Putting Coal Into the African Perspective
Since the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, plans have been periodically put forward to increase South Africa`s nuclear output. At present Africa`s only nuclear power plant, Koeberg, supplies electricity to Cape Town (and the surrounding region), a city of just under 5 million residents. Cape Town`s economy accounts for 72% of the Western Province`s economic activity (2016 figures) with manufacturing being the second largest contributor after finance and business. Because of manufacturing the rate of unemployment is the lowest for any of South Africa`s capital cities.Manufacturing provides productive employment. Manufacturing requires electricity.
More than 2 decades ago, plans were once more put forward to expand the nuclear energy industry. At the time, a national debate on the subject was dominated, as it still is, by environmentalists and strongly anti-nuclear leading South African economists such as Grové Steyn and Patrick Bond.
Patrick Bond, currently economics professor at the University of the Western Cape,is a devotee of Global Warming (now re-named as Climate Change because temperatures and sea levels are not rising in accordance with Al Gore`s inconvenient truths and despite his level of education, Bond is happy to call CO2 a pollutant.
Bond likes slogans such as this: Leave the oil in the soil, leave the coal in the hole, leave the tar in the sand. He thinks statements like that “epitomize a clear, well thought out political strategy.”
Unbelievably, Grové Steyn, Meridian Economics, and member of Eskom`s Sustainability Task Team, said in a 2014 paper entitled `The Future of Nuclear Energy in South Africa: The challenges of decision making under uncertainty`, that the future is uncertain and that therefore we must not plan for it !
Unfortunately,due to pressure from the green lobby , plans for expansion were dropped.
Which left 80% of South Africa`s energy coming from coal.
Let us put that into perspective. Sub Saharan Africa uses roughly the same amount of electricity as one relatively small country in Europe, Spain.
50% of that electricity is produced in South Africa.
80% of which is from coal.
600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity whatsoever.
900 million households have no alternative to wood or cattle dung for cooking which is labour intensive, time consuming, has a negative effect on respiratory health and causes massive deforestation as well as vast amounts of CO2.
In fact you can truthfully say that by building coal powered stations in southern Africa, you will reduce CO2 emissions!
Renewable energy has its place but not as the main energy source of any industrialized economy. It is through manufacturing goods, be it value addition in agriculture, high- tech components, tractors, machine tools, household goods or even bread that sub-Saharan African economies will reduce poverty by creating productive employment and enabling economic growth.
Not all African countries have coal, in fact the majority do not. South Africa and Mozambique have abundant reserves followed by Botswana and Zimbabwe. South Africa produces 254,411 metric tons and Mozambique 13,893 metric tons as of 2019.
Solar and wind can, if intermittently, supply both urban and rural communities, can and do contribute to the national grid however renewables need coal or nuclear as baseload (minimum constant 24/7) as backup. Ironically wind turbines and solar panels can only be manufactured using non-renewable energy sources.
In Western Europe hydro power makes sense. The European climate is not prone to droughts and high levels of evaporation due to extreme heat. Most hydro dams, like those in Scandinavia, are situated in valleys which provide a narrow expanse and deep water level as oppose to a broad expanse and shallow water level which in general, is the situation for hydro dams in sub Saharan Africa due to the geography. Shallow dams in hot climates lose a large percentage to evaporation.
Western European countries are geographically very small. Most countries in Western Europe are relatively minute compared to African countries. This fact remains neglected by European foreign policy makers who are not well educated in the geography of Africa and who have the arrogance to think they know better.
Germany which constantly imposes its anti nuclear and anti fossil fuel policies on Africa, is considered large by European standards. Germany is the 5th largest country in Western Europe. Norway and Sweden are the 3rd and 4th largest. However most of Norway and much of Sweden is either uninhabited or uninhabitable.
Germany is 357,168 sq km.
Spreading in a band across the heart of South Africa is a semi-desert region called the Karoo or Great Karoo. It is 400 000 square kilometres, making it bigger than Germany.It is a much loved and a very beautiful part of South Africa but is of no great significance sizewise as South Africa itself, is comprised of 9 vast provinces. It has a coastline along both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans stretching more than 2,850 kilometres.
The total land area of South Africa is 1,220,813 km2.
From Cape Town in the west to the eastern port city of Durban, is 1, 272km as the crow flies and by road, 1,636km.
In South Africa the distance from Pretoria to Cape Town is the same as that from London to Rome.
The capital of the Democratic Republic Congo, Africa`s largest sub Saharan country, is Kinshasa, which is located in the west. Bukavu is the provincial capital of South Kivu which is in the east. The distance between the 2 cities of Kinshasa and Bukavu is 2,494km which is slightly less than the distance between London and Moscow.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is 2,344,858 km2.
The Mercator projection used as a standard in world maps is Eurocentric. The distortion makes North America and Europe appear much larger than they in fact are.
image: orange=China, brown=USA , yellow=India, blue= Eastern Europe, 4 colours at the top=Spain, France, Germany, Italy
Why does size matter in relation to electricity?
A national energy grid for the average African country has no resemblance in requirement of scale to a country in Western Europe.
Transmission distances in Africa are far, far greater than in Western Europe. Due to the resistance properties of electric current the further you are away from the source of power generation, the less current can be drawn off.
The length of transmission cables,energy infrastructure, needed for Africa, are uniquely daunting. The cost of transportation of fuel, be that coal or diesel, is far greater.
What are the real costs of a hydro dam thousands of kilometers from an urban area?
In addition: Germany, Western Europe`s most populous country has 83 million people.
Europe’s population growth rate is 0.06%, the lowest of all the world. Europe (including Russia)has 11% of the world’s population. Europe covers about 2% of the whole surface of Earth and 6.8% of the land area with Russia comprising 39% of that total.
Spain has a population of 47 million.
South Africa ( 2011 census)has 60.1 million people with an estimated 5 million unregistered additional people.
There are 1.4 billion people in Africa which is 16.72% of the total world population.
And now consider how much electricity is consumed by people in Africa.
satellite image showing electricity consumption: Europe, Arabia and Africa
France uses 6,940kWh per capita using uranium from Niger which uses 51kWh per capita. (Data from 2014)
Germany uses 7,035kWh. South Africa uses 4,198kWh.
The DRC uses 109kWh per capita.
Energy consumption in South Africa is the highest for the continent. That is why millions of Africans travel to South Africa in search of employment and business opportunities. The higher the energy consumption, the higher the living standards, the heathier the economy.
Electricity means life is better. And 80% of that better life in South Africa is from coal.
So when Europeans impose green energy policies on Africa, they do it with total ignorance of the Sleeping Giant. And by their total ignorance of condeming coal and nuclear energy, they condemn 1,4 billion people to a future of poverty when the majority of those 1,4 billion people do not use so much as one light bulb`s worth of electricity .
A kettle boiled twice a day by a family in Britain uses 5x as much electricity as a person in Mali uses per year
An Ethiopian takes 87x longer to consume 150kW hours of electricity than someone in the United Kingdom
A Tanzanian takes 8 years to consume as much electricity as an American consumes in 1 month
A freezer in the United States consumes 10x more electricty than a Liberian uses in 1 year.
Every human being wants to breathe clean air and drink pure water. Most human beings want to protect the natural kingdom which is our God given role. No one wants to live in creativity-crippling, futureless poverty. Only creative human innovation can bring solutions.
Nuclear power technology fulfills all the requirements of clean energy. And until nuclear energy can power African cities and industries, let fossil fuels and hydro and gas and solar and wind and whatever, reduce sub Saharan Africa`s energy deficit. Africans are tired of living in the dark and they are tired of Eurocentric energy policies.
South Africa is presently in a dire economic situation due to the lack of investment in the physical economy.If the situation in South Africa continues as it is, by 2030, the existing manufacturing/industrial plants will be faced with closure due to insufficient electricity.At present, there is no incentive to invest in new manufacturing plants because there is not enough power.
Energy poverty sustains poverty because electricity is the foundation of all economic development. It is high time that the West stopped with its energy imperialism.
Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s vice-president, recently stated :
“Curbing natural gas investments in Africa will do little to limit carbon emissions globally but much to hurt the continent’s economic prospects. Right now, Africa is starved for energy: excluding South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa’s one billion people have the power generation capacity of just 81 gigawatts—far less than the 108-gigawatt capacity of the United Kingdom. Moreover, those one billion people have contributed less than one percent to global cumulative carbon emissions.”
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PD Lawton is a South African writer and researcher, committed to the restoration of Africa to its rightful place in the world.