Lance Dickerson

No one needs any reminding that we are in the midst of an unsustainable energy crunch, with breakdowns thrusting the country back into higher levels of load shedding, while the Electricity Minister has sounded the warning about Koeberg’s delays stretching out longer than had been anticipated. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said that a year on, the country’s emergency plan was starting to show signs of working. He wrote in his weekly newsletter: “Since the launch of the energy action plan, we have worked to add as much power as possible to the grid. Eskom has unlocked close to 400MW from companies with extra available capacity, and a further 600MW is in the process. We have sourced an additional 400MW from Cahora Bassa in Mozambique.”

He further explained: “We are fast-tracking the procurement of new generation capacity from renewables, gas and battery storage. Later this year the first three projects from the emergency power programme are expected to connect to the grid.” 

While renewables feature prominently in the country’s plans, it has been a painfully slow process and it would be good to see increased momentum. 

There tends to be somewhat of a payoff – work towards the “dream” of clean energy generation, a moment deferred to some point in the future, or settle for more dirty power to deal with the immediate crisis of load shedding. 

We are often told that we don’t have the luxury to worry about renewables because there is an urgent energy crisis to fix. The solution, we are told, lies in ships burning gas off our coastline and a re-investment in our notoriously unreliable and dirty coal power stations. 

Think about conversations at restaurants and social braais. Often, the theme is that we don’t have the so-called luxury to worry about the lowest carbon footprint energy backup solutions because we must keep the lights on at all costs, as cheaply as possible. This inevitably leads to people using generators or battery systems made from inferior chemistry, or from the right chemistry but without much thought going into the carbon footprint of the battery. 

Worrying about whether we will have a planet in a generation’s time is certainly not a luxury. It is the absolute crux of the point. This is the radical mind shift that’s required. It is time more South Africans stood up for the environment. If anyone needs to be reminded just how dire the situation is, log onto the Human Impact Lab’s Climate Clock. Eight years until midnight – we are less than a decade away from life planetary support.

In order to rush Kusile’s collapsed flue duct unit back into operation by the end of this year, a host of environmental standards have been waived. However, does the prospect of acid rain on innocent people in Mozambique not keep officials awake at night? It should.

A common refrain in South Africa is that renewables cannot produce the amount of power we need. In one-year Vietnam’s ambitious and forward-looking rooftop solar programme added 9.3 gigawatts of electricity to the country’s energy supply. Today, because they did not invest fast enough in transmission infrastructure at the same time, they have to put a lid on the sheer amount of power being generated. It is easy to predict that South Africa’s transmission infrastructure will also be a limiting factor, but that’s an entirely new topic. The point is, renewables can produce enough electricity. It is poor regulations and an outdated mind-set that is preventing renewables from generating enough electricity.

Renewable energy, backed up with 2nd LiFe battery technology – with as close to a zero carbon footprint as possible, and which fills a crucial spot in the circular economy as it solves what to do with replaced electric vehicles’ battery cells instead of dumping entire batteries in landfills – ensures we have an almost endless supply of clean energy storage capacity waiting to be put to use. The planet can’t survive endless waiting. In the words of Elvis Presley: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.”

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