By Tangai Chipangura
The battle for renewable energy has found formidable support from the least likely corner – a coal miner, who believes that “black gold” does not have to be always dirty.
Chairman of the World Coal Association (WCA) and the recently-appointed CEO of the new and soon-to-be-listed Thungela Resources, July Ndlovu, has made a bold statement. Much as it may be fact that coal trade will still be the same in the next 20 years, he says “responsible transition”, rather than a disruptive and destructive sudden switch into clean energy, is key.
Thungela was born from a demerger by Anglo American of its thermal coal operations in South Africa to form the new holding company, Thungela Resources Limited.
Chief executive of Anglo American, Mark Cutifani,Â said of the development: “Anglo American has been pursuing a responsible transition away from thermal coal for a number of years now. As the world transitions towards a low carbon economy, we must continue to act responsibly – bringing our employees, shareholders, host communities, host governments and customers along with us. Our proposed demerger of what are precious natural resources for South Africa allows us to do exactly that.”
Speaking in a recent interview in South Africa, Ndlovu spoke boldly on the challenges his new baby must deal with in the face of a heavy global campaign for clean energy and the pressure to exit fossil fuels.
He counselled caution and said there was need for holistic debate on the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. There was need to recognise the energy challenges in developing countries and to ensure that the switch from fossils did not visit irreparable damage on poor countries that depended on coal, oil and gas.
“That switch cannot just happen without thought of consequences from an economic point of view and that is what we are talking about when we talk about the just transition,” Ndlovu said. “And coal doesn’t have to be always dirty. It can be made cleaner depending on what technology choices you make.”
Zimbabwe has endorsed the adoption of renewable energy and Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) has taken a leading role in the facilitation of the processes that the country will follow in its quest for clean energy by 2030.
AMH, through one of its flagshipsÂ The StandardÂ andÂ Heart and Soul TV,Â are facilitating annual international conferences and expos as a way to bring together the various experts and authorities and financiers for discussions that map the way forward on the road to the 2030Â clean energy goal that has been set by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The first such gathering was held at Victoria Falls last year while this year’s event, which had been threatened by the Covid-19 menace, eventually took placeÂ in Nyanga last month.
The conference drew government officials including Energy minister Zhemu Soda and permanent secretary Gloria Magombo along with several ministry officials.
Also in attendance were engineering, energy and other experts among whom were Engineering Council of Zimbabwe CEO Ben Rafemoyo, Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority CEO Edington Mazambani, heads of independent power producers such as McKersie and Victor Mutedzi, financial experts like Patrick Makanza of Get.Invest Financial Catalyst, and other specialists, academics and consultants, some of whom delivered their presentations virtually.
Thungela boss, Ndlovu, is a Zimbabwean industrialist part of whose formative intellectual shrewdness was moulded at Gokomere High School in Masvingo. He has an illustrious career in mining spanning over two decades. Before taking this latest responsibility at Thungela, July had been CEO of Coal South Africa for five years during which period he was appointed chairman of WCA. Prior to that, he held the position of Executive Head of Processing at Anglo American Platinum and was employed by Anglo American subsidiaries in Zimbabwe where he held senior managerial positions in metallurgical operations and technical services.
Speaking after his appointment as CEO of Thungela, July said: “Thungela is a leading South African producer of high quality, low cost export thermal coal, well positioned to benefit from improved market conditions, and providing a reliable and affordable energy source to our customers mainly in developing economies. We have significantly repositioned and upgraded our portfolio in recent years into a highly competitive producer of export product, with established access to world-class export infrastructure.”
The demerger recognises the diverse range of views held by Anglo American’s shareholders in relation to thermal coal and therefore provides Anglo American’s shareholders, including those with specified investment criteria, with the choice to act on such views and, following the implementation of the proposed demerger, to either retain, increase or decrease their interests in Thungela, Anglo explained.
The Thungela baby has, however, been born in difficult times and, with the climate change discussions high on the global agenda, Ndlovu appears to have been thrown out to start from the deep end. There is the Glasgow summit coming in November where major global resources players will be under pressure from shareholders to divest assets that fuel coal-fired power stations and other investments that would seem to work against clean energy.
Nonetheless, much as clean energy may be the in-thing today, there is no doubt that the world will have to bide its time and allow reasonable transition from fossil energy to avoid global disaster.
The head of marketing at Thungela, Bernard Dalton, has projected that demand for coal is set to increase by 12,5% over the next decade and sea-borne thermal coal would still account for 31% of global power generation by 2030.
This development notwithstanding, the general thinking around the globe is a movement away from fossils and towards renewable energy. It is, therefore, indeed a matter of time before the world embraces smart energy. It may perhaps mean a lot of work will have been done and technology developed to “clean up” these fossils!