Down Eskomï¿½s garden path
[Andreas Spï¿½th] Whatï¿½s Eskom done for you lately? Theyï¿½ve taken away the
subsidy on solar water heaters. Theyï¿½re building or are planning to
more dirty and dangerous coal and nuclear power plants.
With winter on the way, theyï¿½ve announced that, although the national
electricity supply situation will be tight, theyï¿½ll 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 theyï¿½ve done for you lately is a legitimate question.
a state-owned enterprise and all of us are effectively shareholders. But
perhaps itï¿½s more pertinent to ask what Eskom and the South African
government, in its mandate to supply us with sustainable electricity,
havenï¿½t done for us lately.
They havenï¿½t 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
canï¿½t expect an entity that sells electricity for profit to convince its
customers to buy less.
Enormous potential butï¿½
They havenï¿½t 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 havenï¿½t listened to ï¿½the peopleï¿½ a whole lot. The panel that
governmentï¿½s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2), which will define South
Africaï¿½s 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
weï¿½ll be burdened with fossil fuels and their impacts for decades to
They havenï¿½t 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 doesnï¿½t 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.
Theyï¿½re certainly not up to speed with whatï¿½s 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 planetï¿½s
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, ï¿½there are no technological or economic barriers to
converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sourcesï¿½.
The UNï¿½s high-powered Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just
released a report outlining how renewable energy can provide almost
humanityï¿½s energy needs by 2050. Lead authors Ramon Pichs and Sven Teske
point out that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that developing
countries ï¿½ thatï¿½s us ï¿½ have the best conditions to exploit these
resources and that they can provide their growing electricity
Weï¿½re 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
Itï¿½s 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 Idasaï¿½s Cape Town Democracy Centre. Follow
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