The South African setting for this COP is proving useful to improve understanding the combined importance of development and climate issues being address in an integrated way in the developing world. This has been reinforced in a number of side events I have attended that have highlighted that today in South Africa there are 12.5 million people living without access to electricity, that’s a quarter of the population, half the population live below the poverty line and the average life expectancy is just 50 years.
These sort of figures demonstrate why South Africa is turning to coal to support its electrification and economic development. Two new supercritical coal-fired power plants are currently being built in South Africa at Medupi and Kusile, which together will add more than 9GW of generating capacity to South Africa’s existing 63GW. Coal is a key component of electricity generation in South Africa, it currently supplies about 92% of electricity. Deploying more coal allows South Africa to quickly build its electricity generation capacity using existing South African skills. There are currently around 11,000 people employed at the Medupi construction site.
It’s these sort of figures that make you think about the importance of deploying coal fired power to address energy access challenges. Importantly these plants are using modern, highly efficient technology that emit significantly less CO2 than traditional coal fired power plants. More efficient coal-fired plants are a highly cost effective means of mitigating CO2 emissions, so South Africa is a good demonstration of how both energy access and climate actions can be addressed together.