With Eskom struggling to maintain coal levels at its current coal-fired power stations, throwing another two into the mix raises the question: How much coal is actually left in South Africa?
Nobody knows for sure.
Eskom states on its website there are 200 years’ worth left, or 55 billion tons, and 115 billion tons of resources, while it uses 90 million tons a year.
The department of mineral resources says South Africa has coal reserves of 66.7 billion tons, though geologist Chris Hartnady’s paper on South Africa’s diminishing coal reserves warned of problems.
“The Waterberg Coalfield (Ellisras Basin) in South Africa may be a remaining large resource, but structural complexity, finely interbedded coal-shale strata at large depths, low grades, high ash content and water scarcity are likely to inhibit its major development,” Hartnady said.
“Given SA’s heavy dependence on coal for power generation and electricity supply, an anticipated peak production in 2020 will cause problems for future economic growth.”
The University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre’s Jesse Burton said South Africa had large repositories that could technically be extracted, but much smaller reserves that were economically viable to extract.
“We have about 55 billion tons of the former, but only about 10 billion tons of reserves. So 200 years is a bit optimistic, but certainly there is more in the ground than we can foresee using in the medium to long term,” Burton said.
“Having a resource in the ground does not translate into energy security, as evidenced by Eskom’s current supply crisis. Security of supply depends on having coal of the right quantity and quality at the right price.
“Coal prices have risen 300% in the past 20 years, so we are fast approaching when it is no longer cheap. We should be aiming to have cheap electricity that supports growth and creates jobs across the economy.
“So the real question is: how can we generate electricity at the lowest cost to support the economy. Our study shows coal IPPs will raise costs in the sector.”
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