Time for us to rethink how we use electricity

2016-03-07 11:45
We have become accustomed to the luxury of an inexhaustible supply of cheap electricity and the thought of managing how we use it is simply unthinkable.

We have become accustomed to the luxury of an inexhaustible supply of cheap electricity and the thought of managing how we use it is simply unthinkable. (Supplied)

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We all agree that South Africa needs more electrical power, but the debate will rage on about how best to do that. Three obvious factors got us into the mess we’re in, alleviated temporarily as we have decreasing demand and looming recession.

• President Thabo Mbeki’s refusal to build more power stations when it was first mooted, be they renewable, coal or nuclear. Oddly that may end up working to our advantage.

• Cosatu’s delaying tactics that have meant a two-year build has taken six or more at Medupi; at an enormous increase in cost to the consumer.

• Eskom’s gross incompetence and greed. For years it stubbornly would not allow renewables to supply the grid, fired many of its most competent engineers and technicians, and appointed board members who paid themselves obscene bonuses.

Nuclear proponents state that only nuclear can provide the baseload generation required but concede this could only be completed before 2035, with the best will in the world. Throw in Cosatu’s strike action and wage demands, and they might never be completed.

The Nonhlanhla Nenes of the financial world say even if nuclear is best, it’s a luxury South Africa simply cannot afford. It would mean there would be no money for housing, schools, and university student grants and loans. Our children would be saddled with a massive debt to repay after we are long gone; they would curse us daily. That was an option too painful, and he was fired.

The fossil-free folk point to the fact that solar and wind farms can and are being built in two years, at far lower cost and are already making a massive contribution. And despite the fact the sun doesn’t shine at night, new technologies are expanding very rapidly into storing energy as liquid salt and other as yet unknowns.

In all likelihood we will end up a mix of all three types of generators.

There is another way, uncomfortable though it will appear to many. We have to cut our cloth according to our means and rethink how we use electricity.

When you build a solar farm as we have done, you learn quite quickly that if you want to turn the electric oven on, you have to turn the pool pump off, and you don’t turn the kettle on until the oven is up to temperature.

While mowing the lawn, should a cloud sail majestically across the sun, you don’t curse. You stop the mower, empty the grass catcher, go and watch some cricket or do some weeding until the sun reappears. You might even enjoy a beer.

Such would greatly irritate many, as we have become accustomed to the luxury of an inexhaustible supply of cheap electricity and the thought of managing how we use it is simply unthinkable. But we either change our way of thinking about electricity or we must accept that fracking will become a reality, a nuclear holocaust could happen, and there will be a huge increase in the cost of electricity.

Truth is, we will need to be forced into this new way of thinking, and one way to do it would be to make a 20A circuit breaker free, with a steep increase in price as you demand the right to use all your appliances simultaneously. Then we would start installing solar geysers on our roofs, and considering the virtues of a solar array on our roof and using the pool pump only in the dead of night. The country’s baseload of electricity would drop dramatically. Is turning the aircon off because you want to put the kettle on for tea just too much trouble? Then you must accept you’ll have a nuclear power station, and perhaps two or three, somewhere on the KZN coastline.

Halving the price of electricity at night would also enable some businesses to survive by moving to a nightshift, uncomfortable though that would be.

It’s time for some lateral thinking, not unfortunately South Africa’s strong point when it comes to energy.

Read more on:    electricity

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