News24 reported this week that Eskom failed to install flue gas desulphurisation technology at its Medupi power plant, potentially endangering the lives of thousands of people through pollution. The technology forms part of several projects that Eskom committed to as part of a bundle of World Bank loans, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these are years behind schedule.
News24 asked Eskom whether it could commit to prioritising all of its emissions reduction commitments, including its commitments to the World Bank. We also asked Eskom to comment on whether it takes seriously its obligations to reduce its emissions, in light of the climate crisis. Eskom, through its media desk, said it has a comprehensive plan to address climate change and the power utility’s part in it.
In the interests of fairness, we publish Eskom’s full response below.
“Eskom has a comprehensive Climate Change strategy that addresses mitigation (emissions reductions) and adaptation (how to deal with the impacts of changes to the climate on our infrastructure and people). Currently, there is no commercially available ‘end-of-pipe’ technology available to reduce greenhouse gases (viz. carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane) emissions from coal-fired power stations. While there is an end-of-pipe technology under development internationally, called ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ or ‘CCS’, it is only expected to be commercially available between 2025 and 2035.
Eskom supports the South African Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage based in the South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi) which is currently progressing with characterisation of potential storage areas in South Africa and planning a pilot injection. Nonetheless, this is expected to be a long term solution, with existing international demonstration plants proving to be very expensive. In the absence of end-of-pipe technology, there are few opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of existing coal-fired power stations.
However, one area that receives attention is that of thermal efficiency. Technology developments have enabled new coal-fired power stations to be designed and built to run at higher pressures and temperatures (supercritical conditions) which has a greater efficiency than subcritical power stations. A 1% improvement in efficiency, reduces CO2 emissions by approximately 2%. However, it is not easy (or cheap) to retrofit supercritical technology as one basically has to scrap the existing boiler and replace it. Currently, the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector is to encourage more efficient electricity use (customer-based efficiency improvements) or to diversify the electricity supply away from coal towards lower-carbon technologies (nuclear, hydro, renewables and gas).
Eskom has proceeded with delivering demand management savings, the build programme (Medupi and Kusile power stations employ supercritical designs) as well as Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme, the roll out of photovoltaic plants to supplement generation at existing coal-fired power station sites, the operation of Sere (100MW windfarm) and many research initiatives, from rural microgrid and smartgrid applications to wave energy to electric vehicle testing. Eskom Transmission has also enabled the connection of over 3 000MW renewable energy projects to the national grid. All of these initiatives are in place to reduce our relative greenhouse gas emissions, however, we can only reduce our absolute greenhouse gas emissions by shutting down coal plant[s].
This is not something we can afford to do – overnight – as a company and a country. While Eskom is committed to transition from coal to lower carbon technologies such as renewables, we are just as committed to seeing that this transition occurs in a ‘just’ manner, which does not impede socio-economic development. We are currently working on a low emissions development strategy for the organisation that will feed into the government’s low emission development strategy and will be aligned with South Africa’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. Climate Change is a Priority 1 Risk for Eskom, meaning that policy, strategy and initiatives to deal with climate change are managed and approved at ExCo and Board level. Further, Eskom actively participates in national processes run by the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry and the National Treasury, to report and limit future greenhouse gas emissions.”