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Politics and electricity

18th February 2022

By: Terry Mackenzie-hoy

     

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Our Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, has come out swinging with pronouncements that the future of South Africa’s energy supplies is based on natural gas. On December 14, just as South Africans were beginning their annual summer holiday slowdown, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) published a Gas Master Plan ‘base case report’ for public comment by January 31.

The suggestion in the report is that South Africa should convert six of Eskom’s older coal power plants to run on gas, convert trucks and taxis to run off gas instead of diesel, build thousands of kilometres of new gas pipelines and find the question whose answer is ‘42’ (okay, I made the last one up).

This all sounds like a dodgy claim and about as realistic as solving the housing crisis using dwellings made from playing cards. You can see it right at the get-go: South Africa shuts down on December 16 for the break, so why issue the paper on December 14 and call for responses at the end of January, just after we’re all back at work? Great thinking, Batman. Then you can, with a smirk, say you called for public comments and there were very few. An old trick, much practised by lawyers.

But now, as they say, to the res (Latin: ‘matter’). We don’t have natural gas in South Africa. There is gas in Mozambique, and we import it from there, but it’s largely used by PetroSA to make petroleum fuels. The Minister is pushing hard to allow various seismic exploration campaigns off the South African coast, which, he hopes, will find gas. Let’s face it, something has to compensate for all those dead fish left behind from the seismic exploration vessels. Okay, let’s suppose we do find gas. What next? You have to hire a rig, drill a well, lay a pipeline, build shore facilities, lay gas pipelines, all of which, in this our brave land, will be the subject of corruption and delays. Let’s assume there will be no corruption and no delays. It’s still going to take four years. To cite from amaBhungane: “In reality, these ideas come with many risks. One of the most obvious is that gas is traded in dollars and prices fluctuate wildly, driven by demand in China and Europe. “South Africa has offshore gas prospects but, according to gas experts, it is likely that gas extracted from beneath our oceans would be liquefied, put on to ships and sold into the international market, where we would have to buy it back, but priced in dollars.”

So, we can do that right now, without the rig, pipeline, etc. Why don’t we? Beginning with “convert six of Eskom’s older coal power plants to run on gas”. Are you kidding? Power Station 101 says coal stations have boilers which are fired by furnaces that run on coal. To run a traditional coal station on gas is basically a poor idea: gas to heat/heat to steam/steam to power. Rather, use the gas directly in a turbine; crudely, fire up a jet engine with the gas and drive an alternator.

As for the other suggestion (convert trucks and taxis to run off gas) I can see the headline now: ‘Horror taxi collision and subsequent fireball kills passengers’. But anyway, why convert? Gas won’t necessarily be cheaper. Building and maintaining kilometres of gas pipeline is no easy call. The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa can’t even stop people stealing all the bits of railway line infrastructure. How much easier to fire a shot into a gas pipeline, watch while it flares up, note when the flames go out and then steal the pipeline? Then there’s the hassle of building the storage tanks, and metering infrastructure. I am quite sure that Shell is behind this all. Isn’t it strange? The Amazon Warrior arrives to do a seismic survey off the Wild Coast. It is shown the door. Another seismic ship pitches up. DMRE issues a Gas Master Plan. Join the dots. It’s just not going to work.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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