African countries make the case for coal-powered electricity

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WORLD Bank President Jim Yong Kim was candid recently on the use of coal-powered electricity after African countries at the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Bali made a strong case for the use of the fossil fuel to power their development.

During the gatherings on the Indonesian island, Kim said that he was approached by officials from developing countries, mainly from Africa, who talked about the Bank’s reluctance to fund coal-powered plants that will provide more electricity for countries that are facing huge power shortages, which are stunting their socio-economic development.

Kim said he was told that he was asking African countries, ‘which have put almost none of the carbon in the air’ not to have base load electricity.

He said African delegates argued that their countries could not ‘develop…because we can’t use a single drop of fossil fuel for our own energy needs.’

Kim said, after listening to these arguments from African delegates and at a town hall meeting with civil society organisations: ‘And I can tell you, when I hear that from our leaders, from people in industry, in places like Africa, it’s compelling to me.

‘We feel that you have to listen to the social justice arguments from people from poor countries who have not put any of the carbon in the air and want to have base load.

‘Having said all that, I’m just as worried as you are about climate change,’ Kim added.

‘We just announced that we’ve put a billion dollars on the table for battery storage because that’s really the issue.’

The funding was announced last month at the One Planet Summit in New York to finance a new global programme to accelerate investments in battery storage for energy systems in developing and middle-income countries.

It is expected to help these countries ramp up their use of renewables – particularly wind and solar power – improve energy security, increase grid stability and expand access to electricity.

‘For developing countries, this can be a game changer,’ said Kim.

‘Battery storage can help countries leapfrog to the next generation of power generation technology, expand energy access, and set the stage for much cleaner, more stable, energy systems.’

But the coal debate continues unabated, as the Bank decided this month not to go ahead with funding of the long-delayed coal-fired project in Kosovo.

The Bank acknowledged that despite the ‘social justice arguments’ in favour of the project, its ‘firm decision’ not to back it made clear its stance on funding fossil fuel projects.

The Bali coal debate comes in the wake of a paper by the Engineering and Public Policy Department at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, which shows that the use of back-up generators in Africa due to frequent power outages is in fact leading to increased air emissions.

The paper notes: ‘Use of back-up diesel generators also increases fossil fuel energy consumption by a factor of 1.5–1,000 compared with current grid levels throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

‘Finally, we estimate that the costs of generating diesel back-up power are millions of dollars higher than the costs of grid electricity in all countries.

‘These results suggest that increasing power system reliability for those with existing electricity access is a key component of meeting sustainable electricity access goals,’ the paper adds.

According to the World Bank, sub-Saharan African countries record annual power outages of between 50 hours and 4,600 hours out of a total of 8,760 hours in a year.

Put another way, Spain, which has a population 20 times smaller than sub-Saharan Africa’s, generates the same amount of electricity as the whole of the region put together.

This is why it is not surprising that supporters of clean coal technology are pushing for the use of this fossil fuel to power national grids in Africa that will provide more access to electricity for the over 600 million people on the continent who do not have it.

National grids providing cheap and constant electricity will also remove the high cost of back-up generators that are harmful to health, they argue.

 

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