Eskom spending billions to cut emissions – but it is getting worse

Emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired power plants have increased over the last year despite the utility’s R67 billion emission reduction plan.

Last week, the National Treasury told Parliament’s Standing Committee on Appropriations that Eskom’s pollution is worsening.

“Eskom’s relative particulate emissions performance has deteriorated further to 1.01 kg/MWh sent out,” it said.

It is substantially worse than the target and a significant increase in emissions from June 2022, when Eskom sent out 0.40 kg/MWh.

“This is significantly worse than the performance recorded before implementing emission upgrades at stations like Duvha, Matla, Matimba and Lethabo,” the National Treasury said.

It added that by March 2023, 17 of Eskom’s units were operating in non-compliance with average monthly emission limits.

The National Treasury said Eskom’s inability to meet emissions targets threatens the continued operation of its non-compliant power stations.

Eskom calculates its relative particulate matter emission performance figure by dividing the total particulate matter (ash) emitted from the coal-fired stations by the total energy produced. 

A worsening of the relative performance does not necessarily imply that all stations are performing poorly, Eskom said in response to questions from Daily Investor. 

Stations like Medupi and Kusile have performed well after interventions addressing design issues. 

However, several stations have seen an increase in emissions despite upgrades to their equipment, such as Duvha, Tutuka and Lethabo. 

The Treasury said the performance of these power stations is “significantly worse than the performance recorded before implementing emission upgrades”.

Emissions could kill thousands

In 2021, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) showed that Eskom became the world’s largest emitter of health-harming sulfur dioxide.

More recently, CREA said air pollution from Eskom’s coal-fired power plants risks killing 79,500 people from 2025 until they are due to be shut down.

“The deaths are attributed to increased risk of stroke, ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lower respiratory disease,” CREA said.

The study highlighted that many of Eskom’s coal-fired power plants breach South African emission standards.

The Centre for Environmental Rights said if Eskom is allowed to continue as is, emissions from the company’s fleet will cost thousands of lives.

Eskom, which the group previously named the world’s biggest sulphur dioxide emitter, runs 14 coal-fired plants, most of which are east of Johannesburg.

Eskom’s current plan is projected to see emissions reduce by approximately 70% by 2035 compared to 2021. 

In addition to Eskom’s overarching emission reduction plan, the utility has developed station-specific recovery plans. 

This includes emission improvement plans, which are being implemented and showing positive results regarding emission performance, Eskom said.


Top JSE indices