Africa's top emitter seeks $10bn to shift from coal

South Africa's Eskom is the continent's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases - pumping around 213 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.

But now the state power utility is pitching a $10bn plan to shut the vast amount of its coal-fired plants by 2050, and embrace renewables.

All the debt-crippled company says it needs, is some money.

"What we are putting on the table as Eskom is to say, funders, financiers out there, we as South Africa can offer you the biggest point source of emissions reduction in the world, carbon emissions reduction, can you give us $7 to $8 per ton and fund it in that way."

Mandy Rambharos is general manager at Eskom's Just Energy Transition office.

She says Eskom - which generates more than 90% of South Africa's electricity by burning coal - is modeling different scenarios to reach a target of "net zero" emissions by 2050.

One involves shutting down 35,000 megawatts of coal.

That's from 41,000 megawatts of installed coal-fired capacity as of March last year.

The bolder route would see Eskom achieve no coal by 2050 from 15 power stations now.

Rambharos says Eskom is in talks with institutions like the World Bank and Africa Development Bank.

It is also looking at "repowering" its Komati coal plant using solar and battery storage - a project that could be presented at the COP26 climate conference in November to prove that Eskom is serious and to woo financiers.

Eskom, choking under billions of dollars of debt, regularly imposes power cuts as it grapples with repeated faults at its ailing coal-fired power stations.

Analysts have also flagged the carbon intensity of South Africa's economy as a major risk as investors and governments become increasingly attuned to climate concerns.

"We are going to be left in this little bubble and we're not going to be able to export our wine or our fruit or our flowers or our cars if we don't transition. So I think the electricity sector should be the first mover because if we decarbonize electricity we will unlock a whole lot of decarbonization in the country, but the decarbonization and transition for the whole country is crucial."

While Eskom could use natural gas as part of its energy transition, Rambharos said the ultimate aim is to entirely replace coal with renewables.

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