Loadshedded Dodgeball

Once again, I am court-side at the trampoline park. There’s no blaring music though, because the electricity has just gone down. This was fully expected, but the lady sitting next to me has gone to complain anyway,  as if the guys here can do anything about the failed state-owned enterprise which supplies (or doesn’t supply) the power here.

No lights here either then, but there’s enough sunlight filtering through the translucent windows to make the Dodgeball Academy session slightly more difficult and quite a bit more dangerous.

The coffee machine isn’t working, of course.

I may not survive.

Busy day, busy week

This time of year is always a little crazy. The end of the school year, prizegivings, concerts, visitors, shopping, general chaos.

It seems that 2018 will be no different. I was literally knee deep in the garden this afternoon, trying to redo the lights out there. Three blown fuses, two exploded floodlights and one electric shock later, I worked out where I had gone horribly wrong, righted it and all is now well.

I think.

Now all I need is some darkness to properly test them. And to plunge the rest of the household into if things haven’t gone quite right.

Yesterday’s post was received rather better than I expected. In fact, I only had one shocked comment about the general tone and language that was used. And that was Mrs 6000. She should know better.

As instructed, I re-read what I had written and I stand by it.
Go big or go home.
But if you do go home, make sure you have a torch at the ready.

Let’s make electricity

Shall we? Well, we need to.

We’re short of electricity. We have been for a long while. Things have been better recently, but that’s mainly due to the economic downturn rather than any huge increase in generating power.

So, we need more electricity so that when things pick up again (lol!), we are ready to go and there are no further instances of “rolling blackouts” or “loadshedding”.

Much has been made of the SA Government’s insistence of going down the nuclear route. Currently, we have just one nuclear power station, just up the road at Koeberg. The alleged R1 trillion deal with Russia would add several more, and also the opportunity (so the cynics say, at least) for massive kickbacks, corruption and general naughtiness.

The cynics may well be right. But their fears are not what this post is about.

Brian Molefe, group chief executive of Eskom, allegedly recently stated that nuclear was “the cheapest option” and a local fact checking website went after him on that claim. They found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that his alleged claim was incorrect. But his inaccuracy is not what this post is about.

Here’s a screenshot of a graph that Africa Check’s data generated (geddit?):

Fullscreen capture 2016-08-25 120214 PM.bmp

And you can see that Brian was incorrect. Naughty Brian. Well done, Africa Check.

Thankfully, one thing everyone can agree is correct is that South Africa needs to generate more electricity. Oh, and that we really can’t afford to pay any more for it. So, what exactly are our options?

There’s hydroelectric. Clean, renewable, easy, cheap. It would be lovely to run our country with electricity from mountain streams and melting snow. But we don’t have mountains streams and melting snow. In fact, we have a few issues with the amount of water we have available for anything full stop. Put simply, there just isn’t enough water to make HEP a viable option.

There’s coal. Coal is cheap, we have lots of coal and we have lots of big coal-fired power stations. But coal is filthy. It makes shedloads of greenhouse gases and a billion other pollutants that no-one wants. Greenpeace says no to coal, and it’s just about the only thing I agree with them on. Going forward, coal should not be on the table (or in the furnace) for generating electricity.

Next up is gas. It’s there with wind and nuclear as a level levelised cost. Now, I happen to know that just under the Karoo is (conservatively estimating) about 450 000 000 000 000 cubic feet of shale gas. And I’d tap that gas. We could drop coal, drop our carbon emissions and make lovely, relatively clean, relatively cheap electricity. Except the green people aren’t happy with the plan to extract the shale gas. We’ve covered this… er… “extensively” on 6000 miles… I don’t think I need to go into again. Shale gas would be brilliant for SA. But the bunnyhuggers are determined that it won’t happen.

There’s nuclear – right there. Reasonably cheap, very clean, super reliable. Look at Koeberg – running without any big problems since 1984. There may be issues about corruption, but whatever methods we choose, this is electricity generating infrastructure on a massive scale. Sadly, there will always be those opportunities.

Still, wind looks like an option. Until you do the sums, that is. Remember that the nuclear option is for 9.6GW of electricity generation. Now look at this:

At 3MW per massive 145 metre (90m hub + 55m blade) turbine, you’d need 3,200 turbines! And that’s assuming 100% efficiency. Wind farms don’t do 100% efficiency. Wind farms only do about 30% efficiency (and I’m being nice here). So basically 10,000 turbines to guarantee that 9.6GW figure. If you’ve seen the blot on the landscape that is the Dassiesklip Wind Farm near Caledon, you’ll see how much of an eyesore just 9 (nine) turbines can be. And how much space they take up.
Dream on.

Look at the left hand side of that bar chart. Realistically, you’d probably have to rule out solar on the grounds of price. Oh, and also, the ridiculous scale required:

To achieve the 9.6GW capacity planned for this nuclear thing, we’d need something about 33 times the size of the current largest solar park in the world. That would cover 32,043 hectares and would cost about $33 billion.

So, no. Nuclear might not be the cheapest option for generating electricity in South Africa. And Brian Molefe shouldn’t be saying that it is. But until someone comes up with any other viable option – and I really don’t see anything reasonable on the table or anywhere close – it might well be the best option for electricity generation in South Africa.

Whether you like it or not.

The electric car conundrum

Petrol is going up again next month and people are understandably searching for alternatives.

Look, electric cars are great. Some of them are even really cool. We saw loads of them in Bergen, each with the number plate prefix ‘EL‘ to signify the green credentials of both the vehicle and owner. And that’s not unusual for Norway. Check this article from 2 years ago:

Norway, with a population of only five million, now has on its roads 35,000 electric vehicles (EVs), which also represent 14.5 per cent of new vehicle sales. Figures show another spike last month with 1,346 sales.

Onward and upward. What nice people, concerned about CO2, the greenhouse effect and climate change. But hang on, it seems that the electric car boom is driven by tax breaks, subsidies and privileges, rather than altruistic environmentalism:

Those benefits are incredibly generous, including exemption for VAT and car tax as well as access to bus lanes, free parking, free toll-road use, free ferries and employment tax benefits. A recent study suggested this equals as much as £1,000 a year in savings over the life of an EV.

Never mind. A by-product of this apparent greed is fewer car fumes in the city. Winning all round.

ecbergenEVs plugged in at the Bergen rådhus

One drawback with electric cars, however, is that they require electricity to run. Bugger. But in Norway, this is fine, because almost all of their plentiful electricity comes from the plentiful water falling down the plentiful waterfalls on the side of the plentiful mountains. And that’s very clean and green.

In South Africa, we don’t have enough water or big mountains to work this way. We do have shedloads of fossil fuels though, so we make our electricity by burning those. Thus, following the electrical supply audit trail upwards, when you plug in your EV in Cape Town (and good luck with finding somewhere to do that, by the way), it’s basically running on coal, like an old steam engine. Filthy.
So, right now, there’s really no environmental benefit to driving an EV in South Africa.

And they’re massively expensive. Massively, massively expensive. Like solar panels. But more so.

There is some evidence that people don’t think past what’s immediately in front of them though. Look at these guys, for example: Scootours. Now, this looks like a very, very cool idea, and one that I am determined to try. But their claim that it’s green? Well…

Fullscreen capture 2016-05-20 090012 AM.bmp

Yes. Going down a hill “propelled by gravity” is environmentally neutral. Well done.
But that vehicle taking you to the top of the runs? Fossil fuels, mate. And the laws of Conservation of Energy mean that the whole uphill thing will be especially dirty, heading up Kloof Nek and generating all that potential energy for you and your huge scooter.

I suppose that the thing with electric cars is that you would need to measure the amount of damage that burning petrol is doing versus the coal to make the electricity for your EV. But that difference is likely to be minimal. There was the option of buying clean power by subsiding the 4 wind turbines near Darling, darling, but they proved to be so inefficient that the company went bust.

Darling Wind Farm was one of the first two wind farms in South Africa. It is located 70 km (43mi) north of Cape Town, between Darling and Yzerfontein on the west coast of South Africa. It is an Department of Energy demonstrator site with the 4 turbines constructed. The second phase, 6 additional turbines, was never completed.

Darling Wind Power company is subject to liquidation. The DWP Board adopted a resolution to liquidate the company. Expected to operate at 28% capacity and deliver 13.2 GWh per year, it has only been delivering 8 GWh per year at 19% capacity.


OK. Once we get our clean electricity sorted (hello nuclear) and the price of cars with big batteries comes down to at least reasonable levels, we can revisit the electric car in South Africa. But these things aren’t going to happen before petrol goes up by a Rand per litre in a fortnight’s time.

And so that’s why you need to try out our massively efficient public transport system [cue laughter] or start walking.

Eskom: Good news?

On fairly regular occasions on this blog, we have taken the pi… we have taken the mickey out of state-owned electricity generating behemoth, Eskom. You can look here for most all of those posts.

But, credit where it is due, it does seem like Brian Molefe has begun some sort of turnaround at the much maligned power utility. There was a very positive – if characteristically honest – press conference this morning, at which these lines were uttered:

We don’t foresee load-shedding for the year unless something goes terribly wrong, but it is still conceivable because we are not out of the woods yet.

Fair enough – and they’ve done well right over summer (the last loadshedding was on 14th September 2015), so who’s to say that it might not continue through winter too – especially with new projects coming online as well:

The successful synchronisation of unit three of the R25bn Ingula hydro pump storage scheme to the grid last week will add 333MW, reducing pressure on the grid and allowing Eskom to undertake its maintenance programme.

Ingula is basically a huge version of the Steenbras pumped-storage scheme, which saved Cape Town from loadshedding on several occasions last winter.
In fact, the future’s so bright, we may have to wear some sort of eye protection:

Mr Molefe said Eskom was working very hard to conclude its construction of the Medupe and Kusile power stations ahead of target. The two power stations and Ingula will add about 11,000MW to the grid on completion of them all in about five years’ time.
On completion, he said, SA would have enough electricity for economic growth and perhaps even a surplus to sell to its neighbours.

A surplus? Blimey.

Of course, there are still uncertainties – like the fact that there’s not ever so much water to run through the Ingula turbines at the moment, and like the vicious circle of the crappy economy caused by the shortage of electricity meaning that Eskom will have to pay more for its loans, meaning that prices will have to go up (again) or less maintenance and building will be possible.

But generally, better – right?

UPDATE: Here’s an alternative view though:

The improved outlook is less about what the state power utility is doing and more to do with an economic slowdown.

OK, that’s not great. But still… no loadshedding, right? #GlassHalfFull