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.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Enron / Eskom ?? seems to ring some bells here, or is that a siren? No can't be since the power's off. Will the last one to leave please ... oh never mind .. not to worry.
It reminds me of a trip I did to Nigeria, to fix a CT scanner. My first reaction was to be amazed that the local doctor had a 3 phase generator costing almost as much as the CT scanner I had come to fix. I never for a moment expected that the same fate may await the mighty SA. How the mighty have fallen. I have heard of many Radiological departments in Gauteng that have been "crippled" by the load shedding. Imagine the cost to the medical aids if they all had to buy 3 phase generators for their CT and MRi scanners?

With Winter a few months away I say stock up on your power generators, wind and solar power systems, (forget gas there won't be any stock, like last year)

What a sad day for a great nation.
The Zim conversion continues.
May God help us all.