Transition to renewable energies
South Africa is currently preparing for the transition to renewable energy. Coal companies can support the transition by supplying higher quality, responsibly produced coal. One of the companies discussing the possibilities is coal exporter Thungela.
Thungela CEO July Ndlovu said the transition to more sustainability must be looked at from an environmental as well as a social perspective. On the one hand, you have to talk about climate change impacts, land management, emissions, biodiversity and water management, but on the other hand, you have to keep in mind the impact on communities and markets that rely on coal and coal combustion.
Thungela is focused on generating sustainable returns for communities and follows international best practices for its disclosure practices, he said. As a local producer of high-quality, low-cost thermal coal, Thungela is at risk of being shut out by the economy's shift to renewable energy.
Newly developed technologies in the energy sector often require the mining of "green metals" as raw materials. Ndlovu pointed out that this requires existing energy sources such as coal. He stressed that cheap, reliable energy such as coal energy is important for the transition, as it is relied on when renewable energy such as wind is not available. The development of new technologies could also explore new ways of using coal, according to Ndlovu.
Serving communities during the energy transition
In South Africa's mining regions, it is often the case that mining companies provide key infrastructure for communities, such as health facilities, water treatment plants or energy infrastructure. For example, Thungela's Emalahleni water treatment plant provides a significant amount of water to the local community.
According to Ndlovu, in order to manage the energy transition, it is also important to ensure that there are enough alternative livelihoods for communities after a mine closes. An example of this is the Thungela irrigation trial at Mafube in Mpumalanga, which is testing whether it is possible to use the rehabilitated soil and mine water for agriculture. Samples are also being analysed to determine the impact of the rehabilitation on the environment.
Ndlovu adds that at Thungela, ownership structures have been put in place to ensure that part of the value generated goes to the communities and not just to shareholders.
In his opinion, South Africa should follow an "inclusive growth path". This should recognise the co-existence of different energy sources to maximise growth and jobs. Ndlovu concludes, "It is important for us that South Africans have access to secure energy. However, as we produce a high-value export product, we also have a responsibility to use the resources entrusted to us as responsibly as possible and to ensure that everyone, not just our shareholders, benefits from our activities. This is how we will move forward".
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