South Africa’s reliance on fossil fuels is a given for now, but it is entirely possible to clean up our energy act while transitioning to a carbon-free future. The South African Cleaner Fossil Fuels Roadmap outlines the way.Cleaner fossil fuels sound like a contradiction in terms, especially when one drives through the coalfields of Mpumalanga or behind a truck belching diesel fumes. The pollution layer hanging over Gauteng and the Vaal Triangle, especially in winter, is a further case in point. “Fortunately, the science is there,” says Dr Karen Surridge, project manager of renewable energy and cleaner fossil fuels at the SA National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI). “Technology now exists that significantly lowers the greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted per unit of energy produced from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.” Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is a prime example. South Africa’s two coal-fired power stations equipped for CCUS, Medupi and Kusile, report a lower levelised cost per MWh and significant emissions reductions compared with non-CCUS power stations. In the cement and steel industries, it is estimated that carbon capture can remove up to 70% of emissions in concentrated gas streams and between 85% and 88% in diluted gas streams. For South Africa, the concept of cleaner fossil fuels is particularly important. Fossil fuels make up approximately 90% of the country’s primary energy supply, of which 72% is coal. In addition, 85% of our electricity is generated using coal technologies and 92% of the primary energy used for electricity production is coal. “We cannot switch off fossil fuels overnight but neither can we keep producing and using energy in the same old polluting way,” says Surridge. “We seek to balance these twin realities through a cleaner fossil fuels programme.”
In phase I, the current energy supply and demand of the coal, oil and gas value chains were assessed and 28 technologies that could reduce GHG emissions and provide alternative feedstock options were identified.These were then assessed and categorised into what would be required by South Africa in order to possibly implement these interventions. Phase II narrowed the scope of technologies and carried out a more in-depth examination and feasibility analysis of the techno-economically feasible options available. Five evaluation criteria were used, namely, infrastructure requirements, economic feasibility, technological readiness, emissions reduction potential and socioeconomic drivers, including impact on employment and the skills needed for implementation. The risks associated with each technology were also considered, as well as how well they align with the country’s climate change and Just Energy Transition (JET) requirements.