Rather than withholding investment, South Africa needed to ramp up investment in the fossil fuels sector – particularly coal – to stave off a prolonged energy crisis that started already in 2021, energy economist and German commodity trading company HMS Bergbau shareholder Dr Lars Schernikau said at Fossil Fuel Foundation’s Carbon’s Coal Conference 2022 held in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, on April 1.
Globally, about 80% of primary energy is generated through fossil fuels – about 26% of that through coal, 31% through petroleum and 23% through gas in 2019 and much unchanged in 2021. Of the primary energy mix, about 40% was attributed to electricity generation before losses. In terms of total electricity generation after losses, 36% of it was generated through the use of coal, 23% through gas and 3% through petroleum.
Schernikau believed that, while renewables played an important role in the energy mix, it is doubtful that they will be capable of wholly replacing the role of fossil fuels in energy generation anytime soon, since the global demand for primary energy would continue to grow by about 50% by 2050.
This would potentially outstrip the renewables sector’s ability to overtake fossil fuels without plunging parts of the globe into energy poverty in the process.
“The world will continue to get richer and populations will continue to increase, so we will have continued energy demand,” he said.
In 2019, wind and solar only provided about 3% of global primary energy and about 8% of total electricity generation.
“What’s interesting is that the current discussions going on around the future of energy, talking about net zero, all assume a drop in energy demand and supply,” Schernikau commented, noting that the intergovernmental organisation the International Energy Agency’s Net-Zero Pathway modelled a 10% reduction in primary energy demand by 2030.
He said it begged the question: how do we assume a coming decrease in energy demand when all the variables pointed towards an inevitable increase in energy demand?
“It’s completely unrealistic,” he said.
He said, to avoid an energy crisis – both globally and in South Africa – greater investment in coal-based energy generation technologies was required rather than divestment so that cleaner and more efficient solutions could be researched and developed.
Looking at the entire value chain and life-cycle across emission and non-emission environmental impact of energy systems, he said that, overall, investment in wind and solar plus batteries at large-scale grid-levels would ultimately be more detrimental to the environment than investment in clean coal technologies.
The negative environmental impact of variable renewable energy, such as wind and solar, was driven by their low energy efficiency in terms of their energy return on investment, as well as intermittency, high material input, low energy density, short life-time, and recycling challenges, Schernikau concluded. – (Mining Weekly)