Flogging an Eskom dead horse? You’ve got it all wrong

SO LONG as this country myopically persists with it’s strange obsession in maintaining the Eskom energy monopoly, there will be load-shedding and blackouts. Consumers desperately require choices in energy provider, options on who can connect their home grid, to power the toaster and microwave oven. But practically nobody here is speaking out on the lack of consumer choice when it comes to electricity.

It’s as if energy analysts are brainwashed morons flogging the proverbial dead horse, each year they call for inquiries into why the horse died, reclassifying the dead horse as ‘living impaired’, arrange for officials to visit other countries to ‘see how they ride dead horses’, call for additional funding and training to ‘improve the dead horse’s performance’, or the hiring of outside contractors to ‘ride the dead horse’, and so on, but are simply too afraid to ‘let go of the horse’, lest they be out of a job.

What is wrong with you people?

A decade ago I attended a talk by David Lipshitz, founder and CEO of MyPowerStation. A company which aims to provide a ‘virtual power station’ solution via online billing and provisioning of energy services to consumers. His magnificent idea of introducing information technology to the sale of electricity to the end-user and consumer, has been stymied by a regulatory environment which is more in keeping with a 19th Century model of distribution than the 21st century.

Lipshitz’s website is now merely a link to his book, The Last Blackout, available via Amazon.

“What would happen if city dwellers in cities with more than 1 million people suddenly had no electricity?” asks Lipshitz in an ‘electrifying, shocking, and powerful thriller’, that is too close for comfort. The past week has seen some areas of South Africa experiencing 9 hour blackouts. The weekend was a series of 6 hours of load-shedding for my own household.

South Africa’s model of energy distribution requires urgent and drastic intervention. And I don’t mean to re-engage the debate on where our electricity should be coming from in other words, how it is produced. Doing so merely adds to the pile of doggy-doo dolled up by consultants, analysts and self-proclaimed experts dished up on national television on a daily basis.

Whether or not, electricity is provided by the state, or Independent Power Producers (IPPs) is of no real consequence in a system in which the end-user is placed at the forefront. There are no rational reasons why consumers should not be given the choice of purchasing energy from sustainable resources, whether women-owned utitlies, or listed companies with a high ESG and BEE component. Let the people decide.

Unfortunately, and despite the mooted plans to open Eskom’s grid to the ‘wheeling of energy’ by third parties, there remain a number of obstacles. The first is the fact that our government and especially its Marxist Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, continues to embrace a blind focus on centralisation. You can read my piece on why the state is rooted in an ideological fixation, the problem of ‘Socialist Complexity’, and my proposal for an Energy Commons. I continue to believe a commons is a ‘way out of the debt trap’.

Eskom is heavily in debt and clearly unprofitable when it comes to the generation of electricity, and is a prime example of why governments and bureaucrats are less efficient than the market and free enterprise when it comes to allocation of capital. Which is why we continue to see the introduction of tariff increases several times over the inflation rate. Is more money really going to solve the problem?

Not when we have the bizarre situation in which our Muni’s and Metro’s, alongside the corner Cafe ‘prepaid token’ store, are all added to the game of profiting off the bulk sale of electricity, energy provided by a grossly inefficient pyramid scheme by a solitary, underperforming producer of electricity. Nobody is fooled by people like Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis promising the City will bring new capacity online, give or take a megawatt, or our President Ramaphosa, racing home to declare yet another electricity crisis requiring a crisis committee.

Without actioning on our rights as consumers, rights enshrined in our constitution, we will be left in the dark. It is essential for Eskom to open up the grid, not only to the ‘wheeling of electricity’ but to the dealing and virtualisation of billing and provisioning of new services. Then we might take a cue from New Zealand where deregulation has proven incredibly successful.

The country has 5 major electricity generating companies. Genesis Energy, Mercury and Meridian Energy operate under a ‘mixed ownership model’ in which the government holds a majority stake, while Contact and Trustpower are private sector companies. The country once struggled with a system very similar to our own, before dumping a socialist government.

Sadly, despite promises, there appears to be no genuine enabling legislation nor incentives in South Africa to allow a third party to purchase electricity, from either the state or the IPPs, and to resell the result on the open, rather than captive market, to the consumer. This is clearly why our system is failing. Embracing Lipshitz’s modest proposal and learning from the example of New Zealand, would be a step in the right direction.

In fact one does not have far to travel, to examine the case of another state monopoly, to see why deregulation when it comes to South Africa is the only solution. The fate of Telkom, once the country’s sole cable monopoly, provides us with a good case in point. If we had not opened up, we would still have a situation in which the only telephone available, was from the same company, with a single color, beige. Left to its own devices (excuse the pun) Telkom would still be in the copper age.

Look at how Internet Services Providers (ISPs), just like IPPs began to emerge in the 90s, while our government to its credit allowed a semblance of competition (initially only in the mobile market). With the result these companies grew up and essentially outflanked Grandma Telkom. In the process provisioning fibre cable infrastructure to the suburbs, and FTTH, all of which cost the taxpayer not a single penny.

Given enough time, our IPPs might eventually begin rolling out similar infrastructure. In fact they would be negligent if they did not. Best to get Eskom into open competition mode as soon as possible. The alternative is living with a permanent threat of massive grid failure just around the corner, alongside a collapsed economy.

Tritium found in groundwater outside Koeberg

  • Isotope main suspect behind 2010 Cobalt-58 scare
  • Plant should be decommissioned says Koeberg Alert
  • There is no known threshold beyond which radiation is considered safe

INFORMATION released by environmental organisation Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA), point to ongoing reactor design problems associated with normal operations at the plant. In particular the production of elemental Tritium (3H) and tritiated water (3H2O) during the course of nuclear fission. The organisation has previously drawn attention to routine Tritium releases and the resulting contamination of borehole water and the water table surrounding Koeberg, in its submissions on the environmental impact of a previous project known as Nuclear 1 — is now concerned about further issues which have emerged from an informal forensic study of the discharge.

“Tritium levels of <3 TU are the “norm” at the Koeberg site but elevated levels of 4.8, 5.5 and 42 TU have been recorded in three boreholes within 50 m of the plant buildings”, suggests the initial report by SRK Consulting, which was conducted over a decade ago in 2010 and is still used by KAA as a baseline requiring further research.

The SRK report illustrates how widespread the Tritium issue has become.

 “These levels are the result of known releases of tritiated steam and condensate and the pathways are as per the original design of the plant and are not due to uncontrolled releases or leaks,” claim SRK who concluded at the time: “The presence of tritium in groundwater at these levels does not pose a risk to people or the environment”.

The report however failed to explain a contamination incident inside the plant affecting 91 workers at the time the report was drafted, and in all likelihood the result of Tritium. The claim of zero health impact is also disputed by KAA.

According to the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) “The greatest source of radioactivity in the reactor coolant circuit is, however, irradiation of the coolant itself. Neutron bombardment of nitrogen dissolved in the water gives rise to carbon-14. Moreover, irradiation of boron dissolved in the coolant water creates hydrogen-3, i.e. tritium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen.”

“Radioisotopes such as cobalt-58, cobalt-60 and silver-110m arise as a result of wear or corrosion of reactor components. They become radioactive due to neutron bombardment as they circulate through the reactor with the primary circuit cooling water.”

Both Tritium and Tritiated Water are sources of beta particle radiation. It is suspected that elemental Tritium is the more likely culprit behind the production of Cobalt-58 dust affecting the workers, who would not ordinarily come into contact with the primary coolant.

At the time Eskom spokeswoman Karen de Villiers claimed the exposures to radiation caused by exposure to the dust particles were low, “about 0.5 percent of the annually allowed exposure limit.”

Co-58 has a half-life of 70.86 days, which is the ‘approximate time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value’. The substance is a source of beta and gamma radiation. It would thus take 70 days to become half as radioactive, another 70 days to become a quarter and so on, and is thus radioactive for months.

Elemental Tritium is able to diffuse through metals, particularly in the presence of heat, and is a direct consequence of fission, where production of Tritium occurs in about “one atom per 10,000 fissions” as a direct consequence of the fission process. Tritiated Water (3H2O) is the result of neutron bombardment of water. Tritium has a half-life of 12 years, and a decay chain to Helium-3 (3H).

Although not considered chemically toxic, it is nevertheless a source of radiation, and impacts upon the longevity of the plant, which is nearing its design limits and is due for decommissioning in 2024.

With 2 neutrons and one proton, Tritium loses a neutron during the decay process creating beta particles which then interact with nickel parts inside the plant. Nickel, since it has 30 neutrons, loses a proton and gains a neutron to become radioactive Cobalt-58, which itself experiences its own decay chain.

This is the prevailing explanation for the 2010 contamination incident.

Since the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model of radiation exposure states there is ‘no threshold beyond which radiation should be considered safe’, KAA consequently disputes the baseline findings of SRK Consulting, and thus the drafters of the initial report commissioned by the Pebble-bed Modular Reactor Company, to determine possible impact of the demonstration unit Koeberg.

LNT is a dose-response model used to estimate stochastic health effects such as radiation-induced cancer, genetic mutations and teratogenic effects on the human body due to exposure to ionizing radiation.

The model “statistically extrapolates effects of radiation from very high doses (where they are observable) into very low doses, where no biological effects are observed” and is disputed by members of the Nuclear Industry.

The LNT model is nevertheless the foundation of a “generally-accepted postulate that all exposure to ionizing radiation is harmful, regardless of how low the dose is, and that the effect is cumulative over lifetime.”

The National Nuclear Regulator currently deems anyone who accepts the LNT model, to be ‘opponents of nuclear power’, and thus Peter Becker was recently suspended from his position on the regulator as a civil society representative by Minister Gwede Mantashe.

Socialist complexity at heart of Eskom’s problems.

WHEN Medupi and Kusile were announced by our government in 2004 and 2007 respectively, the two coal-fired mega-projects were both seen as emblematic of South Africa’s democratic progress —  key to the ruling alliance and its plans for the future.

The ruling labour-left coalition was at the height of its power. With its roots in the victorious anti-apartheid struggle, it had made no secret of its desire for a ‘mixed economic model’, in which a socialist command economy would prevail alongside the capitalist economy, and where the energy sector, would imitate policies from the days of the former Soviet Union. What could possibly go wrong?

According to Pretoria technocrats, a new era of cheap coal would herald in cheap and plentiful electricity with which to ‘build the nation’. Both consumers and workers would benefit. The latter from long-lived and extended public works programmes centred around coal, which in turn would drive salaries and feed households which had experienced some of the worst ravages of apartheid ‘separate development.”(1)

Thus it was that these two projects ballooned into costly engineering exercises, as complexity driven by the technocrats, bureaucrats and party officials, armed with Marxist texts and presidential directives, ruled the day. That Marxists tend to overtheorise economic problems, relying upon ideas such as ‘dialectical materialism’ and the ‘labour theory of value’ to arrive at their conclusions, in effect the triumph of ‘ideology over pragmatism’, has already been remarked upon.

What has not been said in the mainstream media is the manner in which unions such as COSATU, emboldened by socialist think-tanks such as the AIDC whose research is anything but lopsided (2), and with a culture of intolerance for differences in opinion, quixotically feed unemployment, climate change and the national debt. While the rest of the world is moving away from coal, South Africa’s coal ambitions have instead risen and include plans for at least several new coal plants such as Thabametsi, each one able to take our country into poll position as one of the top GHG emitters in the world.

Eskom’s coal-fired power plants persistently and significantly violates the air pollution limits in its licences.

“The main cause of its troubles” say Adjunct Professor Rod Crompton, is Eskom’s decision “to build two of the biggest coal fired generating plants in the world, (Medupi and Kusile). These plants are running way behind schedule, they’re over budget and the bits that are complete don’t work properly. They are probably the single largest disaster in South Africa’s economic history.”

Medupi is literally drowning in ash. The result of socialist bureaucrats implementing design changes via committee without sufficient input from scientists and engineers, whom they invariably ignore. This lack of concern for evidence-based research and scientific methodology in favour of ‘political education’ is not a new one, witness the failed Afro 4000 train debacle .

An editorial published by Engineering Weekly for example, debunks concerns from COSATU and others, surrounding loss of jobs due to renewables, and yet the union continues to demand a state-owned power utility on steroids, with little concern for loss of jobs in the broader economy and the tragic impact upon the livelihoods of those affected by outages and inefficiency.

“There is considerable support in South Africa” says Tobias Bishof-Niemz  for the notion that a transition in the electricity system from coal to renewable energy will trigger a jobs bloodbath at both Eskom and the Mpumalanga coal mines. A detailed analysis of the job numbers, however, suggests quite the opposite. In fact, it points to there being at least 30% more jobs in a fleet comprising solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind farms when compared with an energy-equivalent coal fleet”

Meanwhile the brazen union federation staged a protest march this week, in response to the President’s plan to unbundle Eskom, in effect calling for Eskom and its mounting debt, to be supersized. Unbundling alone may not be enough to offset the crisis. Creating completely separate, independent and regional power utilities able to compete with each other would have a better chance of survival.

NOTE:

(1) See Rudzani Mudogwa’s recently published defense of coal which relies heavily on  statements made by Gwede Mantashe.

(2) An article doing the rounds in the local press  purporting to be by “Dr Sweeney, an AIDC visiting researcher, with the City University of New York’s ‘School of Labor and Urban Studies’,” claims splitting up Eskom ‘will result in privatization’. If one follows the logic of the argument presented, it is the West (including NY City) that is in the grip of rolling blackouts and massive debt run-up by Energy Companies since they were unbundled from the State. No citations, case examples nor evidence is provided by the ‘researcher’.

Medupi alone is a R145bn disaster

Liberalism’s ideologues and their coalfaced discontents 

Recycle & Repair Shops, redefining sustainability

The Recycle Swap Shop operates from the premises of Hou Moed Centre, within the marginalised township of Zwelihle in the seaside town of Hermanus. Zwelihle’s children often struggle to get their hands on essential items that are often taken for granted by many; like toiletries and stationery, let alone more costly items such as shoes and school uniforms.

In 2003, the situation facing children and their families in the “squatter camp” visited was simply, desperate. The RSS concept was the answer.

Sweden is stepping up its recycling game. A Swedish municipality recently opened up what could be the world’s very first shopping mall dedicated to recycled, reused, and repaired goods.

The new mall, ReTuna Recycling Galleria, is in the city of Eskilstuna, Sweden. And it’s a one-stop-shop for sustainable products. The mall boasts over a dozen different stores focusing on everything from reused household goods to refurbished electronics—as well a restaurant, educational center, conference center, and an exhibition.

Joining France’s countless pastry shops and bakeries is a new kind of shop, which collects unwanted goods, repairing them if necessary, selling or upcycling them if possible, and, if all else fails, properly recycling them. And their numbers are growing.

Ressourceries, which could be translated as “resource shops,” operate something like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, accepting donations of used goods and reselling them at discounted prices. But the ressourceries take it to the next level by just about anything that’s brought through the door.

New York City’s Pop Up Repair Shop was a one-month experiment “aimed at breaking the cycle of use-and-discard goods.” It was the first step of a larger exploration of the issue, led by Sandra Goldmark, a set and costume designer and theater professor at Barnard College. Sandra and her husband Michael Banta, a theater production manager at Barnard, launched the shop using funds from an IndieGoGo campaign, which raised over $9,000.

“The most well-known example of items that are relatively simple to repair are clothes. Putting a patch on some jeans or a jumpers elbow, darning socks, these are some of the simplest repairs that most of us have experienced, if not done ourselves” says Recycling Expert UK

Once seen as a niche part of the fashion industry, being eco-conscious has rapidly become one of the hottest ‘topics’ of our time. From luxury fashion houses to fast-fashion retailers, and everything in between – more and more fashion companies are responding to mounting consumer interest and ‘going green.

There are literally hundreds of online projects involved in recycling and repair in one way or another.

The Bicycle Recycle Project at Seven Hills School in Nevada City, California, provides students hands-on learning of basic bicycle mechanical skills, reinforces the value of recycling, and provides the satisfaction of helping others.

Other recycle projects include an Electronics Exchange where consumer electronics may be repaired and swapped.

Meanwhile, the BBC bemoans the flipside: Why is it so hard to repair anything?

 

 

Burning Platinum no solution to power crisis

IMAGINE if our President were to announce that he had a solution to our energy crisis. From tomorrow we will start burning Platinum to make Electricity. Would you support a costly programme, with only 1% efficiency, and a huge waste problem? This is precisely what the Pressurised Light Water Reactor (PLWR) punted by Dr Kelvin Kemm, CEO of Nuclear Africa, represents. Costly 1950s technology, with so many problems and design elements which can go wrong that you have less than a 1/20 chance there will be an accident if you build one.

You have merely to watch any promotion video for the next generation reactor project known as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) to see why old PLWRs are inherently unsafe.

With so many mechanical issues which can go wrong, including hydrogen build-up which resulted in the Japanese Daichi Reactor exploding at Fukushima, followed by decay and meltdown of all the cores, which became unstable once the safety mechanisms failed. LFTR claims to have none of these weaknesses, since it uses liquid fuel not solid fuel, is not pressurised, and has a totally different decay chain and fuel cycle.

Unlike PLWR which is inherently unsafe, dependent upon human controls and core intervention 24/7, advocates of LFTR claim that if power to the plant operation is ever cut, only a refrigeration plug kept artificially frozen would melt, then the liquid fuel would merely drain into holding tanks and the plant would shut down with no possibility of a core meltdown. The economics of burning rocks (thorium is abundant and found in most rocks on the planet) instead of burning scarce metal which is mined and processed into solid fuel pellets, and produced by the nuclear industry in a scheme representing a Gillette-Razer Blade fuel model, are also key features.

As an environmentalist opposed to nuclear energy for over 25 years, I still have my reservations, since LFTR is basically a molten-salt reactor in which Thorium and Uranium are dissolved into Fluoride. I am fascinated however, by the claim that it could solve some of the waste problems which characterise conventional reactors, since it is far more efficient, and also capable of reprocessing the waste created by the PLWR industry.

As the evangelists claim, burning Uranium is like burning Platinum, and with less than 1% efficiency, the old technology from the 1950s is really a dead-end road, considered useful only because it creates transuranic products such as plutonium which the military find interesting. LFTR cannot produce such weapons-grade material. Which is a big plus so far as proliferation is concerned. There are however some short-lived fission products such as Protactinium* to worry about, but none of the security problems inherent to producing elements above U235, which are man-made and do not exist in nature.

LFTR according to its pundits, is also capable of producing bismuth and molybdenum used for medical purposes, these are alpha particle emitters as opposed to beta-particle emitters.

As an anti-nuclear activist I do not think LFTR has solved all the safety problems, and the design certainly needs a lot more debate and consideration. But lets take a look at the kind of plant Kemm wants to import, based on the designs which produced Koeberg and Pelindaba:

Koeberg, South Africa’s only commercial PLWR suffers from ongoing emissions of radioactive isotopes such as strontium-90 and caesium-137 which exceed European Safety guidelines. Local safety standards had to be lowered by the apartheid government in order to accommodate the emissions from the plant. Bioaccumulation of isotopes and contamination of nearby crops are a major health risk when it comes to wheat, fish and dairy. The isotopes end up in human bone, causing cancer of the blood.

On 11 November 2005 the plant underwent an emergency shut down following an incident related to power controls within the plant. The incident is thought to be a routine SCRAM.

Then on the evening of the 23 November 2005, a routine inspection of the backup safety system revealed a below-specification concentration of an important chemical, which had resulted in a controlled shutdown of the reactor.

On Christmas Day 2005 an 8 cm (3 in) loose bolt found its way into the rotor of Unit 1, causing damage to some of the 105 bars that line the device, and putting the generator out of action for months.

In 2010, 91 workers at Koeberg were contaminated by Cobalt-58 , evidence of breeding.

South Africa’s non-commercial nuclear industry has had its fair share of emergencies.

The deaths of workers such as Harold Daniels at Pelindaba, who died after fighting a 1996 ‘radiation fire’, have never been adequately explained, the full facts were never investigated, despite promises from government. On 6 March 2009, a leak of radioactive gases from Pelindaba was reported by NECSA. Abnormal levels of gamma radiation associated with Xenon and Krypton gases (two gases which were problems at Chernobyl) were detected, causing an evacuation of staff and an emergency to be declared

The issue of poor communities exposed to long-lived radioactive waste from dumping by the industry, including communities of Kommegas and Namaqualand, continue to mar the claims and promises of clean energy made by persons such as Kamm.

South Africa wasted some R10bn on a failed PBMR reactor programme, before canning the project, a highly expensive and costly white-elephant, dependent upon the taxpayer for annual bail-outs and the final right-down. Now the Zuma administration is contemplating embarking on yet another costly nuclear exercise, without so much as a safety and cost-benefit inquiry. The numbers do not add up.

Renewables will always be cheaper and safer, beating non-renewables over time. The same may be said of LFTR.

Nuclear Energy is not the Solution.

*Other problems encountered in early breeder reactor tests, are tritium and corrosion.

SEE: Russians jumped nuclear gun – many other options include dusting off PBMR

 

Energy commons a way out of Eskom’s debt trap?

OPPOSITION leaders, including Musi Maimane and Mosiuoa Lekota have called for an end to the anti-privatisation fiasco, but the solutions on the table need not entail the wholesale privatisation of state assets.

Moving South Africa forward to a better economic future could include the creation of an energy commons. In this scenario Eskom would become merely the operator of the national grid. Allowing the generation of electricity to form the basis for new enterprises, each of which could compete for access to the consumer, by providing a host of services, including the provisioning of technology.

Think of mobile phone companies and the convergence which has occurred on the Internet. New virtual electricity companies could provide consumers with choices including access to dishwashers, microwave ovens and other household technology — choices in renewable energy, women-friendly companies and other solutions that are just not available under the current system.

An energy commons that served as a repository of energy for the good of the nation, would allow greater competition at the same time as maintaining government control over the fiscus. Thus un-economical energy systems and bankrupt energy companies would be allowed to whither away and die. Only the most efficient energy providers would be allowed to survive, removing the need for annual bail-outs.

Essentially what South Africans (and especially small business) require the most, is cost-effective wattage hours. But doing this would require the removal of the inefficient, apartheid-era, extractive and exploitative sale of bulk electricity, the system which has been the backbone of municipalities since the days of race segregation. Under the current regime, Eskom sells electricity to local municipalities who in turn sell energy to the consumer, resulting in a profit pyramid scheme.

Creating a more  horizontal energy system that is localised and avoids wastage associated with highly centralised projects and transmission over distance, (some 6-15% of electricity is lost this way) presents a number of gains for the consumer. Instead of draining our economy, we would see new enterprises, greater employment and a bigger tax-base.

Allowing municipalities to invest in new energy start-ups, in the same way as the government owns shares in Vodacom, could provide a way out of this cash cow problem. Instead, Minister Nene is now selling these “non-core stakes” to cover his administration’s bail-out of moribund and inefficient state-enterprises.

Think of the national grid as the backbone, and the energy commons as a pool of energy into which energy providers contribute, thus providing access to basic services, and then where value-added services are bolted to this mix, is one way of looking at the solution.

A 1998 White Paper, recommended that Eskom  be split into separate generation and transmission companies to “assist the introduction of competition into electricity generation”. Reform of a bloated “vertically integrated” monopoly that controls electricity supply from start to finish has been stymied by labour demands that boil down to maintaining a dirigiste economy in the form of state capitalism.

South Africa inherited the apartheid state apparatus, which included Eskom and Telkom. These two monopolies are government-run corporate entities known as parastatels. Both are dependent on annual bail-outs from the treasury.

The cost of the latest Eskom bail-out has been included in the 2015 budget announced by Minister Nene at a whopping R23bn, and this comes upon rate hikes and increases in the cost of Eskom services to the consumer.

Nene’s rationale for maintaining the monopoly is exactly the same rationale as previous ANC administrations: “30% of South African’s do not enjoy access to electricity, Eskom is the only way we can provide them with services”. The policy of maintaining an energy monopoly which is responsible for most energy generation, while gradually opening up the market to a minority of new Independent Power Producers, has meant this figure has remained unchanged. In other words, like our unemployment figures, the percentage of South African’s without electricity remains the same, since enterprise development is not able to keep up with the countries increase in population.*

Another factor is the peculiar ideological focus of the ruling alliance. The ruling party is in reality a centre-left alliance of union and business factions. The ANC thus balances its business interests with the interests of unions and the SACP resulting in a beast not unlike Dr Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu. The downgrading of Eskom’s debt and the inquiry into its operations (there is only one electrical engineer on Eskom’s board) all point to a crisis in South Africa’s energy sector.

At the end of the day it is the consumer who stands to benefit from greater choice in energy providers that would be provided by a more efficient energy commons.

* South Africa’s population grew by 15/5% since the ANC came to power in 1994. A one-child-per-family policy as implemented in China and the basis for the country’s current economic success, could prevent the increase of the population from 52 million to 100 million over the next two decades.

SEE:

Eskom Blackout Saturday

Looting of SA Energy Sector

Ismo could solve Eskom’s conflict of interest

South Africa’s shambolic energy policy

THAT South Africa’s energy policy suffers from incoherence can be seen in the 2010 Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity published by the Department of Energy.  The prevailing attitude fostered by so many self-proclaimed experts and advisers to the ministry, is that renewables should comprise no more than 16 percent, while the rest of the budget plan is given to the usual dirty energy suspects. Nuclear, Coal and Gas all represent substantial vested interests in South Africa’s energy future.

Over the past years South African’s have become accustomed to ministerial pronouncements which treat consumers as nothing more than bonded laborers whose duty it is to service the debt created by a department which continues to fund an enormous and extravagant “base-load” Nuclear programme inherited from the apartheid regime,  another “baseload” Coal Power industry which is one of the world largest suppliers of Greenhouse Gas, as well as a “peak” Open Cycle Cas Turbine industry dependent upon Fossil Fuel which does nothing more than  perpetuate wars in the Middle East.

Public Enterprises minister, Barbara Hogan’s public relations team appears to be working overtime. No sooner had the two departments announced that the failed PBMR programme would be mothballed with a final cost to the taxpayer in the region of R10 billion without one watt ever produced, then Hogan launched into the usual rhetoric about conventional nukes started by Alec Irwin.  Deputy-president Molanthe then took a sight-seeing trip to Korea, courtesy of the nuclear industry while the department glossed over the Koeberg accident  in which 91 workers were contaminated with Cobolt 51, a dangerous radionuclide. Dare one mention the 1996 Pelindaba accident in which several workers lost their lives following exposure to radiation?(Transcripts and audio taken from the Parliamentary Portfolio Hearing into the Nuclear Industry are available here)

The timing of the IRP2010 document should be seen as nothing more than a vain attempt to deflect attention away from the Zuma administration and its shambolic energy policy. That Independent Power Producers will play a vital part in the energy mix is no state secret, but Hogan got tongues wagging when she appeared to make an about turn on cogeneration, announcing that cogeneration was expected to “feature prominently in the second integrated resources plan (IRP2010)”

As if a 16 percent sanity score out of a possible 100 percent for renewables was anything to write home about.  In terms of this so-called revised balanced scenario, the country’s electricity mix would, by 2030, “comprise 48% baseload coal-fired power, 14% baseload nuclear power, 16% renewable energy, 9% peaking open-cycle gas turbine power generation, 6% peaking pump storage generation, 5% mid-merit gas power generation and 2% baseload import hydropower.”

Hogan thus presumes to declare policy as if there is no pressure to conform to any of the Millennium Development Goals, the Kyoto Protocol or the WSSD declaration. Need we remind the minister, that the Earth is facing a catastrophic environmental collapse caused by rapid economic expansion over the past five decades, expansion which at current levels will require us to reproduce the entire resource base of the planet, once  every fifty years? That’s two extra planets for every century extrapolated exponentially. So in century one, we only need two extra planets. Century two requires four extra planets and so on, until we run out of planets.

As the person who introduced the concept of sustainable development to South Africa in several essays and supplements on “Our Common Future”, carried by South Press in the early 1990s, I feel supremely qualified in my attempt to explain the inexplicable. The energy from the Big Bang is still with us. Our dilemma is not that we live in the 21st century, but rather the 20th century along with the industrial age is, in a sense, conjoined.  Another way of looking at it, humanity may have evolved, but the technology created during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries continues to drive our economy. A lot of what we do as a civilisation is thus producing carbon while consuming fossil fuels. Motor vehicles for instance, may be a lot more efficient now than when Henry Ford started mass producing them, but they still, for the most part, utilise the internal combustion engine and oil.

The same may be said of electricity and even farming. As South Africans we suffer not simply from a wealth gap, but a technology gap, which like the digital divide disproportionately effects the developing world. We thus turn to our resource based economy for solutions instead of leap-frogging over more advanced societies.

Our country ends up paying a huge cost in terms of loss of environment and ecosystems. Burning coal is enormously polluting unless mitigation measures are implemented. Since the technology as it stands  is unsustainable, requiring several new planets in the future to keep up with demand, recent announcements of negative carbon technology and carbon sequestering may make coal appear environmentally- friendly but the industry is really only sustainable for a short while .

Nuclear Power on the other hand, is a mirage which appears to offer us a way out of this resource trap while promising all the allure and glamour of the 21st century’s northern economies. Our government is thus eagerly lapping up nuclear-industry attention — receiving lavish gifts in the form of conferences, holidays and intergovernmental deals.  The sad truth is that very little has changed since the first fission reactors were built in the 2oth century. In what can only be described as sheer folly, many Northern countries including South Africa, embraced nuclear power as a showcase of modernity. Splitting the atom brought with it the twin scourges of the atomic bomb and the constant risk of radioactive contamination. Uranium is essentially the asbestos of our age. One has only to listen the anguish of widows and workers affected by the 1996 Pelindaba accident to realise the true cost of this technology in terms of human lives and the lives of workers.

The South African government ended its nuclear bomb programme in 1990, but it has failed to come clean about Pelindaba and its many accidents and now Koeberg (in September, 91 workers were contaminated with Cobolt-58 caused by the decay of Uranium-235).  The department has yet to issue an official apology to the widow of Harold Daniels and several other NECSA workers dying of cancer and radiation burns. What can one expect from a government which tacitly supported the use of depleted uranium in the Gulf War?  The pictures of genetic mutations caused by exposure to depleted uranium are shocking to say the least. More disturbing is the failure of the Zuma administration to fund research into the effects of radioactive emissions from Koeberg which continue to exceed European safety guidelines.

Most radioactive isotopes have half-lives in the region of 30-100 years.  Routine emissions of Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 from Koeberg are cumulative in the environment where the isotopes bioaccumulate up the food chain, effecting humans in the form of lymphoma and carcinoma. Several studies have found elevated risk of childhood cancer 10-5km near a nuclear plant. Isotopes such as tritium,  associated in proximity to nuclear plants for instance, are extremely rare in nature, yet the department continues to deny funding to projects which might investigate and mitigate the effects which the presence of these isotopes and radionuclides may have on our food supply.

Is it any wonder that the entire industry has had to be exempted from strict liability by the National Nuclear Regulator, since the insurance industry refuses to cover nuclear accidents?

IRP2010 continues to propogandise the prevalent wisdom in the department that renewables can “never replace baseload electricity sources”. The image of Nuclear, Coal and Gas being the three main sources of electricity is bolstered by a steady public relations output from industry.  The SABC stubbornly refuses to host open debate on nuclear energy and carries a perennial flow of soundbytes attacking environmentalists for advocating Wind and Solar energy, since “clearly such technologies cannot replace the base-load”.  This is chicanery at its worst,  even by Hogan’s standards, since the single-issue debate ignores cogeneration and several other promising technologies.

Base-load Ocean Tidal

An abundant source of kinetic energy, tidal projects have been implemented in many parts of the world. South Africa’s enormous coast line could be far better used, than providing cooling for nuclear plants.

Peak-load Biogas from Waste

A technology which literally cleans two problems at once. Human waste is an enormous contributor to aquifer pollution. Channeling some of the muck to powerplants able to produce gas, and gas into electricity produces the kind of peak load provided by Open Cycle Gas Turbines.

Base-load Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Several co-generation projects make hydrogen fuel cells one of the most promising clean technologies in the world. Heat, which is the byproduct of the fuel cell process which breaks down hydrogen into its constituent parts, water and oxygen, is able to heat homes, supplying hot water as well as cooling.

Base-load Geothermal

Believe it or not, South Africa is rich in geothermal resources. One has only to look at Goudini hot water spa to realise the potential beneath the surface of the earth The idea is that a gas such as methane could be pumped below where it quickly heats up by the the Earth’s own energy, expands and returns along another loop to power a turbine.

Base-load Concentrated Solar

Focusing solar power to heat a salt fluid which in turn drives a turbine is advance technology which is being used in several parts of the world including Israel.