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As the World Cuts Back on Coal, a Growing Appetite in Africa

May 11, 2017

By Paul Homewood



Two contrasting news items today:



New coal plants in Africa are largely being paid for by China and developed countries that are turning away from the technology at home. Here’s why.


Picture of a coal mine in Zimbabwe

A coal mine in Zimbabwe is one of the signs of activity for the fossil fuel in a developing Africa.

Lamu, Kenya

Few places in the world exude a sense of timelessness as Lamu, an island off of Kenya’s northern coast home to the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Lamu’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an epicenter of Indian Ocean trade for centuries, is a maze of narrow winding streets that cut through neighborhoods of limestone and coral houses, past elaborately carved mahogany doors and several dozen mosques and churches. Only a handful of motor vehicles are allowed on the island; transportation is mainly the domain of donkeys or men pushing wooden carts thorough the tropical swelter.

Yet Lamu Island’s 24,000 residents are faced with what many here call an existential crisis. Some 15 miles north of town, on a sparsely populated seaside area of the mainland formerly used for growing maize, cashews, and sesame, a Kenyan company known as Amu Power is preparing to erect a $2 billion coal power plant, the first of its kind in East Africa.

Financed with Chinese, South African, and Kenyan capital, and built by the state-owned Power Construction Corporation of China, the plant is intended to add 1,050 megawatts of capacity to Kenya’s national grid and power operations of an adjacent 32 berth deep-water port. Both are part of an ambitious government plan to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country by 2030.

The project is controversial in part due to the risks it poses to Lamu’s delicate marine environment, which many fear will harm its two most vital industries: fishing and tourism. Yet it is also emblematic of Africa’s growing appetite for coal, the most polluting form of power generation, which until now has existed in significant quantities only in the continent’s most industrialized country, South Africa.

According to data compiled by CoalSwarm, an industry watchdog, more than 100 coal-generating units with a combined capacity of 42.5 gigawatts are in various stages of planning or development in 11 African countries outside of South Africa—more than eight times the region’s existing coal capacity. Nearly all are fueled by foreign investment, and roughly half are being financed by the world’s largest coal emitter: China.

The International Energy Agency projects the region’s electricity demand to triple by 2040, with roughly half of new capacity coming from renewables. Yet coal-fired plants, which generate 41 percent of the world’s electricity today, remain attractive because coal is relatively cheap and their operation isn’t subject to the whims of nature—unlike solar, wind, or hydro.

In Kenya, for example, the country’s 800 megawatts of hydropower, one third of its total capacity, has become increasingly unreliable due to recurrent drought and is virtually inoperable at present, according to Richard Muiru, an advisor to Kenya’s Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. Although the country has extensive wind and geothermal resources, which it has started to exploit, these projects aren’t coming online fast enough, Muiru says, to keep up with Kenya’s projected demand.

To put the numbers into perspective, the figure quoted for new build, 42.5GW, is effectively double the coal plant capacity that we had in the UK in 2011, before it started to be run down.

Africa’s embrace of coal is in part the result of its acute shortage of power. Although the continent’s economy has doubled in size since 2000, more than two thirds of residents south of the Sahara still live without electricity and most states lack the grid capacity to drive the expansion of job-creating industries.

Being from National Geographic, the article warbles on about how renewables are really the answer to Africa’s problems.

But the Kenyan Government, and those of other African nations, clearly realise that this is nonsense, and that only the sort of cheap, reliable power, which coal brings, is capable of lifting their economies out of the dark age.



Meanwhile, as GWPF report, Europe’s biggest solar company has just gone bust:



Germany’s SolarWorld, once Europe’s biggest solar power equipment group, said on Wednesday it would file for insolvency, overwhelmed by Chinese rivals who had long been a thorn in the side of founder and CEO Frank Asbeck, once known as “the Sun King”.

source: Bloomberg Markets, 11 May 2017


SolarWorld was one of the few German solar power companies to survive a major crisis at the turn of the decade, caused by a glut in production of panels that led prices to fall and peers to collapse, including Q-Cells, Solon and Conergy.

SolarWorld was forced to restructure and avoided insolvency thanks to a debt-for-equity swap and the support of Qatar, which took a 29 percent stake in the group four years ago through Qatar Solar S.P.C.

A renewed wave of cheap Chinese exports, caused by reduced ambitions in China to expand solar power generation, was too much to bear for the group, which made its last net profit in 2014.

“Due to the ongoing price erosion and the development of the business, the company no longer has a positive going concern prognosis, is therefore over-indebted and thus obliged to file for insolvency proceedings,” SolarWorld said in a statement on Wednesday.

Frankfurt-listed shares in the group last traded down 77 percent at 0.81 euros.


Advocates of solar power claim that the cost of the technology has been plummeting in recent years. But much of this has been brought about by dumping of solar panels by China, something that is ultimately unsustainable.

Observant readers may notice the China connection in the two stories! As Trump has pointed out, China is only interested in how it can benefit economically from Western obsession with climate change.

  1. Joe Public permalink
    May 11, 2017 5:01 pm

    Re: SolarWorld to file for insolvency, despite massive assistance from the EU:

  2. A C Osborn permalink
    May 11, 2017 6:52 pm

    I think the first headline is in error, I can’t see any actual reduction in Coal use by “the rest of the world”, the US only reduced it because fracked Gas was so cheap and Obama had a down on the whole industry.

  3. May 12, 2017 1:27 pm

    Further validation of my decision several years ago to discontinue the life membership from my late parents for The National Geographic Society rag.

    The left is in love with the “noble savage.” So-called anthropologists have mourned the loss of the stone-age tribes when they come into contact with evil advanced society. They wish to keep the tribal customs and poverty so intriguing as they “study” them for gentle articles and dissertations. Why should they partake of advanced civilization?

    This article is an example of practiced overbearing elitism. Africa should continue to be their poster child for poverty and our evilness, while celebrated for faculty lounge’s edification. Very curious thought processes on the elite’s part. But it means that “having cared” they do not actually have to give up THEIR advanced life-style while expecting us to do so and the tribes to remain in poverty sustained by the governmental corruption they so admire.

    • Ken permalink
      May 16, 2017 12:41 pm

      Exactly what I am thinking, but you say it so well. I wrote off Nat Geo, Sci Am, and Smithsonian after I heard the phrase “the science is settled”, and realized those publications were all-in on the scam. Sad. I enjoyed them.

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