Desmond Davies, London Bureau Chief
London, Nov. 11, GNA – African countries have set out their stalls with regard to the use of coal to develop the continent’s low electricity capacity in order to tackle poverty. They are doing so amid calls for other means of generating energy at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, where the recently ratified Paris Agreement, dealing with reducing greenhouse gasses emissions and financing to combat climate change beginning in 2020, is top on the agenda.
The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) is also taking place at a time of momentous political change in the US, where President-elect Donald Trump pledged during his campaign to revive America’s moribund coal industry.
His promise saw him winning overwhelmingly in once thriving coal mining communities, helping him to secure key swing states.
Outgoing President Barack Obama, who launched his Power Africa Initiative in 2013 to increase electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa by adding more than 30,000 megawatts of electricity generation, is not a fan of coal, given the hue and cry over climate change.
He announced then that his administration would no longer back the use of coal abroad for electricity generation unless there were carbon emission controls.
But coal-fired power plants currently fuel 41 per cent of global electricity, and in some countries coal fuels a higher percentage of electricity, according to the World Coal
As the reality of the need for reliable energy bites, the world’s biggest economies, such as
China, India, Germany and now the US, have openly stated that coal will be part of their energy mix for decades to come.
Not surprisingly, African countries are also keen to bank on coal to help generate power on a continent where 620 million people lack access to electricity.
Added to this is the uncertainty of electricity supply, which inevitably inhibits foreign investment and eventually stunts development.
“There's never been a country that has developed with intermittent power," Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank, has said.
So, during the last US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington in 2014, Obama was told that
Africa would turn to coal for power, just as developed countries had done to fuel industrialisation.
Sospeter Muhongo, Tanzania’s current Minister of Mines and Energy, said then when he was
Minister of Power: “We in Africa, we should not be in the discussion of whether we should use coal or not.
“In my country of Tanzania, we are going to use our natural resources because we have reserves which go beyond five billion tons.”
In Ghana, the government has set out a plan to double the country’s electricity capacity by
2020 and stimulate economic growth.
Currently, some seven million Ghanaians – or 28 per cent of the population – do not have access to electricity; in urban areas this is eight per cent while among rural communities this is 50 per cent.
The government’s plan is to add three gigawatts of capacity in four years’ time, which would provide electricity not just for the whole population but also for industrial use.
Current capacity stands at 3.6 gigawatts and the energy mix consists of 56 per cent from gas and oil thermal plants, 43 per cent hydroelectric, and 0.6 per cent from solar.
The 2020 plan includes two gigawatts from a single coal-fired power station; 0.4 per cent from liquid petroleum gas; 0.2 gigawatts from small-scale solar, with the rest yet to be confirmed.
President John Mahama has spoken about the country’s energy crisis and the pressure on the government to meet rising electricity demands of 10 per cent annually.
“The effects and frustrations posed by the power deficit are clearly felt in our work places, our homes, schools and hospitals.
“Big businesses and industries are also suffering and threatening to lay off workers,” he said, adding: “I do not intend to manage the situation as has been done in the past, I intend to fix it.”
Ghana’s former Power Minister, Dr Kwabena Donkor, noted: “Ghana has a responsibility to remain competitive.
“We are looking at the introduction of clean coal energy to address future needs while the renewable sector builds up.”
Although the plan will provide millions more Ghanaians with safe and secure electricity supply, Western government are talking against the use of coal for this purpose by African and emerging nations.
But, as experts point out, the extremely important coal-fuelled plant at Ekumfi in Ghana’s
Central Region, which will start taking shape in April 2017, will alone account for two gigawatts of the government’s energy plan, making it vital to the country’s energy future.
Ghana is also leading the world by opting to install high-efficiency low-emissions (HELE), extremely critical technology in the country’s coal stations.
Nigeria, too, is forging ahead with the use of coal to generate electricity.
In an oil-rich country that has a woeful reputation for power failures, any attempt to address the situation is crucial, according to experts.
Nigerian Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun told a recent joint meeting of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank: “We in Nigeria have coal but we have a power problem, yet we’ve been blocked because it is not green.
“There is some hypocrisy because we have the entire Western industrialisation built on coal energy.
“They are saying: ‘You have to use solar and wind’, which are the most expensive,” she added.
In July, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo added his voice to the debate: “We in
Africa, we should use what we have to generate power for our people.”
India, too, is fighting back, as Energy Minister Piyush Goyal put it: “We are not apologetic of using coal.
“The US and the West have developed on the back of cheap energy – coal – for the last 150 years.”
Even developed countries are committing themselves to continuing to use coal for generating energy.
Germany’s Economy Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said last month: “It [coal-fuelled power] will on no account be switched off in the next decade – in my opinion not even in the one after that.”
African governments have pointed out that the original UN Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC) places development first when it states: “Economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priority of the developing country partner.”
There does not seem to be any running away from the use of coal to fuel power, given that some 2,300 coal-fired power stations are being built or planned around the world.
The increased demand is coming mainly from African and Asian countries.
Both the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the International Energy Agency
(IAE) are expecting Africa to increase its coal use.
The EIA is projecting a rise of 70 per cent between 2010 and 2040 while the IEA is expecting an increase of almost 50 per cent between 2011 and 2035.
Africa has 35 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves and at the current rate of consumption, it would last 122 years.
The IEA estimates that African countries need $400 billion over the next 20 years to provide power to citizens without electricity.
Experts say that despite America’s policy to discourage coal-fired power plants, there are many countries ready to help.
Benjamin Sporton, Chief Executive of the World Coal Association, noted: “For many countries, coal will continue to play a significant role in economic development, industrialisation and urbanisation.
“It’s important to recognise that so far 19 countries have included low emission coal technology in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are the foundation of the Paris Agreement.
“This means that for the Paris Agreement to be successful, we need to support these countries, most of which are developing and emerging economies, to shift their coal fired electricity to more efficient technologies so they can meet their climate commitments,” he added.
The Association said that at the ongoing COP22 negotiations on implementing the Paris
Agreement in Marrakesh, it was important to look at ways of facilitating technology transfer and financial support for low emission coal technologies.