While an optimal energy mix relies on a variety of generation technologies, coal will remain a major driver of some African economies. 

African countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and Senegal continue to exploit the advantages of this fuel source, setting the scene for their counterparts elsewhere on the continent that intend to develop these thermal power production capabilities. Mozambique, Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania are all potential candidates for mine-to-mouth power plants, with various projects already in the very early stages of their lifecycles.

coal production

2014 South African coal production

However, it is South Africa with its vast coal resources and large fleet of power stations that sets the benchmark on the continent in terms of coal-fired power generation.

Importantly, its new builds such as Medupi power station, will feature super-critical boilers and turbines improving their efficiencies and use of coal and scarce water resources. Meanwhile, flue-gas desulphurisation technology, which will be retro-fitted on all six of Medupi’s generation units, will significantly reduce their sulphur-dioxide emissions. This is in line with South Africa’s own commitments to global greenhouse gas reduction agreements.

Coal is expected to play an even more prominent role in the country’s energy mix in the foreseeable future, reflected by its base-load independent power producer (IPP) programme. The current South African Department of Energy coal base-load programme intends to procure 2 500MW of power from IPPs.

Jay Urban, Director, Power Generation, WSP in Africa, stresses the importance of this programme due to the need to replace the aging fleet of existing coal-fired power plants built in South Africa in the 1980s.

In addition to our role in the construction of Eskom’s Medupi power station, we have also worked extensively on the base-load IPP programme.

African states, such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and Senegal, continue exploiting the advantages of coal, setting the scene for their counterparts elsewhere that intend developing these thermal power production capabilities.

Importantly, Botswana’s coal resources are the basis upon which the highly ambitious Trans-Kalahari Corridor is being planned. This project envisages constructing a railway line all the way from the Mmamabula coalfields to Namibia’s small, but smart port in Walvis Bay to allow it to export coal to steel-producing Asian nations.

While the Mozambican government has placed significant focus on its extensive natural gas reserves, it also intends to continue to develop its sizeable coal resources in Tete. This important resource has already stimulated significant investments into rail and port infrastructure in the country. Real interest has also been expressed in using this coal for power-generation.

As independent engineer, our Power team has worked closely with Ncondezi Coal Company, which wants to build a coal-fired power station in the region. We prepared the feasibility study, as well as the plant and transmission lines minimum functional specifications on behalf of the IPP.

The coal available in Tete, combined with the country’s extensive liquid-natural gas reserves, positions Mozambique as a potential power hub in southern and eastern Africa.

However, it is state-owned utilities elsewhere on the continent that continue to be the major drivers of this thermal generation capacity, and we have played a prominent role in many of these plans.

In Zimbabwe, which has significant potential to bolster its coal-generation capacities, we have provided consulting engineering services for the design, engineering, bid documentation preparation, bid management and evaluation, contract administration, design review, site supervision and defects liability support for Hwange Power Station, which has undergone extensive upgrades recently. Our capabilities extended to the transmission and distribution infrastructure connected to the power station.

Further north, we were lender’s technical adviser for Conseil Economique Social et Environnemental’s 125MW coal-fired power station plant near Dakar.

However, in our experience, meeting the onerous environmental demands on these plants promises to add the most value to Africa’s coal generation aspirations.

African policymakers are also grappling with the impacts of global climate change. As such, they are joining their counterparts in the developed world in striving to resolve the policy trilemma by providing affordable, decarbonised and secure electricity. South Africa’s own extensive research into clean-coal technologies, including coal-gasification, carbon sequestration and storage, and fluidised-bed technology, points to cleaner coal solutions.