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How about some innovation and action on the energy crisis?

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I believe that the real crisis in our base load system has not yet been reached, and the inevitable worst case scenario is to come if the period over the next 10 years is analysed. If we make an assumption (as naive as this may be), and the economy grows over the next 10 years at an average of 3% per annum, then the demand on the installed base load system will grow by 34% by 2015. If the effective available base load now is 40GW, we will need to add some 14GW capacity but that is only on the assumption that the existing fleet of units does not suffer incremental attrition through ageing and hard running that stresses the system over its design limits. 

But let’s look at the equations on the assumption that in this period Medupi and Kusile actually come on line and add 9,6 GW,  and the oldest of the 6-packs now running meet their end of useful life. The net gain would be say 2,5GW capacity. The chances are, over the next 10 years, that more attrition is likely. 

In the event that say 12GW of new base load capacity is needed, this is equivalent to 2,5 new Medupis or 6 Koebergs. We know that SA cannot build Medupis very well – so far double the initial cost and 4 years late with just the first unit. So don’t let’s kid ourselves that we will just hurry up building some new six-pack fossil stations, and the likelihood of 6 Koebergs or the equivalent in nuclear would take a minimum of 12 years for the first unit to be ready. Add to this the dismal record of state planning and financial control, and we can envisage the scale of the challenge ahead. It simply is not possible to quickly correct 20 years of perpetual erroneous thinking and insufficient action. A necessary condition would be the affordability given that SA is currently near junk investment status.

With the commodities market in decline and on which SA has historically depended via foreign investment in mining, we have to realise that unless we jack up manufacturing and are competitive in world trading, we are heading for what could be national bankruptcy. 

The current climate makes us more risk averse than ever. How innovative can we be? Some ideas.

If any funding for another fossil station is ever available, rather re-direct it to providing solar water 
heating and PV panels for every home in SA. Invest in the best PV panel, solar water unit, battery and 
grid inter-connect device factories with the best technologies that can take all low-order water heating 
i.e. hot water geysers out of the base load system, enable the PV panels to work both on-line back-feed to the grid and charging of the batteries complete in a one-stop package with inverters, switching etc. 

Train up Engineer and Technician teams to be able to install, commission and maintain the complete 
system. Do it all on a massive scale with private sector skills and sufficient competitive organisations as was done with the wind and solar farms. The technology must have SABS certification to avoid the 
bandits in it for the quick kill. This will require constructing an attractive long term cost to the user with 
the capital cost being tied to the asset value of the home via a structured debt note that stays with the
home or building. 

The incentives can be seen as the horrific on-going cost of Eskom-provided electrical energy, the stability of the returns that are associated with the mortgage instruments, and a base charge that is offset by lower consumption of high price electricity for low order energy use. 

Who then knows when electric car fever will hit SA? Could we take a leaf out of Elon Musk’s USA initiatives – SolarCity and Tesla, and if possible, license their technology? Tesla has, and is developing, a battery based on their current market leading Lithium-ion  pack design, to be provided to homes together with the solar energy systems, and where the car batteries, once they lose their initial high energy density, can be used for home use. So material sustainability is also achieved.

If a smart South African can go to the USA, invent and build SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, then come on guys, what are we doing about solving our SA challenges? And ours are not even rocket science which SpaceX certainly is. We tend to spend too much time looking for reasons ideas won’t work and playing the blame game.

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