In South Africa, power outages are not the exception but the rule. The country's power grid and power plants are outdated, and energy demand has increased. Like South Africa — where around 90% of energy comes from coal — other African countries have embarked on coal mining. Botswana, Tanzania, and Mozambique are among the leading countries. About 34 coal-fired power plants currently produce roughly 53 gigawatts, supplying one-third of the continent's electricity needs. 19 of these power plants are located in South Africa.
According to NJ Ayuk, executive chairman of the African Energy Chamber, explains "Coal — in some countries that have it — is in abundance, efficient, and convenient," Ayuk told DW, adding that the logistics are already in place compared to most countries that lack infrastructure for renewables.
Help and support with coal energy in Africa come from China, Russia, and France. "These countries often supply the finance and technology, and it makes sense for them to tap into resources that already exist and build the economy."
For Ayuk, there is an alternative to coal. "Gas is cleaner than coal and could be used for power plants as we prepare to use renewable energy." Africa boasts of substantial gas reserves. For example, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal have recently discovered gas deposits.
Many plans for new coal-fired power plants have not even been implemented yet, Stephen Karekezi, chairman of the non-governmental organization Africa Energy Policy Research in Kenya told DW. "Even if they were realized, the impact on global climate change will not be noticeable," he added.
Africa's one billion people contribute only between 1 and 1.5% of global greenhouse emissions, Karekezi said.
Africa plans to establish 25 new coal power plants. The organization Energy for Growth Hub, which has examined the projects in more detail, found that only one small plant in Niger with a capacity of around 100 megawatts is to be completed soon. Nine other projects could come online in the future, but construction has not yet begun. The remaining 14 plants have either already been canceled or are unlikely to be completed. Among them is the planned coal-fired power plant near the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chinese-backed project has had its license revoked after environmentalists sued.
For Greenpeace, there is no reason why African countries should invest in coal-fired power plants. "The impact is immense. We feel it in South Africa. Burning coal produces toxic substances like carbon dioxide, and acid rain changes our groundwater — all dangers for the environment and health," Nhlanhla Sibisi, a climate and energy expert, told DW. He said the continent has diverse potential for renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. "The cost of solar can no longer count as a factor because it has dropped a lot."
For example, Kenya gets 25% of its electricity needs from renewable sources, and African countries can increase this approach. "Governments need to make a shift towards renewables through better implementation of relevant policies and legislation," Sibisi said, adding that this is the only way to prevent a climate crisis.