from coal — other African countries have embarked on mining this raw material. Botswana, Tanzania, and Mozambique are among the leading countries.

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Impact of coal energy

According to Stephen Karekezi, chairman of the non-governmental organisation Africa Energy Policy Research in Kenya, the impact on the climate caused by additional coal-fired power plants in Africa would not be substantial.

“Many plans for new coal-fired power plants have not even been implemented yet and even if they were realised, the impact on global climate change will not be noticeable,” Karekezi stated.

Africa’s one billion people contribute only between 1 and 1.5% of global greenhouse emissions.

About 34 coal-fired power plants currently produce roughly 53 gigawatts, supplying one-third of the continent’s electricity needs. 19 of these power plants are located in South Africa.

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According to the Global Coal Plant Tracker website, Africa plans to establish 25 new coal power plants. The organisation Energy for Growth Hub, which has examined the projects in more detail, found that only one small plant in Niger with a capacity of around 100MW is to be completed soon.

Nine other projects could come online in the future, but construction has not yet begun.

The remaining 14 plants have either already been canceled or are unlikely to be completed. Among them is the planned coal-fired power plant near the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chinese-backed project has had its license revoked after environmentalists sued.

Low green energy costs

For the environmental group Greenpeace, there is no reason why African countries should invest in coal-fired power plants.

“The impact is immense. We feel it in South Africa. Burning coal produces toxic substances like carbon dioxide, and acid rain changes our groundwater — all dangers for the environment and health,” Nhlanhla Sibisi, a climate and energy expert at Greenpeace Africa, said.

Sibisi also added that the continent has diverse potential for renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. “The cost of solar can no longer count as a factor because it has dropped a lot.” For example, Kenya gets 25% of its electricity needs from renewable sources, and African countries can increase this approach.

“Governments need to make a shift towards renewables through better implementation of relevant policies and legislation,” Sibisi said, adding that this is the only way to prevent a climate crisis.

Author: Martina Schwikowski. Source: Deutsche Welle (edited by ESI Africa)

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