The impacts of commissioning coal-fired power stations on air quality in South Africa: insights from ambient monitoring stations

Keywords: Coal-fired power stations, ambient air quality, SO2, PM10, trends, correlation, compliance, Theil-Sen analysis


The South African electricity sector is known for its heavy reliance on coal. The aim of this study is to assess the impacts of increasing SO2 and PM emissions from the three return-to-service power stations (Komati, Camden and Grootvlei), and the newly constructed Medupi power station on ambient air quality measured in the vicinities of these power stations. Trends in ambient pollution concentrations were determined using Theil-Sen analysis. The correlation between the emissions and ambient pollution concentrations at nearby monitoring stations was determined with the Spearman partial rank correlation coefficient.  Lastly, compliance of ambient pollution concentrations with the South Africa National Ambient Air Quality Standards was assessed. Few statistically significant trends in ambient SO2 and PM10 concentrations are found, and there is little correlation between increasing power station emissions and ambient pollutant concentrations in the vicinity. It is only at Camden monitoring station where there are increases in PM10 concentrations from the direction of Camden power station, and at Grootvlei monitoring station where increasing SO2 concentrations are from the directions of Grootvlei and Lethabo power stations. A strong, positive correlation between power station emissions and ambient concentrations exists only for SO2 at Grootvlei monitoring station and PM10 at Medupi monitoring station (although it is likely that the correlation at Medupi is related to construction and vehicle activity, and not emissions from Medupi power station stacks). It is concluded that the establishment of monitoring stations in the vicinities of power stations is necessary but not sufficient to monitor their impact on air quality in the surrounds.

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Research Article