Durban — Government has acknowledged that South Africa will probably continue to make use of coal as a primary source of energy for the country but said it will continue to explore clean energy initiatives as part of strives towards a low-carbon economy.
Energy Minister Dipuo Peters told reporters at the UN climate change conference on Thursday that the government could not ignore the fact that South Africa is a coal-rich economy, "nor can we ignore the significant contribution of coal mining industry towards the economy".
Her comments came as protesters outside the Durban convention centre this week urged government to consider other alternatives that would cut the country's use of coal.
Environmentalists both in South Africa and abroad have criticised the decision by the World Bank to grant the country a $3.75 billion loan to build the world's 4th largest coal-fired power in Mpumalanga. The plant will increase the demand for coal mining and production.
Last year, South Africa had an estimated 32 billion tons of coal reserves which at current local consumption can last the economy more than 100 years. Environmental lobby group Greenpeace Africa says more than 90% of South Africa's electricity actually comes from coal and SA was the fifth largest producer of coal and already the 6th largest consumer.
But Peters maintained authorities were committed to reducing the country's total carbon emission citing President Jacob Zuma's pledge in Copenhagen two years ago that South Africa planned to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent in the next decade and 42 percent by 2025.
She said the signing of the Green Economy Accord by government and social partners recently marked a significant "milestone" in achieving South Africa's clean energy policies.
Government aimed to achieve its target of installing one million solar water heaters in homes by 2014 and securing commitments from private for other renewable energy needs, Peters said.
Given the fact that South Africa was a coal-rich economy, the accord also committed the state to have an increased focus on the advancement of clean coal technologies through projects such as underground coal gasification as well as carbon capture and storage.
The minister said carbon capture technology remained a key mitigation option for the country and the energy sector was committed to implementing it.
Also the government's Integrated Resource Plan for renewable energy was expected to generate more than 3 700 megawatts of power through various technologies. These include gas, wind, hydro and solar power.
Independent power producers have been invited to submit bids for commercial production between June 2014 and the end of 2016.
"If we are serious about diversification towards a low carbon economy we cannot ignore the role that natural gas can play as a bridging option in this transition because natural gas emits significantly lower greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels," said Peters.
South Africa imports a substantial amount of gas from Mozambique and plans are under way to construct a gas powered fire plant with 140MW capacity through a joint venture between Sasol and Mozambique's local power utility.