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South Africa Risks Thousands of Deaths if Coal-Fired Power Plants Remain Open

South Africa could see additional up to 50,000 deaths due to air pollution and billions of U.S. dollars in health costs if a proposal to delay the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants goes through, a Finland-based research center says.

South Africa, one of the world’s largest coal producers and exporters, continues to rely on coal for a large part of its energy mix. Currently, some 85% of South Africa’s electricity is generated via coal-fired power stations.

Crippled by an energy crisis for several years, the country is now considering whether to extend the life of coal plants beyond 2030 and leave a substantial fleet still operational in 2050, to protect energy security.

But the proposal by South Africa’s energy department – if passed – could lead to the deaths of between 20,000 and 50,000 people, according to estimates by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) cited by Bloomberg.

“Given that the delayed retirement scenario leaves very substantial coal-fired capacity in place in 2050, there are going to be further health impacts beyond that year,” the research center told Bloomberg in emailed comments.

In a 2023 report, CREA said that if the rate of decommissioning in the 2030s and 2040s is not accelerated from current plans, further delays to the decommissioning of other units would multiply the health impacts of the delay to 32,300 deaths from air pollution and economic costs of $38.3 billion (721 billion South African rands).

“While Eskom plans to decommission coal-fired power plants, the exact pathways that will be followed are unclear and many of the plants have had their decommissioning delayed. Currently, the South African government plans to delay decommissioning even further,” CREA said at the end of last year.

Last week, South Africa’s energy minister Gwede Mantashe told Bloomberg that expecting the country to quickly give up on coal-fired power would be “very wrong.”

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“This belief that you can leave coal and move to renewables: there’s a technical mistake, very wrong, it will never work,” Mantashe told Bloomberg.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on April 03 2024 said:
    A claim by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) in Finland that South Africa could see up to 50,000 additional deaths due to air pollution if a proposal by its Energy Department to delay the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants goes through is disputed by other studies which have estimated the annual number of deaths at 2,000 a year. This compares with an annual death toll of only 330 according to research by the state power company, Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd.

    South Africa, one of the world’s largest coal producers and exporters, continues to rely on coal for 85% of of its electricity.

    Crippled by an energy crisis for several years, the country is now considering whether to extend the life of coal plants beyond 2030 and leave a substantial fleet still operational in 2050, to protect energy security.

    It could be far more beneficial for South Africa to try to reduce pollution from coal rather than de-commissioning coal-powered electricity plants or as South African Energy Minister put it
    expecting the country to quickly give up on coal-fired power would be “very wrong.”

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

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