Validating the South African government’s policy decision to retain coal as a central bastion of its diversified energy mix, a recent report by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has affirmed the extent of the country’s coal deposits, noting that the Southern African country holds the world’s ninth-largest volume of recoverable coal reserves and 95% of Africa’s total coal assets.
“According to the British Petroleum Statistical Review of World Energy 2014, South African proved coal reserves were estimated at 33-billion short tons at the end of 2013.
“[While] environmental groups continue to target the industry [owing to] air, land and water pollution…coal consumption in South Africa is expected to continue to increase as new coal-fired power stations come on line to meet rising demand for electricity,” the report read.
Noting that the South African economy remained “heavily” dependent on coal, which accounted for about 72% of the country’s primary energy consumption, the EIA outlined that increasing production would depend on the country’s ability to expand its railway and export capacity.
“One of the main bottlenecks to increasing coal exports is the lack of railway infrastructure to transport coal from the mines to the ports.
“Transnet, South Africa's railway operator, plans to invest billions of dollars to expand railway infrastructure; however, South Africa's major export projects are experiencing delays,” the agency noted.
According to the EIA, although South Africa had a number of mining projects under way, it was unclear how much future coal production would be allocated to domestic electricity generation rather than exported.
The country currently exported 25% of its production, with Asia receiving over half of total coal exports.
India accounted for 40% of South Africa's coal exports, while Europe was the second-largest regional importer of South Africa's coal, followed by Africa, the Middle East
and the Americas.