by Ethan van Diemen, for Daily Maverick
Exploring the possible merits or set-backs for pursuing gas in relation to other energy solutions (particularly solar) – a pertinent topic considering Eswatini’s own ambitions related to pursuing natural-gas solutions from Mozambique
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says in its new Africa Energy Outlook report that the projected impacts of climate change “pose major risks to Africa’s economic growth and its hopes of achieving stability and prosperity”.
However, the IEA explains, “Africa can shape its own future” and “efforts to develop its energy system can dovetail with those to jumpstart its industry, reduce its exposure to imports and create local employment footholds”.
The agency also outlines pathways to navigate the continent’s development in the context of increasingly urgent climate imperatives.
In the executive summary, the authors of the report explain that Africa is already facing more severe climate change than most other parts of the world, despite bearing the least responsibility for the problem.
From increasingly destructive rainfalls and reduced food production to severe droughts and heatwaves — Africa already bears the brunt of climate change.
They explain that the continent is home to nearly a fifth of the global population, yet it accounts for “less than 3% of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to date” and has the lowest emissions per capita of any region.
Yet, despite these difficulties, the “global clean energy transition holds new promise for Africa’s economic and social development”, according to the IEA.
“Electricity will underpin Africa’s economic future, with solar leading the way,” says the IEA, explaining that “Africa is home to 60% of the best solar resources globally, yet only 1% of installed solar PV capacity”.
The IEA says that under an ambitious “Sustainable Africa Scenario”, solar PV — already the cheapest source of power in many parts of Africa — “outcompetes all sources continent-wide by 2030.”
To the chagrin of African activists, however, it also calls for greater investment in natural gas infrastructure, saying “Africa’s industrialisation relies in part on expanding natural gas use”.
“More than 5,000 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas resources have been discovered to date in Africa, which have not yet been approved for development. These resources could provide an additional 90 bcm of gas a year by 2030, which may well be vital for the fertiliser, steel and cement industries and water desalination.
“Cumulative CO2 emissions from the use of these gas resources over the next 30 years would be around 10 gigatonnes. If these emissions were added to Africa’s cumulative total today, they would bring its share of global emissions to a mere 3.5%,” the authors write.
Activists found this assertion objectionable in the context of a planet barreling towards a dangerous 2.7° Celsius of warming and a continent projected to suffer the worst of the consequent impacts.
In response to the IEA report, Landry Ninteretse, regional director at 350Africa.org, said: “Despite recent discoveries of gas reserves in countries such as Mozambique, Senegal, Mauritania, Tanzania and South Africa, global bodies such as the IPCC indicate that a phase-out of all fossil fuels, including gas, is urgently needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
“In its own report last year, the IEA called for no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects.”
Ninteretse said “climate and energy crises are caused by the continued dependence and addiction to fossil fuels. Pushing for the exploitation of gas in Africa will primarily benefit the fossil fuel industry and Western societies seeking to fill the gap left by current shortages from Russia, while failing to meet the real and pressing energy needs of ordinary people.
“Rather than engaging in opportunistic and exploitative pursuit of fossil fuels from Africa, developed countries historically responsible for the climate crisis should massively increase their financing of ambitious renewable energy plans that respect the social, economic and environmental rights of Africans,” said Ninteretse.
Read here: Fossil fuels: Humanity digging its own grave, UN secretary-general tells world leaders
Glen Tyler-Davies, South Africa Team lead at 350Africa.org said in response to the IEA’s Africa Energy Outlook: “This report might further perpetuate the narrative that continued exploration of fossil fuels like gas is inevitable in the path to development in Africa. This cannot be further from the truth.
“In the South African context, a recent report by Meridian Economics reveals that large-scale gas generation projects in the country would push electricity prices up 40%.
“This would only lead South Africa down a path of expensive energy, stranded assets and continued fossil dependence, and delay the much needed just transition.
“What our country needs is the political will to implement the Just Energy Transition Partnership to realise a just transition to socially led renewable energy that leaves no worker behind,” said Tyler-Davies.
The Meridian Economics report, Hot Air About Gas: An Economic Analysis of the Scope and Role for Gas-Fired Power Generation in South Africa, says in its executive summary: “Large-scale gas use for power generation appears to be central to current energy policy direction in South Africa, but this rests on a 2012 vision which predates dramatic reductions in renewable energy costs and carbon emissions space.
“The only economically rational role for gas in power generation for the foreseeable future is now as a fuel for peaking plants — a small, intermittent but crucial role currently provided by diesel.”
Given the context of a global energy crisis and an attendant rise in oil prices, Eskom expects spending on diesel to exceed R15-billion in the current financial year.
Read here: An evaporating case for gas: Why does SA keep investing in it?
The Hot Air About Gas report says “liquefied natural gas (LNG) can replace diesel for some of the fuel requirement at some of the peaking plant sites, but due to practical, contractual and security of supply reasons, can only supply around half of the 25 PJ/a-40 PJ/a peaking fuel required by 2030.
“Embarking on a large-scale, gas-to-power strategy given these realities creates significant economic and environmental risk.”
Meridian continues in the executive summary that “South Africa’s Gas Master Plan (GMP) relies heavily on the prospect of gas-to-power projects providing “anchor” demand to feasibly grow the domestic gas market.
The GMP is based on the vision of the National Planning Commission’s 2012 National Development Plan (NDP), which sees gas as a clean, viable replacement for coal in power generation.
However, the decade since the NDP was published has seen unprecedented changes in both the cost of clean energy alternatives and the global decarbonisation imperative.
One of the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report is that solar and wind costs fell by 85% and 55% respectively between 2010 and 2019, making them cheaper than fossil-fuel-powered electricity generation in many places.
Read here: Planet’s breakneck warming likely to pass 1.5°C, UN scientists warn
Meridian’s report expands on this, saying that in 2012, “wind and solar power was 50% more expensive than large-scale power generated from gas, but by 2021 the economics had flipped completely, with gas power now almost treble the cost of renewable energy”.
It explains that in the decade since 2012, South Africa’s “remaining carbon emissions space” has halved.
“Not only has emission-free power generation become the cheapest, but use of any fossil fuel technology now brings penalties into the future.
“Energy policy that does not integrate these new economic and environmental realities will fill the power system with stranded assets and create climate risk for all electricity users.” OBP/DM
This article first appeared on Daily Maverick and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.