Thursday, January 31, 2008

Eskom's Economic Saboteurs

(click on image for full size)
These are the board members of Eskom, the company that is supposed to supply electricity to the economy of South Africa. They are either totally incompetent or traitorously devious. According to their last annual report, these people were paid a combined total of R35 million. Their silence and lack of planning is costing the economy billions: it's economic sabotage of the worst sort.
All their smiles and optimistic words in the annual reports issued by Eskom over the last few years were designed to hide a simple truth: Eskom doesn't have the capacity to meet the country's needs, and these people have known about it for a long time. They have kept this fact from the rest of the country until they could hide it no longer.
Take for example this report, reproduced on the Joburg City Power web site, and originally reported in Business Report:
Johannesburg - South Africa would need to spend as much as R10 billion a year from 2010 on building power stations as excess electricity generation capacity ran out, Africa's biggest electricity provider, Eskom said this week.
"We'll need an extra 1 200 megawatts every year from 2010," Andrew Etzinger, the general manager of strategy at Eskom, said in an interview on the sidelines of an energy conference in Johannesburg. "That works out to about R10 billion a year." The government said on October 20 last year that it must start building new generators and restarting idle power stations to manage surges in electricity demand, starting in 2007.
So they warned us? Not likely. The article was published on 30th January 2005, ten months before the fiasco at Koeberg, and the start of rolling blackouts in the Western Cape.
Later, in the 2006 annual report, they published this graph, showing how they would need to build more power stations. Notice how the pink area, representing all their generating capacity, is exceeded by the "peak demand" line in 2007, not 2010. It is clear they were relying on imports from Cahora Bassa dam, even though this is dependent on a 1 400 km transmission line, as well as no major failures of any of the power stations in South Africa during winter.
This graph shows the peak load and average loads for the 2006 year. Two years later we are 3 000 MW short, in spite of importing 1 800 MW from Cahora Bassa. According to Engineering News we are currently doing load shedding at 33 000 MW, well below the peak of 36 513 MW recorded in 2007, 33 461 in 2006, 34 195 in 2005, and 31 928 in 2003.
The simple answer is that we have an energy rather than a capacity shortage, arising from a deleterious mix of planned, but more crucially, unplanned maintenance and maintenance slippages. This combination means that something like 20% of our generation capacity is currently out of service.
Engineering News Online has confirmed that there is something like 3 000 MW of capacity out for planned maintenance, and a whopping 5 000 MW down for unplanned maintenance. This is resulting in a daily shortfall of between 2 500 MW and 3 000 MW below average and peak demand.
In other words, of the 42 000 MW of nominal capacity and what appears to be an actual capacity of around 37 000 MW in the Eskom system, between 8 000 MW and 9 000 MW is currently unavailable. That means that the utility is only producing around 29 000 MW against a demand of between 31 000 MW and 33 000 MW. The result is ongoing load shedding.
This situation would have caused load shedding even in 2003, and yet the first mention of any kind of capacity problem is on page 108 of the 2005 report:
The peak demand of 34 195 MW recorded in the 15-month period (2003: 31 928 MW) was substantially higher than that recorded in 2003. There was a substantial decrease in the generation reserve margin from 16,9% in 2003 to 8,5% in 2004.
Two years later, in the "lowlights" section on page 10 of the 2007 report, there is the following statement:
Eskom customers were for the second year affected by supply interruptions with two major incidents. One incident occurred on 18 January 2007 due to generation shortages resulting in the loss of 40,48 system minutes, and in a separate incident 1,24 system minutes were lost due to a sustained line fault.
On page 47 they contradict this by saying
A peak demand of 30 277MW was forecast for the week of 15 January 2007, for which there was adequate available system capacity of 32 670MW, despite the large-scale planned maintenance of generation units that traditionally takes place in the summer.
Also, on page 8:
In the meantime the reserve margin remains precariously low (8% compared with international norms of above 15%).
Bear in mind that the reserve margin went below 15% in 2004, yet 3 years later there is a skills shortage, generation shortages, and line faults that are causing major impacts. For that stellar performance the board awards itself millions in bonuses and provides no warnings to the public at large.
Critical skills shortage in management is an area of concern which has been aggravated by the higher than anticipated skills turnover in the engineering field.
The skills shortage is hardly surprising: they went from 39 241 staff in 1997 to 32 674 employed by the group in 2007, yet when the trade unions complain about a lack of skilled staff, they deny this. I guess 16% isn't significant?!

What contingency plans did they announce along with the 2007 report? None. What incentives were put in place to encourage solar powered geysers? It's still being worked out. What about light bulb replacements, incentives for solar panels, and so on? Nothing. In true form, they did nothing proactive to warn the general public about saving power, or parliament for that matter. Their silence has cost us all millions. They betrayed their country.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Energy Incompetence Reaches Obscene Levels

South Africa's leaders simply don't have a clue about the extent of our electricity woes. "News24 reported on Friday that Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga had written a letter asking key industrial consumers to reduce their power loads to "minimum levels". The letter apparently sent on Thursday night says Eskom cannot guarantee a power supply and therefore asks for the suspension of all surface and underground mining."
The result: on Friday and Saturday 37 mines stopped mining operations: 31 Gold and Platinum mines, and 6 Diamond mines. This spared the rest of the country from further power cuts, but it put over half a million jobs at risk, and could lead to the demise of large sections of the mining industry. Even Time magazine reported the problem.
What is even more puzzling is that the ministers who held the press conference on Friday morning claimed to be "unaware" of the mining stoppage. They nonetheless declared the power shortage a "national emergency" and asked people to switch off their geysers. They also promised to replace all the traffic lights with solar powered ones. Clearly there was no planning, and they haven't learnt any lessons from the Koeberg blackouts of 2006.
The government "Energy Security Master Plan - Electricity 2007-2025" has the following introduction (Page 7):
"As South Africa enters the 8th year of a sustained period of economic growth, the security of electricity supply has become very critical. The supply of reliable electrical power ensures that economic growth is not hampered but rather enabled."
The rest of the report reads like a case of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. On Page 45 some hope is offered by listing the new power stations that are supposed to come online in the next few years. On page 47 the following statement now reads as extremely optimistic:
"Through the planning processes for the 18 month and 7 year period, the indications are of a tight reserve margin being prevalent, with the key risks for these periods have been identified."
Now add to the mix the fact that Eskom directors have been paying themselves lavish bonuses and salaries, while keeping the public in the dark about the nature of their problems in over-optimistic annual reports, and it is no surprise that the power cuts came as a shock (ahem). I have been reading the Eskom Annual Reports on their web site, and they conceal any warnings of imminent danger really well. Clearly they didn't foresee any of these shortages, or decided to keep quiet about them. Perhaps the obscene bonuses are just "hush money" because one shouldn't criticise a cabinet minister.

Is Europe a Country?

Friday, January 25, 2008

PerfectDisk 2008

Before the beta program was launched, everyone assumed the successor to PD8 would simply be called PerfectDisk 9. Now I can reveal it's called PerfectDisk 2008, which will probably be shortened to PD08, not to be confused with PD8. The PerfectDisk Blog has changed its artwork to include the new product logo.
The product launch is expected on January 29th, and (power cuts notwithstanding) I hope to post a review of the product shortly afterwards. The launch version will probably be version for those version geeks who want to know.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gautrain doesn't use electricity? Really?

I recently wrote to the Gautrain information centre to find out how much electricity the trains will use. They claim to have no idea. I'm not sure whether they are lying or they really are so incompetent that they don't have any idea. Neither option is reassuring. I wrote:
"Please could you tell me how many MW of electricity the trains will use when they are operational? Also, how much electricity will be used by the stations themselves, and what will happen when there are power outages?"
Their reply was:
"We cannot say for sure what this will during operation as we’re still in the construction phase. This will also depend on various aspects that still need to be finalised from now until the operational phase."
According to the information brochure dated 15 April 2007, page 4, there will be 24 trains of 4 cars each. No mention is made of the power requirements. In fact, the words "power" and "electricity" are entirely absent from the 23 page document. They are also absent from this and this document too. Considering that the Koeberg blackouts had lasted for several weeks a year before, and Eskom had already issued warnings about power shortages for years to come, these documents, coming a year later, are surprisingly short-sighted.
According to Wikipedia, the trains are of the Electrostar family. I found further information on these locomotives, including the following:
Bodywork is aluminium, with steel ends. There are two Adtranz 250kW three-phase traction motors on each motor coach, with IGBT control. The motor bogies are at the trailing end of the driving coaches and at the centre of the unit on the non-driving coach. Bogies are a development of the BREL P3 and T3 design used on class 465/0 and 465/1. Driving coaches have pick up shoes on both bogies. Classes 375 and 377 have a potential maximum speed of 160km/h, but do not normally operate at more than 140 km/h.
Assuming a motor coach on each end, each train will use 1MW of power, so the entire system would consume 24MW, excluding lighting, power consumption at each station, and power loss due to normal transmission. Given the fact that the Kelvin power station produces a maximum of 600MW, this one project will use 4% of the power station's entire output, capacity it simply doesn't have. It already only provides less than a third of the city's power requirements.
Update 30 Jan 2008: I finally got an answer of sorts (see comment below). I under-estimated the power requirements (it's 28.8MW), and the only mention on the web site can be found here.
  • The rail cars are known as Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) and will be powered from overhead electrification wires at a voltage of 25kVAC.
  • An EMU allows distributed power along the train and in the case of the Gautrain, twelve of the sixteen axles of a four car train unit are provided with 200kW electric motors (a motorisation ratio of 75%), leading to a relative high power to weight ratio of approximately 11 kW per ton. This power to weight ratio ensures the high levels of acceleration and deceleration required to achieve the required maximum journey times specified of 42 minutes from Johannesburg Park station to Hatfield station.
  • Having distributed power allows the train to climb gradients significantly steeper than on the national rail network. The direct alignment needed to achieve the shortest distance between the specified stations requires gradients of up to 4% which is significantly steeper than normal railway main line gradients which are normally restricted to 1,5% or occasionally 2% in special instances. The Gautrain has a motorisation ratio of 75% which could allow it to climb gradients in excess of 10%.
  • The use of a high voltage alternating current (AC) system permits the entire Gautrain system to be fed from a single electrical traction substation which will be located at the Gautrain Midrand Depot. The traction substation will be provided with two independent supplies from Eskom to ensure reliability of electrical power supply.
  • All train units will be provided with blended braking systems. Once it is decided to brake a train, the system first goes into regenerative braking mode, thus using its electric motors as brakes. The electrical power is then supplied back into the overhead lines and can then be used by other trains in the system that are accelerating or are otherwise in a power receptive (consuming) mode. Should there be no receptive trains, then the power will be fed back to Eskom supply, thus ensuring efficient electrical usage characteristics throughout the system. Should higher levels of braking be required this can be provided by the motors, the system then automatically applies the disc brakes. Disc brakes are provided on all wheels and the configuration is similar to advanced modern motor vehicle disc braking systems, being fitted with an Anti-skid Braking System (ABS).
There is no mention of what will be done in the event of a power failure. It is obvious that there is no standby power plan, not even one to provide enough power for one train to run, i.e. 2.4MW. Relying on "two independent sources of power from Eskom" does not take into account Eskom's obvious inability to provide power. What a fiasco!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New PerfectDisk on Jan 29th

The PerfectDisk blog talks about the new version of PerfectDisk "coming very soon", and today I received an email thanking me for my participation in the beta program. I can't say anything more about it because I signed a non-disclosure agreement. I will be writing a review for publication soon.
Then I noticed a special offer for PD8 on the Raxco website that ends on January 28th 2008, plus the animation on their home page (see screen shot above) which mentions the new product to be released on Tuesday 29th January 2008. Presumably the pricing and other details will be announced then.
The terms of the non-disclosure agreement are not onerous, but since I gace them my word not to say anything about the beta program until the product has been launched, please bear with me until Tuesday.

Friday, January 18, 2008

ANC never liked electricity that much in the first place

All this talk about Eskom and "Load Shedding" reminds me of a history book I read, which showed power lines blown up by the ANC in the early 60's.
Now that South Africa is reeling under the incompetence of the people who manage our power supply, including government, it struck me that really not much has changed since the 1960's after all. Then it was called "Resistance", now it's called "Load Shedding". The result is pretty much the same.
Essentially, we have now woken up to what we should have been told about 2 years ago when the Koeberg screw-up happened: there is no more electricity, and we can expect blackouts everyday from now on for the next decade. Why they didn't say so in so many words is anyone's guess, but I suspect it was plain cowardice. Of course, it would have been great if there was a subsidy for solar water heating 5-10 years ago, before the crisis hit; but that would imply forward thinking, vision and planning, all of which are clearly in shorter supply than our electricity.
And the 18% price increase is another cowardly way of telling business to reduce its power consumption by 18%. A better way would be to offer discounts to companies who reduce their energy consumption. It would also be nice if we didn't give away our resources to criminal regimes like Zimbabwe, since they have no money to actually pay for them.

How Fair is Load Shedding?

Two years ago an Electrical Engineering consultant was talking to my wife in the bookshop, and told her that Eskom had no contingency plans, but they had been warned about their lack of capacity and the effects of their non-maintenance policies. Now that we are experiencing this chaos first hand, the new web site has helped to make it clear just how bad the planning is, and how unfair the power cuts really are. Of course it goes without saying that these timetables are purely on paper, and the actual situation is a lot worse.
I selected a few suburbs at random from a map of Johannesburg. The results are curious, but clearly unfair. Perhaps suburbs are graded according to usage patterns, but it looks pretty arbitrary to me.
Stage 1: (red) Eskom is overloaded by 1500 MW. This is the most likely type of power cut
Stage 2: Eskom is overloaded by 3000 MW. More locations will have no electricity
Stage 3: (brown) Eskom is overloaded by 4500 MW. Many areas are without power
Click on any graph for a full size view

LinbroGlen Austin A.H:
Glen AustinAlexandria:

Click to read the cartoon

Perhaps we should change the name to "Power Outrages", or just call it what it is: a failure of power.

DMA: Privacy on a Shoestring

The illustrious Direct Marketing Association seems to be incapable of protecting my privacy, even among its own members. There is a form you can fill in, but only if you use Internet Explorer. Firefox and Opera aren't supported, even though most privacy-savvy users prefer Firefox with the NoScript extension enabled, and script blocked by default.
If you update your details you get an error message to say "You are already registered", and when I asked, they were unable or unwilling to tell me whether this meant that the data was thrown away or updated. Their "Do Not Call" database has me listed 3 times: twice with the same ID number (records 151759 and 185048) and once without my ID number but with my current address (record 193686). My wife is listed twice, but only with her maiden name, and we've been married for 7 years. So much for data accuracy.
Since DMA members are under no obligation to report back to the DMA, all my requests to FNB, Nedbank, Absa, Sanlam, Standard Bank, Cell-C, Autopage, Discovery, MTN, and the many other companies I have warned against sending me junk mail or SMS mssages, have not been reported back to the DMA, so my information is still woefully out of date.
As a database programmer I understand the complexities of keeping information up to date and accurate, but this is a simple flat file database with no field for first name, only initials. (Huh?) These guys are supposed to be protecting my privacy, but in my experince it is all window dressing. If not, why would MTN, Barclaycard and now Woolworths, all sent me unwanted marketing messages without even bothering to check to see if my name is on the list?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

South African Google Earth

(Click for a larger picture)

South Africans have developed the ability to laugh at their problems, even under the most adverse circumstances. Our crime problems are being surpassed only by the random power blackouts that have been going on for months and are likely to continue for the next 8 years or so.
Today I visited my friend Dennis who is recuperating from gunshot wounds he received from 3 armed men, while out walking his dogs with his wife on Boxing day. One bullet narrowly missed his heart, went through his colon and liver. The second bullet injured his left leg, before lodging behind the knee of his right leg. Three weeks later he can barely walk, so I popped round to his house to help him set up some computers in his wife's study.
We couldn't test everything immediately, because of the 3 hour power blackout (Eskom calls it "Load Shedding") from 4pm to 7pm (their second one today) so I did a lot of running around with torches and candles first. I also sat through 90 minutes of traffic congestion to get there, caused by the power outages and rainy weather.
In case your're wondering what "Google-letu" is all about, Guguletu is a well known "township" area.