Africa’s cleanest coal-fired power plant launched

SOUTH Africa’s electricity provider, Eskom, using GE Steam Power System’s Ultra-Supercritical technology, has launched one of the most efficient coal-fired power plants on the continent, Kusile Unit 1. Its air quality control system is first of its kind in Africa, guaranteeing the cleanest and most environmentally friendly coal power processing, according to GE.

Ultra-Supercritical power generation technology has achieved 47.5 per cent efficiency in the world’s most efficient coal power plant in Germany, well above the global average of 33 per cent, it notes. GE, a global company that provides technology for the energy industry adds that each percentage point improvement in efficiency is significant, as each point reduces CO2 emissions from coal power plants by two per cent.

Eskom interim CEO Johnny Dladla welcomed GE’s technology: ‘Kusile is the first power plant in Africa to implement clean fuel technology such as flue-gas desulphurisation – a state-of-the-art technology used to remove oxides of sulphur, such as sulphur dioxide, from exhaust flue gases in power plants that burn coal or oil.

‘This technology is fitted as an atmospheric emission abatement technology, in line with current international practice, to ensure compliance with air-quality standards, especially since the power station is located in a priority air shed area.’

Kusile Unit1 will deliver an additional 800MW to the South African grid and help to stabilise it. Once it reaches its maximum output of 4,800 MW, Kusile will provide electricity for a further 3.5 million households in South Africa, and is expected to be in operation for 50 years.

Given that well over 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to constant electricity, African governments are preoccupied with responding to the ever-growing demand for access to affordable, reliable and sustainable power for their citizens. They are increasingly turning to the continent’s 35 billion coal reserves to achieve ‘the lowest possible cost of electricity to consumers using innovative, smarter and cleaner steam technology solutions where possible,’ according to a GE spokesman in London.

The company is now calling on the US and other governments to help developing countries make the most of coal-fuelled electricity to aid development. The GE spokesman said: ‘Access to affordable and reliable energy in developing countries is necessary to support an emerging economy, create jobs, and support the health and wellbeing of people in the developing world.’

In July, the US Treasury Department called on multilateral development banks to help developing countries gain access to coal cleanly and efficiently. This is a reversal of the 2013 policy by the Obama administration not to support power projects overseas that did not provide low carbon emissions.

But the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned in its 2014 World Energy Investment Outlook: ‘If development banks withhold financing for coal-fired power plants, countries that build new capacity will be less inclined to select the most efficient designs because they are more expensive, consequently raising CO2 emissions.’

Reacting to this, the GE spokesman said: ‘In that context, it would indeed be helpful if the US and other governments would lead a global effort to encourage the continued deployment of the cleanest coal technologies available, and ensure adequate private and multilateral bank financing.’

The change of the US government’s position on the use of coal for electricity generation is expected to be discussed during Nigeria Mining Week in Abuja in October. Nigeria’s minister of mines and steel development, Kayode Fayemi, is keen for the country to make use of its coal reserves. ‘We have an existential need for power in this country and we have to do something about it, and we can get power from coal which we have in abundance,’ he said recently.

In Nigeria, 98 million people are without electricity while 65 percent of schools in the country lack access to power, according to the UN. As a result, Nigerian school children could not be guaranteed an education based on technology.

The UN resident humanitarian co-ordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, told a recent education conference: ‘The facts have shown that students who have access to electricity have been confirmed to perform better because they have access to modern facilities.’

Nigeria’s finance minister, Kemi Adeosun, speaking recently, argued: ‘By telling us not to use coal they are pushing us into the destructive cycle of underdevelopment; while you have the competitive advantages, you tie our hands behind us.’

Kenya is planning a 1050MW coal plant to be part-funded by the African Development Bank, as part of the government’s plan to provide electricity to 95 per cent of the population by 2020.  ‘Coal will give us some breathing space,’ said Richard Muiru, an adviser at the country’s energy ministry. We see it as a shot in the arm as we continue to develop our renewables.”

The cabinet secretary for energy and petroleum, Charles Keter, said recently: ‘Given that Kenya requires over 30 gigawatts to be an industrialised nation, we require all kinds of sources of power.’

As African governments prepare to access coal for the benefit of their citizens, GE is positioning itself to help. ‘As home to 3.5 percent of the world’s coal reserves South Africa is deploying GE’s Super-critical steam technology at the national utility’s new power plants…to deliver significantly higher efficiency rates compared to the global coal plants average of 33 per cent while producing up to 9600MW of electricity,’ said the GE spokesman.

‘Other African countries that have proven coal reserves can also explore this technology to sustainably solve their energy challenges. GE is committed to supporting the governments and their utilities to create a strong ecosystem, connecting learning institutions, research facilities, utilities, development finance institutions and businesses to bring more power to the population at faster speeds and more sustainably than they have done in the past,’ the spokesman added.




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