If there is one time when this nation speaks with one voice it’s when we experience power cuts. We seem unified in our addiction to fossil fuels. Suddenly the complaints roll in from business, domestic, rich and poor alike. We can’t cook, we can’t run our factories, the aeroplanes are delayed. Chaos ensues. Of course we need power. We are dependent on Uncle Eskom and if he struggles, we are the innocent victims.
It’s like an umbilical cord that provides our oxygen, for we still don’t know how to use out own lungs and breathe the air freely available. We have been persuaded that we don’t have any, so we go into panic. Of course that is an excellent business model – the ultimate dependency.
The irony does not escape me. Extreme weather – climate change – hits again. The energy crisis is now added to the long list of previously unknown consequences of climate change. Wet coal from too much and uninterrupted rain in Mpumalanga. Can we now join the dots? How about the pavements washing away in the Strand, as the sea levels rise, the outbreak of flies and other insects from one day of power cuts? Next comes diseases. The knock-on effects that environmentalists have been warning about for decades.
But no, what climate change? I went on training last week and tried to persuade the group that if we scheduled the training to start and end outside of peak hours, we would all spend a third to a quarter of the time on the road, reducing our carbon footprints by 60 to 75%. One course delegate said she recycles her plastic and her car is efficient, so her footprint doesn’t matter. I rest my case.
Are we really the victims?
So are we really the victims we make ourselves out to be or does the gremlin perhaps live in our own perceptions? Yes, we need power to cook and drive our machines, but there is an ultimate provision which us Africans are so utterly blessed with.
The same power that grows our food, lights our way day and night, enables life on this planet, also drives our growing tourism industry, despite our own internal battles. There is another Father who radiates us with energy day in and day out and he is not about to turn off his supply. Father Sun supplies for free.
Why then are we stuck in the fossil era? Or are we slowly evolving? During the power cuts I was happy to have piping hot water from my solar geyser. I also have a solar oven that cooks food in the garden – I even bake bread that way. So there were no victims in our home. Indeed, the business was halted for 2 hours, but virtual businesses don’t keep business hours anyway so no problem to catch up later. This is climate resilience built into lifestyles and business models.
Now Eskom has suddenly given the all clear. In one day they were able to sort out problems that necessitated Stage 3 cutbacks. I don’t want to give them any more of my energy by contemplating what’s going on there. They have already had a day of dominating the news media.
Adapt and find the gold
I say it’s time to adapt and find the gold in our power struggles. Let’s use yesterday as a reality check. We simply cannot rely on fossil fuels anymore. Prices are escalating yearly and so too our frustrations.
Time to move on? Rumour has it that an estimated 3000 households across South Africa already generate their own solar energy on the roof. I asked an alternative energy expert, David Lipschitz, for his opinion. He said..
“People have been asking me what I’d do if I was CEO of Eskom. Firstly I’d recognise that my coal program is taking a lot longer than I anticipated and that Nuclear and Fracking Gas is at least 12 years away. I have a problem NOW! And I would recognise that my coal is of a poor quality and the maintenance costs of my existing coal fleet are out of control.
I would also realise that Eskom should become an electricity broker rather than an electricity producer because Eskom can currently supply less than 25% of South Africa’s Hidden Demand, and I would realise that there is 15 to 30 GW of available electricity from Roof Top Owners, so:
Tariffs change depending on time of day
I would allow anyone with a roof to have Net Metering with Time of Use Tariffs, without a service fee. Net Metering means that people buy and sell electricity at the same rate. Time of Use Tariffs mean that these tariffs change depending on the time of the day. Note that over time, the tariffs can change per second depending on supply and demand and people can buy and sell electricity using an Electricity Futures Stock Exchange.
Create a simple Homeowner and SMME tariff as follows: Off Peak (10pm to 6am): 50 cents per kWh; R1.50 per kWh at normal time; R4.50 per kWh at peak time. No VAT on electricity says, because electricity is vital for the economy to function. This will incentivise homeowners to supply electricity at peak time, rather than use it.
Note that these tariffs will change as more and more people remove themselves from needing to be on the grid, but I would expect the Off Peak Tariff to rise to R1 per kWh and the peak to also rise as normal fuel costs rise.
Allow homeowners to do investments before income tax and before VAT, just like businesses can.
Note that yesterday my suburb was in the middle of a load shedding, but I have not been effected. What is this worth to people? How do they feel about not having electricity? Note that no electricity for a long time will eventually mean no water, as water is pumped using electricity.”
Of course we need to do the maths, but common sense tells me that it will be worth it and that installation costs will be offset in a shorter and shorter period of time as the fossils become more expensive each year, whilst dying a slow death. I am for sure going to pursue a more sustainable route. And of course I will share the maths with you.
What do you think?
By Elma Pollard