Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “power cuts”

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.

Cable theft — under the noses of the cops

It is said that Eskom doen’t like us to talk about blackouts.

The politically-correct term is “previously illuminated areas”.

But when we woke up at about 4:00 am on Friday, with the electricity doing strange things, it wasn’t Eskom’s fault. The lights dimmed, the fan slowed, and then the lights came on again, and the streetlight outside was shining with unnatural brightness.

A few minutes later our dog Ariel came in through my son’s bedroom window, which is usually an indication that there are baddies about. She can be fierce with the postman or the plumbers, but when there are genuine baddies around, she seeks protection.

My son went out with a torch and a big stick to see if anyone had been trying to break in, and while he was out in the garden, two cop cars came roaring down to the end of the road. They asked my son if he had seen anyone, and he said he was still looking, and after a brief conversation among themselves, they roared off again.

Since we were now all well awake, we made coffee, and I began reading my e-mail, and then the lights wen’t off again, suddenly, with no preliminary flickers. After waiting a few minutes to see if they would come on again, I phoned the City of Tshwane electricity department. It takes a couple of minutes to get through — press 1 for this, three for that, 1 for electricity, 1 for power failures, listen to a long spiel from an auntie about Eskom’s rolling blackouts and telling you what web page to look at for the schedule (as if you could look up a web page if you are sitting in a previously illuminated area anyway). Then another plastic auntie asking what suburb you are in, and then asking to confirm that, and finally you get through to a human being.

I said the power was off, told her the street, and said I suspected cable theft. The flickering just before the power finally went off suggested that someone or something was trying to short out the wires. There wasn’t a high wind or a thunderstorm, so it was unlikely to be tree branches. It was not on the hour, so it wasn’t likely to be Eskom’s scheduled load shedding.

Now, 27 hours later, the power has come on again, on Saturday morning. At one point they had about eight lorries of municipal workers there, trying to replace the stolen cable.

And the cops were here!

They did it right under the noses of the cops.

And last night, about 9:30, with the neighbourhood in darkness, no lights, no street lights, nothing, our next-door neighbour’s burglar alarm went off. I phoned to ask if everything was OK, and said I could hear the alarm going off, and then the signal broke up and I couldn’t hear anything they were saying. But it sounded as though they were out, so I called the cops.

Ten minutes later a cop van comes past, goes up the road the other way. I was flashing a torch, and they came back. I told them about the alarm going off in the house next door, and they still dashed off in the opposite direction.

The last couple of days have considerably diminished my confidence in the South African Police Service.

Should heads roll over power crisis?

The Times – Article: Regret for blackouts:

Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica conceded today that the country’s electricity crisis constitutes “a national emergency” and urged South Africans to work together to overcome it.

Opening a special joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, she expressed “sincere regret” for the power crisis.

But in an unfinished sentence, she appeared to criticise the call for heads to roll, saying there were some people who want to “crucify, crucify, crucify”…

Independent Democrats MP Lance Greyling pointed out that Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge was fired from her post as deputy minister of health for making one unauthorised trip abroad, but that no one had been sacked for bringing the economy to its knees.

There is a sense in which heads have already rolled — at the ANC conference last December, where many members of the cabinet were not re-elected to the ANC’s national executive committee, and no doubt this will also be reflected in the party list for the next general election.

But Lance Greyling of the ID makes a point that deserves further consideration. Where heads have rolled in the past, it has looked like an excuse, or misuse of power for personal rivalries and cronyism. Even the sacking of Jacob Zuma had more than a whiff of an excuse to get rid of a rival.

But heads rolling is not enough. We don’t need scapegoats: we need solutions. The government didn’t build power stations apparently believing that private enterprise would do so. Private enterprise hasn’t done so, so the government better do it. Oh yes, and stop Coega. The jobs lost through power cuts will far exceed the number of jobs created by Coega.

Solar robots to show the way

Nothing like a crisis to concentrate the mind!

Business Day – News Worth Knowing:

IN AN effort to help alleviate the effects of power cuts, the Central Energy Fund (CEF) announced yesterday that it had committed R40m to a drive to install solar-powered traffic lights at critical intersections in major centres around SA.

“This is an urgent intervention to alleviate the chaos on our roads that results from power outages, and which is impacting negatively on the economy of our country whenever there is load-shedding,” CEF CE Mputumi Damane said.

No, this is not proactive planning, but it does show that reactive planning can be creative, and at least it’s looking for solutions rather than scapegoats.

My wife left work too early yesterday to hear the traffic reports on the radio, and spent 45 minutes getting through the tangle at the Church Street/Duncan Street robots in Hatfield yesterday. Solar powered robots could at least mitigate some of the effects of the Eskom crisis.

Dealing with the electricity crisis "proactively"

Politicians really need to be more careful what they say.

Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC is reported as saying that we need to deal with the electricity crisis “proactively”. It is far too late for that. It should have been dealt with proactively 10 years ago. Any action taken now is simply reactive.

The Times – Article

South Africa’s electricity crisis was debated at length at the African National Congress’s three-day lekgotla which closed in Midrand on Sunday, said the party’s secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

The ANC would be looking into a number of interventions, he said.

‘Rather than being in a state of panic [we should] deal with the issue proactively because it is actually positive that the country is growing to the extent that we actually exhaust the energy capacity,’ he said.

Instead of viewing the problem as an energy crisis, it should be seen as an indication that more efficient energy consumption was needed.

To be proactive means to anticipate, and the crisis we face now is the result of a failure to anticipate.

For more than 10 years Eskom has channelled its infrastructure development into expanding the distribution network. That in itself should have led planners to anticipate increased demand by planning to build new power stations or at least bring mothballed ones back on line. Johannesburg City Council used to sell power to Eskom from its Kelvin power station.

Whether the problem was caused by the failure of Eskom to plan, or by political pressure from the government (as Cosatu claims), the fact remains that the problem is already here and it is much too late to be proactive about it, and the use of weasel words by politicians won’t solve the problem.

The only way we can deal with the crisis at this late stage is reactively, not proactively.

But there are different ways of dealing with problems reactively too.

One of the dangers of reacting to problems after they have occurred is that it is easier to look for a scapegoat than a solution.

An extreme example of that is the reaction of the commuters who set fire to trains, and now face a non-existent train service because the trains are ashes.

Such reactions are counter-productive.

But the same attitude is apparent in many comments in blogs on the topic, where some have demanded that Eskom planners be flogged and similar things.

Some have suggested that Eskom be sued for losses suffered as a result of the power cuts, and that would be about as effective in solving the problem as burning trains. It would mean that instead of spending money on increasing generating capacity, Eskom would be paying lawyers to defend lawsuits. And the people who would pay for that would be consumers who would have to pay higher prices.

Burning trains and suing Eskom show the futility of looking for a scapegoat rather than a solution.

Electricity not being exported, says Eskom

Eskom says that electricity is not being exported to neighbouring countries when there is no surplus.

But isn’t it a bit late for President Thabo Mbeki to be meeting with Eskom management to ascertain the extent of the problem? According to Cosatu, it was President Thabo Mbeki himself who opposed Eskom’s plans to expand its generating capacity.

clipped from
Eskom has stopped supplying electricity to neighbouring countries amid the dire shortage in South Africa, it said on Sunday.
The power company only sold electricity when it had a surplus, said spokesperson Sipho Neke.

Of the electricity generated by Eskom, 95 percent is used locally. The rest is exported to Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The country’s electricity crisis was debated at length during the African National Congress’s three-day meeting, which closed in Midrand on Sunday, said the party’s secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

President Thabo Mbeki will meet this week with Eskom management to ascertain the extent of the problem and the company’s remedial plans.

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