Coal is still the dominant energy source in South Africa for the production of electricity and synfuels as well as in the domestic metallurgical sector with an internal consumption of approximately 130 million tonnes per annum, and a total production of around 215 million tonnes per annum in 2015 [BP, 2017]. South Africa coal fields equates to 0.9% of the globally proved reserves and lie in the north-eastern parts of the country and is positioned at 11th for the top coal reserve holders [BP, 2017].

The majority of South Africa’s coal are mined in open cast mines, which formed part of a programme since the late 1960s of building large, standardised, six unit coal fired power stations resulting in cheap electricity when compared to international rates at the time [DoME et al, 2002]. Given that coal is a polluting source of generating energy due to its wastages, which includes nitrogen gases, sulphur gases, carbon dioxide, organic compounds, heavy metals and radioactive elements, the benefits outweighed the environmental considerations. To improve economic efficiencies, the coal fire stations were located close to the coal fields which meant that the electricity had to be transported over long distances to the end users.

Eskom’s coal costs, which account for approximately 30% of operating expenses, have been rising at 17% per year over the last six years, which is significantly higher than inflation [Eskom, 2016a].

At the current extraction rates based on the proved reserves South Africa would run out of coal in 46 years. This is in contrast with previous projections of 200 years for our given production rates [DME. 2003; StatsSA, 2004; StatsSA, 2005].

Figure: Industrial area’s, ports and mines in South Africa [Michagan State University, 2006]

Figure: Energy resources: Public coal map [Eskom, 2015b]


British Petroleum (2017) Statistical review of world energy

Department Of Minerals And Energy (2003)

Department Of Minerals And Energy, Eskom, Energy Research Institute, University Of Cape Town (2002) ‘Energy Outlook For South Africa’

Eskom (2016a) ‘Integrated report’, 31 March 2016

Statistics South Africa (2004) ‘Natural resource accounts: Energy accounts for South Africa, 1980-2001’

Statistics South Africa (2005) ‘Natural resource accounts: Energy accounts for South Africa, 1995-2001’