Energy Crisis, what Crisis?

SOME economists at the national conservative daily Business Report seem to have their figures all mixed up. Take the feasiblity of the proposed Aluminium Smelter at Coega. Apparantly since China has turned down similar proposals for at least six smelters, the resulting shortfall represents a gap in the market. The price of aluminium being what it is, “the project is even more attractive” say the boneheads at Independent Newspapers who in the same breath tell us why China turned down the once in a life-time chance to pollute the entire region with foul smelling industrial odours — the high cost of electricity.

Now if memory serves me right, aren’t we experiencing an electrical shortage of our very own, at Eskom nogal? The figures just don’t add up, since the stupendously “low-price of electricity in Southern Africa” used to justify the project, that looks set to become yet another white elephant, no longer exists. Indeed, this country’s historical over-supply of voltage has simply fizzled into nothing but periodic black-outs, as more domestic homes come online, the townships plug in and we all get electrified over the seasonal purchase of new appliances.

No fear, say Eskom, instead of promoting energy efficiency, we’ll simply spend another couple of billion rand, kidding ourselves that the power crisis is going to go away in a hurry, along with the cost of heating furnaces. If the current price of oil is anything to go by, we could end-up having to use whatever extra capacity we can squeeze from the national power-grid simply to convert coal into gas. In fact we would all be better off redirecting power into the new hydrogen economy, that as it turns out is exceedingly electricity hungry.

Thankfully there are other power sources that seem far more sustainable, like biogas from maize, and geothermal energy, some of the more interesting green fuels, already available in some areas, but why kid ourselves that aluminium smelting is going to produce anything but trouble. If one takes the cost benefit and price of labour into account, the government will probably be spending in excess of R200 000 per worker on the project, and that’s before anybody gets paid. Better to simply give the money away. Environmental impact assessment:Burning oil with cheap energy? Come on guys, tell us another dirty one.

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