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.

Beaglegas

Previously, my email inbox looked fairly normal. Some family stuff, a Superbru reminder or two, a bit of hate mail from some Afrikaners about something I wrote on Steve Hofmeyr in 2007. Nothing particularly unusual there.

Now, however, my email inbox seems to have emails about beagles in it. Often. And some of those emails look like this:

IMG_20140920_135310

Lovely. And WTF is a BeagleKiss? Eww.

It turns out that Beaglegas is yet another drawback of dog ownership. I don’t know if it is any worse than Spanielgas or Poodlegas, but it’s far from the pleasant end of the scale when all you want to do is chill out in front of a game of footy on the TV. There are two main reasons why Beaglegas is more dangerous than the mustard gas used during the First World War: firstly, because it’s unexpected – you’re not on some godforsaken battlefield in the middle of Belgium, you’re on your couch watching an Everton Europa Cup game – and secondly, because it’s colourless, meaning that there is no visual warning of its impending arrival at the gates of your respiratory system.

In addition, there is no incoming shell here: the method of delivery can be as innocuous as a dozing puppy. In fact, I’m rapidly learning that there’s actually nothing innocuous about a dozing puppy at all. Those moments when the dog is calm, and everything (including its back door musculature) is relaxed, are the moments of most danger. But that’s not to say that you are safe from Beaglegas attack during the dog’s waking hours either. Earlier this week, I inadvertently trapped Beaglegas in the kids’ school lunch boxes after an early morning run-by attack in the kitchen. Not nice for anyone. And it dissolved their cheese rolls.

There are several hints and tips available via that BeaglePro email, hints and tips which one can employ to reduce the incidence of Beaglegas. They’re most likely tried and tested by other Beaglegas sufferers and would probably work in reducing the incidence of Beaglegas in your proximity at any given time. However, I can (quite easily) recall a time when there was absolutely zero Beaglegas in my home. That was fewer than two months ago and those were magical, fresher times; times where one could happily breathe deeply, confident in the knowledge that it was going to be nitrogen and oxygen making up the bulk of your inhalation, rather than the manifestation of Satan in aeriform.

In fact, the only individual in our house who seems wholly immune to Beaglegas is Colin. This is strange. Given that Colin’s sense of smell is allegedly somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 times (depending on which book you read) more sensitive than ours, it should, by rights, have between 20,000 and 50,000 times more effect on her. It should be instantly fatal. Very fatal. In fact, given those astonishing olfactory comparisons, it wouldn’t surprise me – upon exposure to Beaglegas – if Colin was immediately vapourised and she was erased from photos of herself with the family, like Marty McFly in Back To The Future. And Michael J Fox just messed with the passage of time, he sensibly steered well clear of anything as serious as Beaglegas. Lest we forget, when given the alternative methods of powering the infamous DeLorean, he and Doc Brown took one sniff at Beaglegas and opted instead for plutonium stolen from a heavily-armed Libyan terrorist group.

They knew.

And suddenly, I’m in two minds as to whether to publish this post. I need to express my suffering, yes. I require your sympathy and I need other sufferers to understand that they’re not alone. But it concerns me that some terrorist group might read this, have a lightbulb moment and understand the gravitas and power of Beaglegas. They would then get some beagles and completely ignore all the BeaglePro advice in order to produce and harvest vast volumes of BeagleGas before launching a terror attack that would make 9/11 look like a unfortunate incident in a Lego factory.

But then I figure that they could just Google for “most evil things on earth” and somehow find themselves at a page which at least mentions the rectal emissions of tri-colour hounds.
I can’t be the only one who has found cause to write about this heinous compound. Or maybe I am the only one who has managed to put pixels to paper before inevitable asphyxiation.