Water use at South Africa’s coal power stations : a legal analysis
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South Africa is facing water and energy crises; the demand of which is often in excess of their availability. The water crisis recently culminated into the reality of ꞌday zeroꞌ scares in the city of Cape Town, while planned rolling blackouts, based on a rotating schedule, made ꞌload sheddingꞌ or ꞌload reductionꞌ regular household terms for South Africans in recent years. South Africa’s power utility, Eskom Holdings Limited (Eskom), was initially established in 1923, in terms of the Electricity Act 42 of 1922, as the primary generator and supplier of electrical energy. Today, Eskom maintains a varied portfolio of plants, including gas turbines, hydroelectric and nuclear units, as well as coal-fired plants or power stations to produce electricity. Adding to the gloomy reality of failing power plants, from an environmental law perspective, particular concerns emerge as to the quantity of water used at Eskom’s coal-fired plants. Eskom’s coal-fired plants are particularly large consumers of water. This is unsettling if one considers the fact that the water catchment areas in which many of Eskom’s coal-fired plants are built, are relatively water scarce. While the demand for South Africa’s scarce water resources continues to rise, Eskom's water consumption also continues to increase due to the increased demand for electricity. As the country’s water reserves diminish, the reality looms that the power utility will in fact not be able to provide any electricity output without water. This dissertation subsequently focuses on water use at South Africa’s coal power stations. More specifically, this dissertation critically examines, from a legal perspective, the sustainability of water use practices at coal fired power stations. In an effort to avoid a compartmentalised approach, which may dismiss and overlook the interconnectedness between water and energy, this dissertation considers the concept of the ꞌwater-energy nexusꞌ to provide some guidance in the analysis. The study subsequently explores how the water-energy nexus can optimise water use in the energy generation process at South Africa’s coal-fired power stations from a legal and policy perspective.
- Law