Coal-powered electricity generation in Ghana: The pros and cons

coal20 January 2014, Accra – The Ghanaian government’s avowed aim of generating 5,000 megawatts of electricity by 2016 from the current 2,800MW may be elusive since Ghana’s traditional sources of electricity have been limited to hydro, thermal and quite recently solar. I was personally elated when the government ventured into the 2.5 megawatts of solar-powered plant in Navrongo. The potential of solar energy in the tropics cannot be over-emphasised. Ghana’s demand for electricity is increasing at the rate of 10% annually. Hence, the recent announcement by the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum to include coal powered sources to the energy mix could add impetus towards enhancing the country’s generating capacity. This proposal by a Chinese company to build 700MW coal powered plant in Ghana generated mixed feelings from various stakeholders and among Ghanaians.

Climatologists viewed this development as “backwardness” energy initiative by the energy ministry. The coal-fired power electricity generation has received the intense criticisms from them because of its high emission records and waste management issues. Coal is described as the dirtiest energy source among its fossil fuel siblings. It is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions posing as the greatest challenge to our climate. So in order to secure the climate and promote healthy future, less dependence on coal powered plants has been proposed. Hence, the requirements and regulations to reduce emissions have made some countries to put in plans to decommission their coal powered plants. It is reported that USA will decommission about 20% of her coal powered generating capacity over the next few years. Also, the United Kingdom is expected to shut down the coal powered capacity by 2015 aims at reducing sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter emissions into the atmosphere. It is undeniable fact that these toxic mixtures of chemicals are harmful to human health. Apart from the man-made emissions, the coal also produces waste, creating acid rain and polluting water bodies. Therefore, the decommissioning of the coal plants has been occasioned by three main factors: relatively cheap domestic natural gas, stiff public opposition against dirty sources of energy and strict environment regulations.

However, the proponents of the use of coal argue that it is the cheapest source of energy that can spare the needed accelerated economic growth. Furthermore, it may aid security of electricity supply of the country. The coal plays pivotal role in global electricity generation constituting about 41% follow by 21% of gas. It therefore, argued that without coal in the electricity generation mix, the world will be in partial darkness. The industrial revolution was entirely fuelled by “the king coal” as it was affectionately known.

In most countries in the world, the coal powered plants provide their electricity needs. South Africa has 93% of coal electricity generation, Poland has 87%, China has 79%, Australia has 78%, Kazakhstan 75%, India 65%, Israel 58%, Morocco 51% and USA generates 45% from the coal ( IEA 2012). It is also asserted that clean coal is possible with the emerging of Carbon Capture and Storage Technology. The coal powered plants with carbon capture and storage will be a carbon mitigating measure. Unfortunately, the technology has not yet been commercialised and very expensive to acquire. This carbon mitigating option could help to sharply reduce carbon emissions and harsh environmental effects from the coal- powered burning plants.

In terms of cost of production, it is also the cheapest source of energy and abundance in supply in the world compare to the other fuel sources. It is cheaper than most energy sources such as nuclear, natural gas and oil. However, the cost of hydro generation of the electricity is relatively cheaper than coal powered electricity generation. Furthermore, it produces high amount of energy upon combustion with relatively small area compare to many renewable technologies. The coal reserves are found in many parts of the world with the biggest reserves in the USA, Russia, China and India. The current reserves would last for the next 200 years even if the current usage remains constant. Furthermore, many of the renewable sources of energy such wind, solar and hydro depends on favourable weather but coal does not.

The demand for electricity is increasing significantly and there is no sign of abatement. The electricity consumption in Ghana is expected to double in the next ten years. Giving the government’s aim of generating 5000 MW of electricity by 2016, every source of energy should be considered. Reconciling the aforementioned challenges and prospects to promote the security of electricity supply in Ghana should be considered seriously. About 60% of Ghana’s electricity generation mix is from hydro sources. However, the concerns of the climate have threatened its sustainability and reliability since the rainfall pattern may be affected. No single energy source can suffice the ever increasing demand of electricity in the country. A diversified energy sources can secure reliable and stable electricity supply in Ghana. One major initiative needed for the accelerated economic take off of the country is regular, reliable supply of power.

So, at least 20% of coal powered in the electricity generation mix of Ghana will not be far-fetched, considering the fact that it is still constituted the highest portion of the electricity generation mix by many countries like South Africa, United States of America, Kazakhstan, Poland, Australia, India, China, Morocco and Israel as already alluded to. The opponents of the coal powered plants in Ghana should bear in mind that these countries have equal responsibility, if not more, in the global efforts towards combating the climate change. Some countries should not be treated with kick gloves when it comes to the use of the coal for electricity generation, while others are denied the opportunity.

I however, suggest that clean coal initiatives and capacity building of Ghanaians in the area of waste management should be pursued vigorously. My only point of departure is that Ghana has no coal deposits unlike other mineral resources. It is envisage that this non-renewable resource would be imported from other countries such as South Africa. This might put pressure on the balance of payment deficit of the country which is already under stress.


– Mustapha Iddrisu, The Chronicle

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