No sustainable solutions to the Eskom crisis

I was reading this article on iafrica.com about the government’s plans to deal with what it calling a “national electrical emergency” and while there are some good ideas which should have been implemented a decade ago (for example, switching to energy saving light bulbs), I am yet to see an approach which would really make a big difference in how we generate and consume power.

The closest I have seen to some sort of plan like this is the plan to rollout 1 million solar powered heaters but even this idea hasn’t been properly planned for and implemented:

Despite the prohibitive cost, the government would install one million solar heaters over the next three-years, saving the country about 650MW, Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said on Pretoria on Friday.

A solar heater cost between R7000 and R20 000 and South Africa’s manufacturing capacity was only 10 000 units per year, she told journalists during a presentation of the government’s plan to deal with the country’s “electricity emergency”.

“To eliminate these barriers, there is a subsidy of 20 to 30 percent, depending on the cost of the unit.”

Great idea but these sorts of things should have been on the cards a decade ago. We could have had much improved production capacity by now and lower prices. These sorts of units should ideally be cost effective enough to be installed in rural areas in those millions of low cost houses the government promised and is yet to deliver on.

Going further, what we should have had in place years ago is a plan to encourage the installation of solar panels to actually power homes and businesses (it takes a bunch of idiots not to appreciate the potential of all our sunshine), not to mention wind power down on the coast. We could have had whole cities powered predominantly by solar power, sending excess power back into the grid to subsidise homes that can’t afford solar panel technology. A truly empowered South African society. Why, that ranks up there with affordable broadband for all South Africans. Imagine that? Instead we have very late plans to implement these sorts of technologies while at the same time blaming consumers for Eskom’s and the government’s failure to plan for the country’s growth. This sort of approach smacks of the constant paranoia in the USA over the fluctuating terrorist threat levels (ok, a little Fahrenheit 911 conspiracy talk).

Anyway, 10 points to the government for actually calling this a crisis. Not so sure about implementation though.

In the meantime I am going to explore how I can take my house off the grid and not rely on Eskom at all. Ivo has mentioned regulatory hurdles to doing this and I am not sure to what extent these hurdles exist or present a problem but this is an avenue worth exploring. Add gas from Egoli Gas and my house could wind up being the only house lit up this winter.

(Image credit: “Paris blackout” by Gabyu licensed under Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives 2.0 license)


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