Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “energy crisis”

Going Green: installing a solar-powered geyser

This morning workmen came to install a solar-powered geyser in our house. It’s a cold and rainy day and winter is approaching, so I’m not sure if we’ll see the benefit immediately, but it will be interesting to see if the electricity bills are reduced after a few months.

Val saved her annual bonus, and Eskom, the national electricity supplier, offers subsidies to encourage people to install them. As most of our electricity comes from coal-fired power stations, it should make a difference to carbon-dioxide emissions if lots of people take advantage of their offer. We’ll have to see how well it works after a few months.

Another advantage is that it puts the geyser outside. Our all-electric one is under the roof and just over a cupboard, and every three or four years it leaks, and everything in the cupboard is wrecked. So for the last couple of years the cupboard has been empty, and everything that was in it has been piled on the floor.

The new one has a supplementary electric element, which is switched on by a timer in the early morning, when people need hot water for washing. But during the day and early evening the sun should do the job. It also has an electric override switch, in case it rains for a week or two.

We got quotations from three different firms for the installation, and opted for African Emissions Trading, which was the cheapest when the Eskom subsidy is taken into account. It was also the closest to where we live, in case we need to call on them for repairs and maintenance. If the system is working well after six months or so, we’ll recommend them! I’d also be interested to hear from others who have installed solar-powered geysers, on how well they work etc.

Oil prices are dropping — the sky is falling

Anja Merret puts her finger on something that has been puzzling me recently too: why we are told that falling oil prices is a sign of depression. Six months ago we were told that rising oil prices would increase the cost of basic goods and services, and make the poor poorer. Suddenly it’s become a Bad Thing, in media reporting, at least.

anja merret – chatting to my generation � Hollywood has moved to Wall Street:

During the past months the media has been reporting that the USA and UK are in a recession. However, since mid September ‘Father Christmas’ came early for the media, as the ‘Credit Quake’ took over. It was a much greater disaster to ride and make headlines with than with something as silly as a recession.

This is how it went, more or less. The financial markets took a huge tumble. Bad lending practices as well as some nasty rumours led to a few banks pleading poverty. Liquidity crunch was the reason given for this. Bad management decisions might have been a reason as well, one wonders. So the governments of the developed world pumped money into the affected banks and the financial market at an astonishing rate.

Then the oil price fell from an economy killing high of just under $150 per barrel. It’s now fluttering around the $80 mark. Suddenly this was bad news. Really? This tumbling oil price, from levels only supported by the greed of the oil traders and producers, was perceived to be a disaster. What? It’s almost unimaginable to think that anybody would consider a falling oil price to be bad news.

I think Anja Merret has put a finger on something that has puzzled a lot of people; well, it certainly puzzled me.

I’m all in favour of reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and finding alternative sources of energy. Finite resources will not last for ever, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. So when oil prices doubled earlier in the year, I thought that might be taken as a salutary reminder of the urgency of the need for finding alternative energy sources.

But, as Anja Merret points out, it is suddenly, in some quarters at least, being interpreted as sending a quite different message, and one wonders why.

Trolley buses

Real Estate Weekly:

After years of neglect and operational sabotage, city bean counters and Edmonton Transit administrators have finally succeeded in their obsessive quest to pull the plug on the city’s 70-year-old trolleybus system. Last month, they finally got a majority on council that was gullible enough to swallow the misinformation that trolleybuses are a technology of the past, not a way to a cleaner and greener future.

While municipalities around the world are expanding their electrically-powered public transit fleets, Edmonton city council voted seven-to-six to begin the process of dismantling the city’s trolleybus network by 2010. Instead, they’ll abandon proven trolley technology and buy 47 diesel hybrid buses that have an uncertain lifespan, burn more fossil fuels and spew more emissions at street level.

Gauteng municipalities made similar short-sighted decisions more than 30 years ago, and both Pretoria and Johannesburg lost their trolley buses.

Iran war speculation and oil prices

Ron Paul, the US senator who was running for the Republican Party’s presidential candidate has said that speculation about an Iran War is driving the oil price up.

Informed Comment: Paul: Iran and Energy Crisis:

Ron Paul on Iran and the energy crisis. He argues that speculation about a US or Israeli strike on Iran is driving some of the increase in oil prices.

The OPEC president should know a thing or two about what drives oil prices and he agrees.

The speculation has been going on a long time ago — according to some, the war should have started two years ago or more, so it can’t be the only thing that’s driving the oil price up.

Hat-tip to Mard.

Independent Democrats question high electricity prices

clipped from

South Africans are paying four times more than some foreign countries for electricity, the Independent Democrats said yesterday.

Lance Greyling, spokesman on energy, said the ID wanted answers from Eskom over the increase in electricity exports to neighbouring countries during South Africa’s ongoing power crisis.

Greyling said he had sent questions for written reply to Minister of Public Enterprises, Alec Erwin.

Greyling said Eskom must also explain why there had been a 22 percent decrease in electricity imports.

He said Eskom exported electricity at 11 cents per kilowatt hour, which was a quarter of the rate South Africans pay.

In his questions to the minister, Greyling said the ID wanted to know the reasons behind South Africa’s exports to neighbouring countries being increased by a reported 6.1percent in the first three months of this year, and on what basis decisions were made to increase the export of electricity.

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As shortages of things like electricity, oil and even food grow, so will conflicts of interest.

Ideally, southern Africa should try to produce its own electricity for the whole subcontinent. As supplies of coal and other fossil fuels dwindle, there will be increasing reliance on hydroelectricity from the Zambezi and the Congo — but countries along those rivers will want to serve themselves first, and sell the surplus to others — while there is a surplus.

So which route to go — cooperation in the subcontinent, or autarky?

Biofuels and food prices

The Washington Post reports on its front page today: “More than 100 million people are being driven deeper into poverty by a ‘silent tsunami’ of sharply rising food prices, which have sparked riots around the world and threaten U.N.-backed feeding programs for 20 million children, the top U.N. food official said Tuesday.”


Maria Luisa Mendonga is based in Sco Paulo, Brazil, and is director of the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights. She co-wrote an article titled “Agrofuels: Myths and Impacts.” She said today:

“In many regions of [Brazil], the increase in ethanol production has caused the expulsion of small farmers from their lands, and has generated a dependency on the so-called ‘sugarcane economy,’ where only precarious jobs exist in the sugarcane fields. Large landowners’ monopoly on land
blocks other economic sectors from developing, and generates unemployment, stimulates migration, and submits workers to degrading conditions.

“This model has caused negative impacts on peasant and indigenous communities, who have their territories threatened by the constant expansion of large plantations. The lack of policies in support of food production leads peasants to substitute their crops for agrofuels, and,
as a result, compromises our food sovereignty. In Brazil, small- and medium-sized farmers are responsible for 70 percent of the food production for the internal market.

“It is necessary to strengthen rural workers’ organizations to promote sustainable peasant agriculture, prioritizing diversified food production for local consumption. It is crucial to advocate for policies that guarantee subsidies for food production through peasant agriculture. We cannot keep our tanks full while stomachs go empty.”

Research biologist at the Global Justice Ecology Project, Smolker said today:

“The massive diversion of crops and land to producing biofuel crops instead of food is a major factor in the very dramatic food price increases. Governments and industries have foolishly pursued biofuels in spite of this and in spite of a cascade of scientific studies and statements from all levels of society which clearly demonstrate that biofuels are not only exacerbating hunger, but also rural displacement, climate change and deforestation. Last week the UK instated its Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation for the use of biofuels even as the European Environment Agency warned that the EU-wide mandate should be reconsidered. Even the World Bank recently stated that biofuels are contributing to rising food prices and hunger.

“Incentives and mandates for the use of biofuels are being promoted by agribusiness giants like Monsanto, ADM and Cargill along with big oil, biotechnology and automobile industries — all of whom stand to profit enormously. The price is being paid right now by those who can no
longer afford food or access to land. Civil society is pushing back: this week the Round Table on Responsible Soy is meeting in Buenos Aires and will be met with intense opposition as people denounce the entire concept of ‘sustainable industrial agriculture’ of the sort that has
despoiled so much of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

“The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development report took a strong position opposing industrial agriculture and GE [genetically engineered] crops while a major new report from University of Kansas makes it clear that GE crops have not
delivered on the promise of increased yields. We need new models for food and energy production that do not leave people hungry and displaced, do not contaminate our crop biodiversity and pollute our water and soils, and do not leave food and energy production in the
hands of profit-seeking multinational corporations. People are beginning to wake up to this fact.

“Meanwhile, the food crisis is pushing biofuel proponents to argue that the next generation of technologies based on cellulose will avert problems with food competition and deliver greater climate benefits. In fact they could worsen the problems: There is limited space available
and we are losing land to desertification and deforestation at an alarming rate. A few weeks ago, [the journal] Science published a pair of articles showing that the greenhouse gas emissions that result from indirect land use changes far outweigh any gains from substituting fossil fuel use. Wood is considered to be one of the most promising feedstocks. But demand for wood is skyrocketing as countries attempting to meet Kyoto commitments are shifting to wood and other biomass for heat and electricity production, as well as chemicals and manufacturing processes.

“On top of that, the pulp and paper industry is undergoing a planned fivefold expansion and China has a very rapidly expanding wood products industry. The scale of demand for wood to satisfy all of these demands can only be met by further deforestation and by enormous industrial
monocultures of fast-growing trees. The biotechnology industries are racing to genetically engineer both trees and microorganisms for these uses. Next month at the Convention on Biological Diversity, civil society organizations will be asking for a moratorium on the commercialization of GE trees because of the potential risks of contaminating native forests.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Institute for Public Accuracy
915 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045
(202) 347-0020 * *

Storm in an aluminium smelter

South Africa would not have a power crisis if there were no big aluminium smelters, said Valli Moosa, the chairman of the Eskom board, and former Minister of Environmental Affairs, but this as a sensitive matter, as the row between Standard Bank and BHP Billiton shows.

Both mining giant BHP Billiton and South African banking group Standard Bank were on Friday tight-lipped over the name of a senior bank executive who made remarks that led to the diversified miner taking its business away from the firm.

This came after financial daily Business Day reported that a Standard Bank senior executive had suggested at a Business Leadership meeting with government that BHP Billiton should shut down its power-heavy Richards Bay Hillside aluminium smelter because it added little value to the economy.

“All I can say is that BHP Billiton can confirm it has taken a corporate decision to phase out its business links with Standard Bank,” BHP Billiton spokesperson Bronwyn Wilkinson told Mining Weekly Online. “The reasons behind this decision have been conveyed to the bank.”
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Moosa was speeking at a public meeting at St Martin’s School Hall, Rosettenville, arranged as part of the annual conference of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI).

For more on his speech see SAFCEI: Eskom is one of the biggest polluters in the world.

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