Energy-Water Interdependence in Southern Africa

E.M.N. Chirwa (S. Africa)


Cleaner energy, sustainability, fossil fuels, process water recovery, nuclear energy.


South Africa has a fast growing economy driven by the mining sector. The industry relies heavily on energy generated from coal combustion. The coal power plants require large amounts of water to generate steam to drive turbines and cooling water for steam recovery to complete the thermodynamic cycle. Waste streams from the generation systems and returning cooling water are heavily polluted with toxic metals, oil, and other organic elements. When returned to natural water bodies, this lowers the water quality of the receiving waters thereby taking more water bodies off the national inventory of available clean water resources. This choice of power source for the country has impacted availability (quantity) and suitability of use (quality) of the water resources. For sustainable water use for future generations, South Africa must develop alternative environmentally sustainable power systems that use less water and pollute less. Possible alternative technologies have been debated extensively, including: solar, wind, tidal, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal energy. The challenge for implementation of most of these alternative sources is mostly cost related. For example, solar panels are still forbiddingly expensive; wind energy is considered sparse, whereas geothermal energy is considered mostly inaccessible using current technologies. This paper discusses the favourites among the suggested alternatives such as solar, wind and nuclear energy and how these could impact the environment and the social-economic structure of the country.

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