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How Liquefied Natural Gas Could Change South Africa’s Fortunes

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The development of liquefied natural gas (LNG) could help transform the South African economy, spur re-industrialisation, reduce the country’s over-reliance on coal-fired power stations, and contribute to increased regional trade.

South Africa has in recent years run into electricity shortages, forcing the country’s utility to burn expensive diesel to keep the lights on. A major polluter, the country also relies on coal to generate almost 90% of electricity.

On top of this, South Africa has lost its manufacturing competitive edge, which was built on relatively cheap electricity and behind protective trade walls. Electricity prices have increased substantially over the past decade to pay for the power utility Eskom’s two new coal-fired power stations.

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Liquefied natural gas could change South Africa’s fortunes. And government recognises this. Policy developments in recent years have factored in an increasingly greater role for liquefied natural gas in the country’s energy mix and the overall economy, both as a clean alternative energy source and as a spur to industrial development.

The southern African region, specifically Mozambique which already has a pipeline to South Africa, could be the major supplier of gas to South Africa.

In my recent research I argue that to develop a liquefied natural gas sector South Africa could re-purpose existing institutions, namely those relating to the country’s established liquid fuels industry.

The research traced the evolution of gas developments in the country from 1998 to 2018. It found a close interaction between the electric and the liquid fuels sectors. At present gas contributes about 3% to the country’s primary energy mix, but there are indications that it will feature more prominently over the next decade.

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There are number of reasons for pursuing gas. They include:

  • energy diversification and security to reduce the country’s dependence on coal for electricity;
  • reduction of Green House Gas emissions;
  • provision of flexibility to the introduction of renewable generation into the electricity grid; and
  • facilitating the development of provincial industrial hubs and regional trade within the Southern African Development Community.

Three phases of gas development

South Africa’s history with gas can be delineated into three periods. Firstly, from 1998-2005, South Africa significantly reformed its energy sector. This included the 1998 white paper on energy, which recognised natural gas as an option to diversify the country’s energy mix. In 2001 the Gas Act was implemented, facilitating the development of gas infrastructure in the country through pipelines and the regulatory framework.

Significantly, in 2004, a pipeline between Mozambique and South Africa began pumping gas. Sasol, a dominant player in the country’s liquid fuels industry, was behind the 865 km gas pipeline. While the majority of gas transported through the pipeline goes to Sasol, the pipeline has nonetheless created demand to around 370 industrial and commercial customers via 530 off-take points.

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The second phase covers 2006 – 2012. This is when gas started to feature more strongly in South Africa’s energy policy. A few turning points occurred. One was the substantial shale gas potential reported by the United States energy information agency. This encouraged policy makers to include gas into the energy mix. Second, natural gas discoveries in Mozambique and Tanzania raised the potential for regional trade.

Thirdly, South Africa experienced an electricity crisis, culminating in blackouts in 2008. In response, the state power utility Eskom turned to the costly diesel Open Cycle Gas Turbines. But this was hugely expensive and Eskom burnt through its operating budgets to ensure a steady supply of electricity.

Global trends: the main driver

During the third phase, from 2013 to 2018, gas development started to gain momentum driven by major global trends. These include the trend toward liquefaction of gas which enabled transportation of gas to places where pipelines weren’t possible.

Secondly, gas prices began changing from long-term to short-term contracts. This opened up the trading of gas to a competitive, spot market. As a result, new buyers have been attracted into the sector.

Thus, by 2015, the Department of Energy had announced the Gas Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (Gas I4P) with a procurement of 3.7 GW electricity generation.

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By August 2018 the country’s draft integrated resources plan had gas playing a significant role in future electricity generation. The indications were that gas would contribute as much as 15% of the installed capacity mix by 2030. This seems to suggest that energy policy makers believe gas to power has the necessary fit, form and compatibility with the electricity system.

Another factor that’s driven interest in gas is the belief that it could be the country’s next commodity resource, as the country’s mining future is in decline. Some actors in the oil and gas community are pushing for the country’s mining skills to be used in the gas sector. This is informed by the view that the exploration and drilling skills used in the gas fields are similar to those used in mining.

The future

South Africa’s existing institutional infrastructure can be used to develop the liquefied natural gas industry. That won’t be an easy task. There are major efforts required to amend the Gas Act, the Ports Act, Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, and the Electricity Regulations Act, in order to accommodate the LNG initiative.

Gas can also play an important role in the restructuring of the electricity system. As there are trend towards transactive energy, where utilities moves towards customer centric demand, in that grids become less passive and deterministic, and more active and stochastic. Here gas could play a crucial role, as it has features which are flexible and modular enabling a decentralised system. Lastly, there are opportunities for gas as potential feed-stock in industrial processes, which requires strategic reassessment of existing industries.

-Marie Blanche Ting; Doctoral researcher, University of Sussex

-The Conversation

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Health

Surge Of Smartphone Apps Promise Coronavirus Tracking, But Raise Privacy Concerns

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Topline: A pan-European team of researchers announced Wednesday their plan to release a smartphone app that would notify users if they’ve been exposed to someone infected with coronavirus, the latest example of tech-driven coronavirus solutions that have also raised concerns about user privacy.

  • A European project called Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing is working toward releasing a coronavirus tracing app in the next week that would use anonymous Bluetooth technology to track when a smartphone comes in close range with another, so if a user were to test positive for coronavirus those at risk of infection could be notified.
  • Contact tracing, or determining people who may have been exposed to someone with a virus, is an established aspect of pandemic control and was used effectively to tackle coronavirus in countries like China, Singapore and South Korea in the form of smartphone tracking.
  • University of Oxford researchers and the U.K. government are working on a similar project— but unlike other smartphone tracking systems, the British version in development would be based on voluntary participation and bet on citizens inputting their information out of a sense of civic duty.
  • The U.S. government is in talks with companies like Facebook FB and Google GOOGL and other tech companies about tracking if users are social distancing using large amounts of anonymous, aggregated location data— this information is less precise, and more likely to anticipate outbreaks rather than pinpoint individuals who have been exposed to the virus.
  • 1.5 million Israelis have voluntarily downloaded a mobile app that alerts users if they’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus— but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has still ordered that potential coronavirus carriers have their phones monitored, a controversial move the government says is necessary, as the 17% of the population using the app is not enough to fight off the pandemic.  
  • Moscow , on a city-wide lockdown since Monday, announced Wednesday that a new phone app that will officials to track the movements of people diagnosed with coronavirus in the capital city would be launched on Thursday, saying the government will lend a smartphone to anyone unable to download the app.

Crucial quote: “We’re exploring ways that aggregated anonymized location information could help in the fight against [coronavirus]. One example could be helping health authorities determine the impact of social distancing, similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps ,” Google spokesman Johnny Luu told the The Washington Post. He made sure to note it “would not involve sharing data about any individual’s location, movement, or contacts.”

Key background: Private and public entities alike are looking for ways to fight off coronavirus as the pandemic continues. On Wednesday, there were more than 900,000 confirmed cases worldwide and nearly 50,000 deaths.Officials told The New York Times NYT that The National Health Service, Britain’s centralized national health system, is trusted by citizens— and paired with the strong data privacy laws in place, said they think people would agree to join the effort to share their private information to help trace infections. However, American tech firms are reported to still be skeptical about sharing substantial data with the U.S. government ever since Edward Snowden revealed the NSA was collecting information from the firms clandestinely. 

Surprising fact: The information tech companies have access to data that sheds light on Americans’ behavior in light of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a Facebook analysis, restaurant visits fell about 80% in Italy and 70% in Spain— while Americans only stopped eating out at a rate of 31%.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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Apple Is Donating 9 Million Masks To Combat The Coronavirus

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Topline: Apple will donate 9 million N95 protective masks to combat the coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday, making Apple one of several California tech companies pitching in as hospitals across the country report a shortage of protective gear.

  • Pence thanked Apple for agreeing to donate 9 million N95 respirator masks to healthcare facilities across the country during a press briefing on Tuesday.
  • Pence’s remarks come after Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted over the weekend the company was “working to help source supplies for healthcare providers fighting COVID-19” and “donating millions of masks for health professionals in the US and Europe,” but did not offer more specifics.
  • N95 respirators are masks that form a protective seal around a wearer’s mouth, filtering  out at least 95% of particles in the air, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which makes them necessary to protect healthcare workers from being exposed to the disease from patients.
  • Facebook has also said it is donating its stockpile of 720,000 masks purchased during the California wildfires last year, which degraded the air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes asking if all of the donated masks were stockpiled because of the wildfires or if the company got them from somewhere else.

Chief critic: Teddy Schleifer, a reporter at Recode, wrote that health systems shouldn’t rely on the generosity of big tech companies to make up for the failures of the federal government. 

“But there is a risk in relying on corporate philanthropy—rather than the government—in solving this problem. For starters, it depends on the voluntary generosity of these companies to deal with an unprecedented emergency, an altruism that could vanish at any time,” he wrote.

Crucial quote: “And I spoke today, and the president spoke last week, with Tim Cook of Apple. And at this moment in time Apple went to their store houses and is donating 9 million N95 masks to healthcare facilities all across the country and to the national stockpile,” Pence said.

Key background: Apple is one of several California tech companies to give away N95 masks. In addition to Facebook, Salesforce, Tesla and IBM have also announced mask donations.

News peg: Doctors and nurses are sounding the alarm that they don’t have enough masks to protect healthcare workers. Not only does inadequate protective gear put important frontline health workers at risk, public health experts say, any situation endangering medical personnel may only further depletes the U.S. health system which already doesn’t have enough capacity to handle a surge in cases. State officials in New York and Illinois have criticized President Donald Trump for not stepping in to force companies to manufacture masks or allocate masks from private companies to ensure that states don’t outbid each other for the same supplies.

Rachel Sandler, Forbes Staff, Breaking News

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Video Games Are Being Played At Record Levels As The Coronavirus Keeps People Indoors

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Topline: With school closures, mandatory work-from-home policies and lockdowns taking place in the U.S. as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, gaming has seen higher engagement, especially over this past weekend.

  • Steam, the most popular digital PC gaming marketplace, reached new heights Sunday, drawing a record 20,313,451 concurrent users to the 16-year-old service, according to third-party database SteamDB.
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, released by Steam-owner Valve in 2012, seems to be the top beneficiary of the increased engagement, breaking it’s all-time peak on Sunday with 1,023,2290 concurrent players, topping its previous peak last month by a million, which itself beat the record set in April 2016.
  • Like other esports, CS:GO has had to cancel events due to the virus, particularly the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice earlier this month, though its peak viewership reached over a million, making it one of the most watched tournaments in the esports’ history.
  • Activision Blizzard’s new free-to-play battle royale spinoff Call of Duty: Warzone, launched March 10 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is also likely benefiting, drawing in a staggering 15 million in three days, besting the record 10 million in three days by last year’s battle royale sensation Apex Legends.
  • These new heights follows similar effects of the virus on China and Italy: Telecom Italia’s CEO told Bloomberg it saw a 70% increase in traffic over its landline network, with Fortnite playing a significant part, while Chinese live-streaming service Douyu experienced increased viewership of the country’s most popular games, according to market analyst Niko Partners.
  • While gaming was considered “recession proof” during the 2008 market crash, stocks aren’t immune to the current historic drops: software developers like Activision Blizzard are facing a 9% decrease in price year-to-date, while hardware companies that rely on Chinese manufacturing like Nintendo are seeing bigger drops of 24%.

What To Watch For: If these records keep rising as the closings and lockdowns continue. Arriving this week is Nintendo’s long-awaited Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Switch console, a relaxing “life-simulator” that’s set to have a big day with many fans not-so-jokingly asking Nintendo to launch early.

Surprising Fact: Plague Inc., a game that tasks players in creating a virus that wipes out humanity, surged in popularity late January, becoming the top-paid game on the Chinese app store at one point, but the game has now been removed in China at the direction of the government.

Further Reading: So You’re Suddenly Working From Home And Want To Try Gaming? Here’s How To Get Started.

Matt Perez, Forbes Staff, Innovation


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