Improving health and reducing costs through renewable energy in South Africa

Air pol­lu­tion, pri­mar­i­ly from coal-fired pow­er plants, is one of the main impacts that the ener­gy sec­tor has on the envi­ron­ment and human health. These pol­lu­tants have many neg­a­tive impacts, of which those of great­est con­cern include heart dis­eases, lung can­cer, strokes and chron­ic obstruc­tive pul­monary dis­eases (WHO, 2016). The con­se­quences of such dis­eases include increased lev­els of mor­bid­i­ty, which fur­ther result in ele­vat­ed health costs and loss­es of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. This study quan­ti­fies the impacts of South Africa’s pow­er sec­tor on human health, and how a shift to a less car­bon-inten­sive pow­er sec­tor can help to reduce neg­a­tive impacts and con­tribute to reduc­ing costs in South Africa’s health system.




Key policy opportunities:

Pol­i­cy oppor­tu­ni­ty 1: Esti­mat­ed health costs of coal pow­er gen­er­a­tion in 2018 range from R11 bil­lion (low­er esti­mate) up to R30 bil­lion (upper esti­mate) and will con­tin­ue to rise until 2022. This equates to a health cost exter­nal­i­ty of Rand 5 –1 5 cents per kWh of ener­gy gen­er­at­ed from coal. As many as 2080 pre­ma­ture deaths annu­al­ly can be attrib­uted to air pol­lu­tion from pow­er plants in South Africa. These exter­nal­i­ties should not be dis­re­gard­ed by pol­i­cy­mak­ers in their inte­grat­ed resource planning.

Pol­i­cy oppor­tu­ni­ty 2: South Africa can sig­nif­i­cant­ly cut health costs by increas­ing the share of renew­able ener­gy. With its deci­sion to scale up renew­ables by mov­ing from IRP 2016 to IRP 2018, South Africa  can cut health costs asso­ci­at­ed with the pow­er sec­tor by 25 %, and con­sid­er­ably reduce neg­a­tive health impacts and relat­ed costs for peo­ple and busi­ness­es, by the year 2050.

Pol­i­cy oppor­tu­ni­ty 3: Health impacts and relat­ed costs can be reduced even fur­ther by fol­low­ing (or going beyond) the DEA’s Rapid Decar­bon­i­sa­tion path­way. By the year 2050, this sce­nario could cut an addi­tion­al 20 % of health costs asso­ci­at­ed with the pow­er sec­tor, amount­ing to as much as R100 bil­lion in absolute savings.



Year of pub­li­ca­tion: 2019

Edi­tors: Ayo­de­ji Okun­lo­la, David Jacobs, Ntomb­i­futhi Ntuli, Ruan Fourie, Lau­ra Nagel and Sebas­t­ian Hel­gen­berg­er – IASS Pots­dam, CSIR and IET

Tech­ni­cal imple­men­ta­tion: Nuvesh­en Naidoo, Jack­ie Craf­ford, Mark Zunck­el and Joseph Mul­ders – Prime Africa Consultants

Sug­gest­ed cita­tion: IASS/CSIR. Improv­ing health and reduc­ing costs through renew­able ener­gy in South Africa. Assess­ing the co-ben­e­fits of decar­bon­is­ing the pow­er sec­tor. Potsdam/Pretoria: IASS/CSIR, 2019.

DOI: 10.2312/iass.2019.008


This study is part of a 2019 series of four stud­ies assess­ing the co-ben­e­fits of decar­bon­is­ing the pow­er sec­tor in South Africa, edit­ed by IASS and CSIR: