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“Fighting the Global Coal War”

Background

So much of the world’s growth over the past two hundred years has been due to the discovery and ever-increasing use of affordable energy derived from fossil fuels led by coal, followed by oil, and natural gas. This affordable and predominantly coal-fuelled energy drove industrial expansion, created millions of jobs, and generated wealth for a large portion of the global population.

There is a great deal of discussion led by a largely pseudo-scientific approach to global warming, which has reached almost ‘religion’ status, and the supposed dangers of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) released from fossil fuel combustion around the world, in particular from coal. In 1988, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to investigate and document the dangers associated with CO2 which is released from fossil fuel combustion, such as coal. Since then, many papers and articles have been written and international meetings held to see if agreements can be made to mitigate this supposed problem for our planet – a problem not fully defined, nor even proven to any level of certainty.

In this context, coal has been set up as the general ‘public enemy’ Number One. Coal is an easy target; by its very nature it’s black, dusty and dirty; with less powerful lobby groups and influencers than other sectors, such as oil and natural gas. These sectors are often much less visible to the public eye and easier to disguise and dismiss as threat or cause.

Targets have been set to reduce CO2 emissions for the near future; and programmes are being introduced in developed countries on how to meet them.  The goal? To shut down all coal burning power stations, followed by the source of the coal, the mines themselves. 

Stress on Developing Continents and Countries

There are still many developing countries, the rising stars of tomorrow’s industrial world that rely on this affordable source of power generation to power their growing industries and are now being forced to comply with western politically driven often unrealistic targets. These countries, many on the African continent, are now driven allocate a significant portion of their fiscus on CO2 mitigation and reduction defined and sold by them – targeting shutting down coal use in any form, while this expenditure could be put to better use and is urgently needed to develop the countries’ infrastructure and large-scale industrial business that can improve these economies and add to job creation, improve the health system and reduce environmental pollution of the air, water and soil by noxious emissions and effluents. 

Until a reliable, new and reasonably priced base-load source of energy is found, coal is required.

Quickly and drastically reducing the use of coal by a large percentage, as has been mandated by some developed economies and their governments, and the Paris Accord, creates a serious problem. It would have negative effects on the social welfare of so many people in the energy industry and related sectors and many millions more people’s lives will be threatened because funds that could be used in infrastructure and other developmental requirements are now being deployed for CO2 mitigation?

In 2016, the five biggest coal importers in the world were India, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. While the big five made up almost 70% or over 600 million tonnes of global imports, the Southeast Asia (SEA) market accounted for less than 8% or about 70 million tonnes of coal imports during the same period.  However, according to data released by the IEA for the period between 2017 and 2018, the SEA market has doubled in size.

The region’s key coal users and importers include Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Even though Indonesia is the biggest coal exporter, supplying over 80% of the demand for the region, its domestic coal requirements are expected to impact the Asian demand and supply balance significantly in the coming decade by increasing its own demand. While Vietnam already appeared on the map in 2016, Myanmar will also play a bigger role in the near future as coal production rapidly increases.

“Electricity is increasing its share in total energy consumption and coal is increasing its share in power generation”, said Laszlo Varro, head of the gas, coal and power markets division for the International Energy Agency (IEA). The vast majority of the 400 GW in power generation capacity to be added in SEA by 2040 will be coal-fired. That will raise coal’s share of the SEA power market to 50% from roughly 32%, while natural gas declines to 26% from approximately 44%.

About 700 million people now live in SEA and the region is expanding quickly, especially in terms of energy demand and as a result electricity generation. IEA Southeast Asia predicts that population grows modestly to 760 million people by 2040 but urbanization increases from 46% today to 60% until then. The GDP per capita will almost triple until 2040, and this is where energy demand must step in.

As a result of this soaring energy demand, environmental pressures are increasing. At the same time, the carbon foot print of SEA is only a fraction of that of Europe and the USA.

The IEA also reports similar trends and shares of total energy consumption for the African continent which, in population terms roughly approximates SEA. With these similarities in mind, the IEA predicts that 120 million people in Southeast Asia lack electricity, while over 270 million rely on wood and dung for cooking and heating, pollutants in itself. “From 2013 to 2030, the SEA region’s primary energy demand will almost double or increase by at least 80%.” The IEA notes. The “power pie” or electricity demand increases from 790TWh to 2.210TWh from 2013 to 2040. 

That tripling in electricity demand will be primarily sourced from coal. Whilst renewables are expanding, their pace of growth is too slow to keep up with faster, more affordable thermal coal-fired power generation. Coal will be the fuel of choice. The material is easily available, the cheapest source of power and also the safest. All major SEA countries are constructing coal-fired power plants at a breath-taking pace.  We predict that with a 40GWe energy shortage already prevalent in Southern Africa, a similar trend will emerge if the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is ever to gain traction in Africa.

Coal’s share of electricity generation is expected to increase from about one third today to reach 50% by 2040. This means that the SEA will pull up the global average for coal use and significantly contribute to coal continuing to be the power source for the developing world. Again, renewables, including hydro will also grow but the staggering increased power demand cannot be met economically without the use of easily available, low-cost and safe coal.

Renewable Energy Sources

New energy technologies are being funded and developed to counter the reliance on coal and coal-fired power stations. Solar panels, geothermal wells, wind farms and tidal turbines are being installed to produce electricity.  While these solutions are often portrayed as reliant green energy, geothermal and tidal turbines are only considered transient and cannot yet be used for base-load service which is driven mainly by coal; a key factor for a stable power to a city, town or industrial centre.

Solar produces no power at night and windmills only work when there is sufficient wind, while shutting down when the wind speed is too high. Thus, storage and re-distribution of extra power has become the key challenge. Only an advanced storage solution that can be applied on a global scale and is affordable, will allow for large-scale economic use of solar and wind power.  Coal fuelled power is steady, still relatively cheap and runs continuously 24 hours a day. Therefore, there might not be a way around coal fuels for many decades to come.

Key Forces Affecting Climate

The question we need to ask is, are we sure that this costly and drastic move away from coal just to reduce CO2 is urgently needed? What are the key forces that affect the Earth’s climate? Do higher CO2 levels not benefit plant growth and therefore are beneficial to our environment?

To answer this question, let us have a look at the Earth’s climate history over the past 400,000 years and the role of CO2. This contrasts with the typical 150-year time span depicted in global media and which is a major misdirect to garner public support.

The Fallacies of a Carbon Tax

To more rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels, coal in particular; a $40/ton carbon tax was proposed and given serious consideration in Washington and similarly in other developed nations. This would affect mainly the use of coal and natural gas, oil, which make up 80% of the energy used in those countries. Based on the data available, this could be a big mistake which would force energy companies to close down otherwise productive coal fired power plants too early and increase the cost of power beyond what is economically viable.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has also been proposed to remove CO2 from coal power plant exhaust, transport it by pipeline and inject and store it in state approved deep underground sites. It is estimated that CCS could double the base cost of electricity production from coal and other fossil fuels. This would be highly prohibitive, and the costs were to fall first on the public who depend on stable energy sources and as explained above, it serves no useful purpose for controlling climate change.

NB: Another key point about CO2 is that all plant life thrives in high CO2 environments and farmers routinely pump CO2 into greenhouses to 1.500 ppm CO2, which greatly increases growth rate. It is the key nutrient for all plant life and when it drops below 150 ppm, very few plants and animals can survive. Plants also handle drought conditions better as CO2 rises as they expire less water in the process of absorbing CO2, their principal food source.

If CO2 in the air were to double, their water needs would drop by 50%. This will be an enormous boon for agriculture everywhere especially in arid regions around the world and would support feeding our growing population. The CO2 content in the air in our homes is also much higher than outside and is safe to breathe. CO2 is not a pollutant but a vital basic building block of all life on Earth, on land and in the oceans.

Conclusion

Reviewing the available data makes clear that no significant global warming from re-radiated solar energy can be created by an increase in CO2 above current levels for which coal gets most of the blame. CO2 is beneficial for our environment and is not a pollutant. It benefits plant life by increasing biomass and thus improves the basis for all human life on Earth.  So, producing and burning coal using state of the art technology can still be a sustainable development solution.

The present warm period has lasted over 8000 years longer than any of the three prior ones, giving the oceans a much longer time to warm up and release more CO2 into the atmosphere, which would also contribute to the current level of 400 ppm.  This means that coal does not carry all the blame as is stated by socio-environmentalist groups and politicians.

According to IEA Climatologists and Oceanographers tripling the present value of CO2  to 1.200 ppm will not result in ocean acidification, as has been proposed by the socio-environmental political movement (most notably Al Gore), and the pH would be about 7,8 which is still a satisfactory alkaline level in which ocean life can flourish – as it did over most of geological history when CO2 levels were several times higher than those today and when no coal was being mined or burned.

Proposed Future Energy Development Plan

Of course, coal and fossil fuel sources have a limited useful time span and technological advancement will ensure that we will no longer rely on coal, possibly latest by 2200, 180 years away. We need to develop a well-planned economic, environmental and social introduction of viable and affordable new energy sources. We need to gradually change our social infrastructures and improve the lives of people and futures of whole towns, cities and regions in every country around the world. And the reason for this is not the CO2 that coal used as a fuel emits, but because there will be more efficient and fewer polluting ways of producing energy developed in the next two centuries.

It is recognised that there are real issues related to coal and other fossil fuels that need to be addressed such as groundwater contamination and smog from release of smoke particles, and corrosive gases containing sulphur, as well as safer storage of fly ash from coal combustion. That’s where our resources should be spent, and our ingenuity used to improve existing conditions.

The billions of dollars to be spent or better wasted on CO2 mitigation could – if employed elsewhere – truly make a difference to provide cheap clean coal technology driven energy sources of base load magnitude and thus improve the health of our planet and our populations economic development.

Alan M. Clegg Pr.Eng Pr.CPM PMP FSAIMM FIOQ F.Inst.D

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Business

New study reveals why youth entrepreneurs are failing

21st July 2022
Youth

The recent study on youth entrepreneurship in Botswana has identified difficult access to funding, land, machinery, lack of entrepreneurial mindset and proper training as serious challenges that continue to hamper youth entrepreneurship development in this country.

The study conducted by Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) in collaboration with University of Botswana has confirmed that despite the government and private sector multi-billion pula entrepreneurship development initiatives, many young people in Botswana continue to fail to grow their businesses into sustainable and successful companies that can help reduce unemployment.

University of Botswana researchers Gaofetege Ganamotse and Rudolph Boy who compiled findings in the 2022 study report for Botswana stated that as part of the study interviews were conducted with successful youth entrepreneurs to understand their critical success factors.

According to the researchers other participants were community leaders, business mentors, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture, financial institutions, higher education institutions, non-governmental institutions, policymakers, private organizations, and support structures such as legal and technical experts and accountants who were interviewed to understand how they facilitate successful youth entrepreneurship.

The researchers said they found that although Botswana government is perceived as the most supportive to businesses when compared to other governments in sub-Saharan Africa, youth entrepreneurs still face challenges when accessing government funding. “Several finance-related challenges were identified by youth entrepreneurs. Some respondents lamented the lack of access to start-up finance, whereas others mentioned lack of access to infrastructure.”

The researchers stated that in Botswana entrepreneurship is not yet perceived as a field or career of choice by many youth “Participants in the study emphasized that the many youth are more of necessity entrepreneurs, seeing business venturing as a “fall back. Other facilitators mentioned that some youth do not display creativity, mind-blowing innovative solutions, and business management skills. Some youth entrepreneurs like to take shortcuts like selling sweets or muffins.”

According to the researchers, some of the youth do not display perseverance when they are faced with adversity in business. “Young people lack of an entrepreneurial mindset is a common challenge among youth in business. Some have a mindset focused on free services, handouts, and rapid gains. They want overnight success. As such, they give up easily when faced with challenges. On the other hand, some participants argue that they may opt for quick wins because they do not have access to any land, machinery, offices, and vehicles.”

The researchers stated that most youth involved in business ventures do not have the necessary training or skills to maintain a business. “Poor financial management has also been cited as one of the challenges for youth entrepreneurs, such as using profit for personal reasons rather than investing in the business. Also some are not being able to separate their livelihood from their businesses.

Lastly, youth entrepreneurs reported a lack of experience as one of the challenges. For example, the experience of running a business with projections, sticking to the projections, having an accounting system, maintaining a clean and clear billing system, and sound administration system.”

According to the researchers, the participants in the study emphasized that there is fragmentation within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, whereby there is replication of business activities without any differentiation. “There is no integration of the ecosystem players. As such, they end up with duplicate programs targeting the same objectives. The financial sector recommended that there is a need for an intermediary body that will bring all the ecosystem actors together and serve as a “one-stop shop” for entrepreneurs and build mentorship programs that accommodate the business lifecycle from inception to growth.”

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Business

BHC yearend financial results impressive

18th July 2022
BHC

Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) is said to have recorded an operating surplus of P61 Million, an improvement compared to the previous year. The housing, office and other building needs giant met with stakeholders recently to share how the business has been.

The P61 million is a significant increase against the P6 million operating loss realized in the prior year. Profit before income tax also increased significantly from P2 million in the prior year to P72 million which resulted in an overall increase in surplus after tax from P1 million prior year to P64 million for the year under review.

Chief of Finance Officer, Diratsagae Kgamanyane disclosed; “This growth in surplus was driven mainly by rental revenue that increased by 15% from P209 million to P240 million and reduction in expenditure from P272 million to P214 million on the back of cost containment.”
He further stated that sales of high margin investment properties also contributed significantly to the growth in surplus as well as impairment reversals on receivables amounting to P25 million.

It is said that the Corporation recorded a total revenue of P702 million, an 8% decrease when compared to the P760 million recorded in the prior year. “Sales revenue which is one of the major revenue streams returned impressive margins, contributing to the overall growth in the gross margin,” added Kgamanyane.

He further stated professional fees revenue line declined significantly by 64% to P5 million from P14 million in the prior year which attributed to suspension of planned projects by their clients due to Covid-19 pandemic. “Facilities Management revenue decreased by P 24 million from P69 million recorded in prior year to P45 million due to reduction in projects,” Kgamanyane said.

The Corporation’s strength is on its investment properties portfolio that stood at P1.4 billion at the end of the reporting period. “The Corporation continues its strategy to diversify revenue streams despite both facilities management income and professional fees being challenged by the prevailing economic conditions that have seen its major clients curtailing spending,” added the CEO.

On the one hand, the Corporation’s Strategic Performance which intended to build 12 300 houses by 2023 has so far managed to build 4 830 houses under their SHHA funding scheme, 1 240 houses for commercial or external use which includes use by government and 1 970 houses to rent to individuals.

BHC Acting CEO Pascaline Sefawe noted that; BHC’s planned projects are said to include building 336 flat units in Gaborone Block 7 at approximately P224 million, 100 units in Maun at approximately P78 million, 13 units in Phakalane at approximately P26 million, 212 units in Kazungula at approximately P160 million, 96 units at approximately P42 million in Francistown and 84 units at approximately P61 million in Letlhakane. Emphasing; “People tend to accuse us of only building houses in Gaborone, so here we are, including other areas in our planned projects.”

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Business

Commercial banks to cash big on high interest rates on loans

18th July 2022
Commercial-banks

Researchers from some government owned regulatory institutions in the financial sector have projected that the banking sector’s profitability could increase, following Bank of Botswana Monetary Policy Committee recent decision to increase monetary policy rate.

In its bid to manage inflation, Bank of Botswana Monetary Policy Committee last month increased monetary policy rate by 0.50 percent from 1.65 percent to 2.15 percent, a development which resulted with commercial banking sector increasing interest rate in lending to household and companies. As a result of BoB adjustment of Monetary Policy Rate, from 1.65 percent to 2.15 percent commercial banks increased prime lending rate from 5.76 percent to 6.26 percent.

Researchers from Bank of Botswana, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority, the Financial Intelligence Agency and the Botswana Stock Exchange indicated that due to prospects of high inflation during the second half of 2022, there is a possibility that the Monetary Policy Committee could further increase monetary policy rate in the next meeting in August 25 2022.

Inflation rose from 9.6 percent in April 2022 to 11.9 percent in May 2022, remaining above the Bank of Botswana medium-term objective range of 3 – 6 percent. According to the researchers inflation could increase further and remain high due to factors that include: the potential increase in international commodity prices beyond current forecasts, logistical constraints due to lags in production, the economic and price effects of the ongoing Russia- Ukraine conflict, uncertain COVID-19 profile, domestic risk factors relating to possible regular annual administered price adjustments, short-term unintended consequences of import restrictions resulting with shortages in supplies leading to price increases, as well as second-round effects of the recent increases in administered prices “Furthermore, the likelihood of further increases in domestic fuel prices in response to persistent high international oil prices could add upward pressure to inflation,” said the researchers.

The researchers indicated that Bank of Botswana could be forced to further increase monetary policy rate from the current 2.15 percent if inflation rises persistently. “Should inflation rise persistently this could necessitate an upward adjustment in the policy rate. It is against this background that the interest rate scenario assumes a 1.5 percentage points (moderate scenario) and 2.25 percentage points (severe scenario) upward adjustment in the policy rate,” said the researchers.

The researchers indicated that while any upward adjustment on BoB monetary policy rate and commercial banks prime lending rate result with increase in the cost of borrowing for household and compnies, it increase profitability for the banking sector. “Increases in the policy rate are associated with an overall increase in bank profitability, with resultant increases in the capital adequacy ratio of 0.1 percentage points and 0.2 percentage points for the moderate and severe scenarios, respectively,” said the researchers who added that upward adjustment in monetary policy rate would raise extra capital for the banking sector.

“The increase in profit generally reflects the banking industry’s positive interest rate gap, where interest earning assets exceed interest earning liabilities maturing in the next twelve months. Therefore, an increase of 1.5 percentage points in the policy rate would result in industry gains of P71.7 million (4.1 percent increase), while a 2.25 percentage points increase would lead to a gain of P173.9 million (6.1 percent increase), dominated by large banks,” said the researchers.

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