No energy

Ah, electricity. The elixir of the Gods.
It remains a touchy subject here in SA, with the constant threats of load-shedding as we approach winter. (And believe me, we’ve been doing some serious approaching today.) At the heart of this is the fact that while we want to use lots of electricity, we don’t have a huge amount to spare.
In addition, apparently we also want to be “green” and to reduce our combined carbon footprint.
Oh, and we don’t want anything done in our back yard. That’s very important too.

All in all, it adds up to bad news. We’re buggered. (Technically and metaphorically, anyway.)

Shale gas could end SA’s oil dependence” says Professor Philip Lloyd, who heads the Energy Institute at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, in a wonderfully rational, fact-filled and unemotional article on the Karoo fracking saga.

If Shell should succeed with its exploration, said Lloyd, jobs would be created on a scale never before seen in South Africa. It would also bring about a large decline in greenhouse gas emissions in this country.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which maintains global surveys of energy resources, Karoo shale gas is the fourth largest resource in the world. It was originally estimated that there was about 1 000 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas in the Karoo, but geological data collected over the years have reduced this to about 450 tcf.
The tcf unit is an abbreviation used in oil and exploitation to indicate the size of gas resources. It represents a million, million cubic feet.
This is enormous. Mossgas was built on the supposition that there was at most 1 tcf in the undersea gas resource feeding that plant.
If the Karoo resource is even close to the amount indicated by the USGS, South Africa would be able to erect gas turbines for electricity generation all along the coastline. This would end the country’s dependence on coal to generate electricity.

And that’s not all:

Shale gas is also the best available reducing agent for iron ore. New steel works could be created on the Sishen-Saldanha iron ore route, as “beautiful steel” could be manufactured using it, said Lloyd.
More than 40m tons of iron ore is exported along the Sishen-Saldanha route to Asia and Europe. Lump iron ore from Sishen is some of the most sought-after iron ore globally, but cannot be processed into steel here because of the cost, particularly that of energy for heat for the reduction process.

But Lewis Pugh says that it’s not a very good idea.

And now there is celebration as struggling German Chancellor, Angela Merkel pulls the plug (geddit?) on Germany’s nuclear power plants “due to Fukushima”, but probably much more likely “due to lost votes”:

The decision in the early morning hours today by coalition leaders in Berlin underscored Merkel’s flip-flop from a 2009 re- election promise to extend the life of nuclear reactors. She did her about-face after the March meltdown in Japan as the anti- nuclear Green Party gained in polls. Her party lost control of Baden-Wuerttemberg to the Greens in March and finished behind them in a state election for the first time on May 22.

Ironically, in order to address the energy shortfall that it faced when Merkel shut down seven reactors in a post-Fukushima kneejerk reaction in April, Germany began importing electricity from France: a country that produces 78% of its power from… er… nuclear energy. Oops.

But perhaps the local greenies shouldn’t be too happy, as Minister of Energy Dipuo Peters stated today that SA was not considering any German-style nonsense:

“We in South Africa have to understand that nuclear is not a quick-fix solution but a long-term method to address the energy crisis and climate-change challenge,” she said in a speech prepared for delivery at the second regional conference on energy and nuclear power in Africa, held in Cape Town.
Nuclear energy forms part of the integrated resources plan (IRP) that sets out the country’s energy mix up to 2030. Nuclear would contribute 23% of the energy supply.

I hope no-one has asked Lewis Pugh.

Lewis, of course, would surely be delighted were South Africa to adopt wind power. But probably only if he doesn’t live near a potential wind farm. Because wind power may be clean and green, but those big turbines are ever so invasive, aren’t they? And they whine constantly. And they kill birds.
That’s why the residents of several West Coast villages are up in arms about having wind farms erected in their back gardens.

West Coast properties owners are dismayed by the prospect of having a new wind farm in Parternoster, Western Cape and are determined to prevent the huge turbines from being erected near the town.
The wind farm – known as West Coast One – is just one of several that have been planned for the West Coast region and it has been given environmental approval by the Department of Environment Affairs.

The developers, Moyeng Energy, jointly owned by Investec Bank and French group GDF Suez, plan to build 55 turbines near Paternoster. Each turbine is about 80 metres tall and once complete the wind farm will cover an area of 55 square kilometres.

Residents in the small town are trying to mount an appeal against the environmental approval and if this is unsuccessful they intend to take legal action to prevent the development from going ahead. According to Andre Kleynhans, chairman of the Paternoster Ratepayers’ Association the wind farm will destroy the natural charm of this fishing village.

Yes, just like the residents of the Karoo and their objections to fracking; just like the residents of Bantamsklip & Thyspunt and their issues with having a nuclear power plant just around the corner, there are problems with siting even the cleanest and greenest of power generation methods.

So. What now, my eco-warrior friends? Must we produce our electricity by magic?
Because I think Isaac Newton might have something to say about that.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we need electricity and that we need to produce electricity. It’s time to realise that no matter what method we choose to produce it, someone is going to be unhappy.
Who then, is to say which method we should choose, where it should be and whose back yard it must be in? How are the (proven) problems of wind turbines worse than the (alarmist) problems of fracking? Who decides?

And where are Lewis Pugh and the Kelvin Grove protest meetings about the Paternoster wind farm?

Double standards, anyone?

Disclosure: 6000 banks with Investec and buys his petrol at Shell. Deal with it.

17 thoughts on “No energy

  1. Well, as someone (probably French) might have said: They want to have their organic cake and eat it too.

    Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think of myself as pretty “green”. However, you don’t need to be a climate change denier to see the double standards (say nothing of naivety) that counts for a lot of environmentalist thought these days.

    So, yes, I too would like to have my cake and eat it. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

  2. Listen Boet, we know each other by know — granted, only by postings and comments the last couple of years — but I am sure you will understand that this is very difficult for me to admit:

    Right now, the only way to save this country, is to turn the clock back 111 years and let the British take command of this country again.

    (Just look what happened to India after the British left.)

    Disclosure: I am still a Boer.

  3. stickman > If only they could make electricity from clichés. 😉

    carlbothabp > I dunno, Carl. Have you seen what they’ve done to Britain?

  4. Personally I’m all for Nuclear energy. Yes, there was a problem at Fukushima (anyone else disturbed by the name of the place when pronounced in a westernised way in the light of events that unfolded there?). But to completely write of nuclear on those grounds is at very least shortsighted. Wind (and solar for that matter) are wonderful sources of “green” (term used loosely, they’re not that green when the whole lifecycle is taken into account) energy, but they’re solidly useless when it comes to baseload supply. They’re too inconsistent. Nuclear on the other hand doesn’t require 55km2 of space for generating approximate 200kW of energy. Koeberg (30 year old tech these days) generates 10 times that. Rather look at Fukushima (and Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island) and LEARN from them. Improve, don’t remove.

    All round bang for buck you’re going to struggle to beat Nuclear. Shale gas probably comes the closest actually.*

    *Ignoring coal of course, because God forbid we actually consider that as being a viable source of electricity generation.

  5. Gary > If only people would listen to sense.
    But no – we have to ruin vast tracts of stunning coastal countryside with unsightly towers.
    How is that different to the alleged “desecration” of the Karoo?

  6. Well, the bottom line is that it isn’t really. The fact that there is very little visible destruction for fracking seems to have been lost on most. Sure, some water is used (but how is this different to the mining industry generally speaking?), but so what?

    It is a constant source of amusement to me (as an electricity industry insider) how exactly we’re supposed to get the energy we need to grow. Because whichever technology you wish to use, there is something wrong with it. Environmentally that is. We all know nuclear has a small amount of waste product that lasts forever (yet there are no recorded events of largescale contamination as a result thereof), coal pumps violent amounts of gases into the atmosphere, but wind requires huge amounts of land that cannot be used for anything else, same for solar (which has a relatively short lifespan that no amount of maintenance will cure), and wave power apparently changes the tidal patterns (causing untold damage to the fish life). And that’s aside from the inconsistency of the wind actually blowing (Darling Wind Farm is a huge disaster for this reason, they don’t get enough usable wind!), or the sun shining.

    The end conclusion? To hell with the environmentalists and build something that works, creates the least disruption to the total environment in which it’s located, and you can afford. Even if that means coal (gasp!!!).

  7. > 6000 RE: Cliches…

    Fair enough, I probably deserved that 😉

    More seriously, since we’re talking trade-offs here, a book that I would recommend for everyone interested in the energy debate is “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air”, by David MacKay. It is available in its entirety, free of charge over the internet: http://www.withouthotair.com/

    MacKay (a physics / philosophy of science prof at Cambridge) is now chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. The book itself is incredibly readable and breaks down a number of complex issues into convenient bite-sized chunks for the layman. The one “negative” aspect is that it’s primarily aimed at the UK’s energy situation, but his approach certainly holds universal appeal.

    FWIW, he spends quite a lot of time on the “I-don’t-want-ugly-windmills/towers-in-my-backyard” arguments and where this leaves us in terms of options.

  8. I live near Thyspunt and was at a nuclear meeting last night, not because I’m solidly on either side but because I want to be informed. A substantial number of the opposition were very wealthy, very old, and loudly applauded when issues of noise pollution and decreased property value were raised. Boo hoo, you live in a mansion in a very poor part of the country full of opulent rarely used vacation homes. Life’s not fair, but it’s not fair for your domestic worker or gardener that you probably pay the bare minimum too either. Rough. I have some time for the fisher people who may find the spawning areas destroyed by construction, and for the people living in the township who wonder if they are going to have their prospective RDP land confiscated so Eskom can get away without rezoning more residential area for the massive influx of workers required to build this thing. The thing that concerns me that all of this ruin-my-sanctuary whinging obscures is that given the timelines needed to get this project on line, and the national energy crisis coming whether we like it or not, the infrastructur here is questionable and we can’t get around to dealing with this because people keep protesting about the flowers and Khoisan cultural artifacts. I drive the roads they are proposing to send 2000 trucks on per day, shop in the small farmer town they are going to use for both housing and transport, and deal with the recurring water shortages in this part of the country. It doesn’t look so good. Unfortunately, someone at Eskom made a pretty serious oops in picking a limited number of spots based on very old projections but didn’t think to get the government on line in focusing on getting (or, ahem, keeping) this part of the country up to speed in terms of infrastructure and the amount of time necessary to do the impact studies necessary to locate a new plant… will probably be as much as the infrastructure delays for the current site. So the end conclusion to this is to not really expect any grand solution to the energy problems even if we can convince the old people that decrease in property value is not a valid reason for repeated legal injunctions.

  9. WTF, is this an article about shale gas or nuclear energy, and yes its good to eat cake, what else are you supposed to do with it??? there seems to be filthy energy and then dirty energy available, i don’t know what the solution is but its clear that if its shying from the ideal that it isn’t a fit solution. Pack up your nuclear plants, they have served us well on the path to technological magnificence. Pack up your fracking plans, they are so last millenium! I see a world beset with pollution and social issues and if we carry on doing what we’ve always done we are bound to get what we’ve always got, which casts a shadow on future social improvements. These are times for creative and philanthropic minds to fashion ideals but ignorance,misinformation, blind profit motive and downright laziness are all veils that obscure the possibility of enlightenment, which in this context is not a religious term. What do you stand for? Who do you live for? Who do you care for? What are you afraid of? Do you know yourself well enough to answer these questions? I challenge everyone, including myself, to answer these questions, often. Good luck fellow travellers through life, I hope we can make a positive contribution towards the ideal…

  10. evolvism > It’s a post about emotional, irrational and hypocritical responses to the plans to solve SA’s electricity crisis. Reading through your erudite ramblings, I note that your response seems to fall more into the “let’s manage without electricity” camp. Or perhaps you’re suggesting that we generate energy using the power of thought and introspection? Irrational, certainly, but with a definite hint of added arrogance and a dash of utter stupidity.
    Still, thanks for taking the time to write in.

  11. Evolvism is a post that asks questions, rather than the damning arrogance of the scientific ego gone mad with its own self satisfaction. I will refrain from asking questions and state quite clearly that you are a snivelling mommys boy who prefers wanking his mind off over the ideas of others that are anything but pure classical thought! emotional huh?! Your assumptions on the relevance of the post are incorrect, but you’d argue that even if you didn’t have a clue anyway. Still, thanks for writing back and confirming your status as a world class caustic scab rather than having us assume it. I will however assume that you are somewhat interested in a better future for all, go watch “Gasland” I look forward to your reaction…

  12. evolvism > Two and a half months on and that charming response is really the best you can come up with?
    I was left cold by much of your nonsense, but you let yourself down even further when you suggested “go watch Gasland”. Honestly, if you see that as anything but lefty, error-strewn, bunny-hugging propaganda, you’re obviously smoking something. And smoking is neither good for you, nor for the precious environment.
    No doubt you’ll give me a shout again in February or some such. Happy New Year!

Leave a Reply