Shale gas ‘could cut SA’s greenhouse gas emissions’
OVER time, South Africa switches from coal to shale gas for its energy, the country could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, allowing the coal industry to benefit from the higher export prices for coal.
This is according to Energy Intensive User Group of Southern Africa spokesman Shaun Nel, who was commenting on research released by the Department of Environmental Affairs on Wednesday.
The research showed shale gas was better than coal from a greenhouse gas emissions point of view, when used to generate power or as a heating and cooking agent. It also showed its life-cycle emissions were similar to those of conventional gas if shale gas was responsibly extracted, and that converting shale gas to liquid fuel released more emissions than other liquid fuels already used.
Mr Nel said South Africa’s need for increased security of energy supply, along with its desire to keep an eye on energy costs and to curb emissions, meant the country had to “at least investigate shale”.
South Africa suffered its first blackouts in six years this month, when demand exceeded supply and Eskom resorted to load-shedding to avert a nationwide blackout.
Gas was a cheaper option than the mooted nuclear energy, Mr Nel said.
South Africa has postponed for about two years a decision on when to start building a planned 9,600MW of nuclear power generation capacity, estimated to cost about R1-trillion.
Although South Africa is responsible for less than 2% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions, last year’s calculations by the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) showed South Africa to be the world’s
12th-largest greenhouse gas emitter. The country’s high emissions come primarily from its dependence on coal for more than 90% of its energy.
While President Jacob Zuma in his state of the nation address said shale gas could be a “game changer” for South Africa, the country has yet to prove its reserves despite the EIA’s estimate that these are about 480-trillion cubic feet. This was later changed to about 390-trillion cubic feet, in contrast to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa’s estimate of 40-trillion cubic feet.
Mr Nel said if South Africa switched from coal to gas, there would still be a global market for coal, and coal miners would get far higher prices on export.
The government and power utility Eskom have called for coal to be declared a “strategic resource” to secure supplies and force mine operators to process some output locally as its coal-fired power stations, which produce almost 90% of South Africa’s electricity, require a continuous supply.
World Wide Fund for Nature Living Planet unit head Saliem Fakir said the study was the first he had seen that looked at shale gas’s upstream and downstream emissions effects.
Business Day Live
28 March 2014