SOUTH AFRICA’S myopic development policies are creating increased demand for electricity and the quick fix solution contemplated by Eskom might do more harm than good. Already faced with the predicament of providing cheap electricity for new industrial projects such as the proposed Coega Aluminium Smelter, the national energy provider is contemplating several new energy projects, none of which fulfil the millennium goals for sustainable development as laid out at the Earth Summit.
Instead of reducing demand in an energy intensive economy, South Africans could see sky-rocketing fuel prices and increased electricity tariffs as the move from dirty coal to cleaner gas turbines merely shifts the problem of sustainable energy consumption. Already, two new gas-turbine power stations are planned for Mossel Bay and the Western Cape. Alternatives such as the pebble-bed nuclear reactor are considered too costly in terms of long-term sustainablity, with the price of nuclear power escalating over the course of production when factors such as decommissioning and disposal of spent nuclear fuel are taken into account.
Other solutions exist in the form of renewable resources such as wind energy, wave energy, energy from the sun and the earth’s very own ambient radiation that periodically surfaces in the form of volcanic activity. Environmentally-safe Wind Farms, Wave Platforms, Solar Arrays and Geothermal Projects promised at the Earth Summit are still “just promises”. With consumers footing the bill for new development, answers such as a vague proposal for one pilot Wind Farm near Malmsbury “sometime in the future” and absolutely no progress in the emerging market for Wave, Geothermal and Solar, would seem “too little, too late”, as far as environmentalists are concerned.
What would it take to develop a sustainable Geothermal energy programme? Technology such as the ability to harness the massive forces encountered underground by the mining industry exists, but has never been tested locally. Until Eskom starts addressing the issue of long-term sustainablity seriously, this country will continue to be faced with a crisis in which consumers are asked to cough-up, merely in order to supply big business with cheap power, in a development game whose real cost is measured in the form of indirect taxation and other kickbacks to industry.
In fact BHP Billiton which has aluminium smelters in South Africa and Mocambique has already acknowledged there is a problem with power supply. Aluminium smelting like other energy intensive industries, uses a vast amount of power and the entire industry is considered economically unsustainable unless a cheap source of renewable energy can be found. Instead of spending billions of rands of tax-payers money on white elephants such as the Pebble-bed modular reactor, Eskom could have solved the problem by simply committing itself to next generation sustainable energy, spending more on renewable resources and less on non-renewables such as liquified gas and coal.
— THE GREEN EDGE PO BOX 4398, CAPE TOWN 8000