Eskom’s Dilemma with Emissions: Eskom, South Africa’s power utility, faces a critical dilemma. It must decide whether to prioritize reducing emissions to comply with government regulations, potentially sacrificing power generation, or continue operating its coal fleet at higher emissions, breaching standards to ensure power supply.
Eskom’s Dilemma with Emissions
Emission Violations Uncovered:
Reuters’ analysis of Eskom data has revealed that four out of its 15 coal-fired power stations are currently in violation of government emissions regulations.
Awareness of Violations:
Eskom officials and Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa acknowledge these violations. They recognize a notable reversal in a 40-year trend of declining emissions within the past 12 months.
Eskom’s senior environmental manager, Deidre Herbst, cites system constraints as a significant factor. These constraints force difficult choices between emission compliance and maintenance, particularly given the severe impact of load-shedding on the economy.
Load-shedding’s detrimental effect on the economy compels Eskom to run its coal plants more intensively and delay necessary upgrades.
Among the four plants in violation of regulations – Matimba, Matla, Kendal, and Kriel – two were found to emit more than double the permitted limit of particulate matter in February, based on available Eskom data.
Sulphur Dioxide Release:
In an effort to reduce temporary blackouts caused by inadequate power supply, Eskom sought approval earlier this year to release more sulphur dioxide, which is associated with health issues like asthma and heart attacks.
Flue-Gas Desulfurisation Unit Bypass:
Eskom requested permission from South Africa’s environmental affairs department to bypass the flue-gas desulfurisation (FGD) unit, which removes toxic gases from emissions at three of the six units at Kusile.
Despite Eskom’s R67 billion emission reduction plan, National Treasury reported an increase in emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired plants over the past year. This increase significantly exceeds the emission reduction target.
Non-Compliance in Units:
By March 2023, 17 of Eskom’s units were operating in non-compliance with average monthly emission limits, posing a threat to Eskom’s non-compliant power stations.
Reports from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) suggest that air pollution from Eskom’s coal-fired plants could lead to the premature deaths of thousands. Health issues include stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lower respiratory disease.
Breach of Emission Standards:
Many of Eskom’s coal-fired power plants are reported to breach South African emission standards, raising concerns about public health.
Emission Reduction Goals:
Eskom’s current plan aims to reduce emissions by approximately 70% by 2035 compared to 2021, alongside station-specific recovery plans.
Eskom claims that its emission improvement plans, which are being implemented, are yielding positive results in terms of emission performance.
Eskom’s predicament underscores the challenge faced by power utilities worldwide in striking a balance between meeting emission regulations and ensuring reliable power supply, especially when transitioning to cleaner energy sources.