Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Eskom is one of the biggest polluters in the world

Eskom is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world said Valli Moosa, the non-executive chairman of the Eskom board, and former Minister for Environmental Affairs.

Moosa was speaking at the conference of the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) at Rosettenville last night. The picture shows Valli Moosa with Bishop Geoff Davies of Cape Town and Rabbi Hillel Avidan of Durban at the meeting.

Valli Moosa was Minister of Constitutional Development under President Mandela, and inserted a clause in the constitution on the right to a clean and healthy environment.

He was Minister of Environmental Affairs 1999-2004, after which he retired from government, but is still active in politics and was reelected to the ANC National Executive at the Polokwane conference last December.

He was asked to serve as non-executive director of the board of Eskom in 2005.

Here is a summary of Valli Moosa's speech:

There was a problem in serving on the board, Moosa said, as Eskom is one of the biggest polluters in the world. This was an interesting challenge for someone who had championed the Kyoto Protocol. The policy of Eskom had been to produce cheap electricity, so Eskom burns cheap coal, which is less efficient, and so produces more pollutants.

South Africa is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita in the world because of our use of low-grade coal, and there is no requirement for Eskom to reduce its greenhouse gases. The big challenge for Eskom is to meet the growing demand for electricity.

South Africa has become an energy-hungry country because we have had wrong policies. The policy has been to provide cheap electricity and thus attract industry and so create jobs. But because electricity was cheap, people tended to use more. We have had massive economic growth.

We also did not bother to develop legal standards, like building regulations to make buildings more energy efficient. There are no regulations for the energy efficiency of light bulbs. The problem of cheap electricity is also seen in consumer behaviour. Salesmen comparing fridges never say which model consumes less electricity, and consumers never ask this.

But even though we are a developing country (and ths exempt from having to apply the Kyoto Protocol) we still need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The ANC conference at Polokwane last December adopted a resolution calling for the country to set emission targets. This was largely ignored by the media, who were interested in other things, but no other ruling party in the world has done this.

Eskom also has a responsibility to set its own targets, and has begun to do so. Eskom aims to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases per megawatt up to 2025, and after that to achieve an absolute reduction. After 2025 the older coal-fired power stations will begin to be decommissioned, and they should be replaced by power stations that do not use fossil fuels. Two new coal-fired power stations are being built, and Moosa said he hoped they would be the last.

There will have to be a mix of renewable and nuclear energy sources, and there has to be a trade off. The best thing is solar energy. Nuclear power requires uranium, and the mining of uranium itself damages the environment, and there is also the problem of nuclear waste, but Moosa said he believed it was better than the use of coal-fired power stations.

The most effective renewable source of energy is solar, and the government is introducing a subsidy for solar panels to heat water for household use. Wind is another option, and Eskom is building two wind farms, but wind is not reliable all the time, and so wind power may not be available when it is most needed. It is difficulty to store electricity, but we do have some dam storage schemes, where water is pumped up to a storage dam at times of low demand, and released to generate electricity at peak periods.

There is also solar thermal technology that can produce distributable power, but this is still at the research stage.

In spite of recent and proposed price hikes, South Africa's electricity remains the cheapest in the world, and even if we doubled the price we would still be cheaper than anywhere else. Without the increases we will not achieve energy efficiency, because people will continue to waste electricity.

There is an opportunity in the crisis, which may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Until the power cuts last January, no one took the problem seriously. From the environmental point of view it has encouraged people to use energy more responsibly. If we hadn't built big aluminium smelters there would be no energy crisis, and this is another example of wrong policies in the past leading to the present problem, but this is a sensitive issue, as can be seen in BHP Billiton taking away its business from Standard Bank as a result of a Standard Bank spokesman saying that aluminium smelters should be closed down.

During question time several people queried the need for nuclear power, but Moosa maintained that it still remained the most feasible alternative to coal-fired power stations, which did more damage to the environment. Another questioner asked for more tranparency on the part of Eskom's board, and Moosa promised to try to arrange a meeting between the Eskom board and representatives of SAFCEI.

1 comment:

rory said...

It is very sad indeed that Eskom has not used this opportunity to get the whole country on board with a stated intention of using renewables to meet our electricity needs. Instead we are through higher tariffs being press ganged into paying for incrfeased global warming and increased nuclear pollution.

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