Thursday, May 19, 2011

Down Eskom’s garden path/blog

Andreas Sp�th

Down Eskom�s garden path

2011-05-18 12:08

[Andreas Sp�th] What�s Eskom done for you lately? They�ve taken away the
subsidy on solar water heaters. They�re building or are planning to
more dirty and dangerous coal and nuclear power plants.

With winter on the way, they�ve announced that, although the national
electricity supply situation will be tight, they�ll do their very best
prevent a repeat of past problems, which, quite frankly, sounds like
pre-emptory spin to me - expect to be load-shed this winter.

Asking what they�ve done for you lately is a legitimate question.
Eskom is
a state-owned enterprise and all of us are effectively shareholders. But
perhaps it�s more pertinent to ask what Eskom and the South African
government, in its mandate to supply us with sustainable electricity,
haven�t done for us lately.

They haven�t worked particularly hard at trying to save electricity.
Improved energy efficiency measures are widely acknowledged to have the
potential to substantially reduce electricity demand. But I guess you
can�t expect an entity that sells electricity for profit to convince its
customers to buy less.

Enormous potential but�

They haven�t made it easy for power producers other than themselves to
contribute to the national electricity supply. We do have world-class
feed-in tariffs on paper, but in reality the system is as yet
non-functional. Here too, the potential is enormous.

About half of the 43 000 megawatts of electricity generated in Germany
using renewable energy technologies is produced by ordinary citizens,
farmers and companies whose solar panels and wind turbines feed it into
the national grid.

They haven�t listened to �the people� a whole lot. The panel that
government�s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2), which will define South
Africa�s electricity policy for the next 20 years virtually ignored
comments from civil society organisations and consisted almost
of representatives from the Department of Energy, Eskom, the Chamber of
Mines and various oil, coal and power companies, including Sasol,
BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Exxaro. Is it surprising that the
document they came up with is coal- and nuclear-friendly and ensures
we�ll be burdened with fossil fuels and their impacts for decades to

They haven�t been in a hurry to increase their capacity to supply
electricity. It takes years to build new coal and nuclear power
Well-established renewable energy technologies, on the other hand, are
available off the shelf right now and can be built and brought online

Not up to speed

And the solution doesn�t just lie in gigantic, centrally operated solar
plants and wind farms. There are many economic and environmental
to be had from smaller, distributed renewable energy systems owned and
controlled by the rural and urban communities they supply.

They�re certainly not up to speed with what�s happening in the rest of
world. Germany and Japan have scrapped plans to build new nuclear power
plants and are investing heavily in renewable energy. Research shows
renewables are up to the job.

A study published by researchers at Stanford University in January, for
instance, suggests that they are capable of supplying the planet�s
needs within 20 to 40 years using current technology at costs comparable
to fossil fuels and nukes. According to Professor Mark Z Jacobson, one
the co-authors, �there are no technological or economic barriers to
converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources�.

Crucial crossroads

The UN�s high-powered Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just
released a report outlining how renewable energy can provide almost
80% of
humanity�s energy needs by 2050. Lead authors Ramon Pichs and Sven Teske
point out that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that developing
countries � that�s us � have the best conditions to exploit these
resources and that they can provide their growing electricity

We�re at a crucial crossroads. Do we carry on down the old,
business-as-usual dead-end by continuing to rely heavily on
hazardous and polluting fossil fuels and nuclear power? Or do we take
path to a sustainable, clean and climate-friendly renewable energy
It�s no longer an issue of technicalities, but one of political will.

The fundamental question is whether Eskom and our government have the
balls to make the right decisions. Unfortunately, by all estimations,
still need to grow a pair.

- Andreas has a PhD in geochemistry and manages Lobby Books, the
independent book shop at Idasa�s Cape Town Democracy Centre. Follow
him on
Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

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