Ferrial Adam
Ferrial Adam

Another energy piece …

Over the past week I’ve wanted to add my two cents’ worth to the (whining) discussions on the power cuts — each time I thought about what I wanted to write, I’d get up in the morning, read the headlines and realise that what I have to say could lead to a cyber-stoning. Not because what I say would be so bad, but more a case of becoming the subject of misplaced anger — and caffeine withdrawals.

But I’ve had enough. I can’t take any more of the complaining. What about the millions of people in South Africa who have not had the luxury of electricity? I have wondered if I would feel the same way if my business was affected or if I could not have my morning coffee five days in a row.

I am not trying to downplay that we have a crisis. Yes, there is a problem. Yes, Eskom and the government are to be blamed — and yes, they must be hauled over the coals and account for this atrocious planning and poor communication. When the first power cuts occurred about 18 months ago, there were reports then already that mentioned that load-shedding could occur for the next five to seven years. Eskom needed to continue to communicate this to the public. Did it think that it could get away with keeping people totally in the dark?

Anyway, the question of who to blame is immaterial now — the important question is: What are we going to do about it? I am not talking about stocking up on candles and buying generators for small homes, but about changing our behaviour and mindset to becoming a less energy-consuming and energy-wasting society.

South Africa is dependent on cheap “dirty” coal for our energy supplies, with only one entity supplying this power. Eskom has stated that it is planning to build more coal-fired and nuclear power stations to deal with the increasing demand. I do concede that at this time a coal-fired station is probably the quickest way to respond to the present crisis. However, it is not the best as we will be increasing our carbon-dioxide emissions. How many more documentaries on global warming, climate change, extinction of species and so forth must be made before people realise that our actions have an impact on the environment?

Now is the perfect opportunity for South Africans to take a step back and look at the direction in which we are heading. We need to take a bold step — and campaign for a greater focus on renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, bio and wave energy. In an article by Saliem Fakir, he states: “It is ironic that South Africa, which has the highest ultraviolet penetration in the world, lags so significantly in its use of solar power compared with countries such as Japan and Germany, where the sun’s rays struggle to pierce grim-looking skies.” An example of what we can do is to change from geysers to solar water heaters, which reduces household consumption significantly.

Furthermore, the argument that these sources are too expensive and will not be able to deal with the energy load required in South Africa is fast losing credibility. The rising cost of coal with an increasing demand for alternative sources of energy is already making renewable options more affordable. And yes, none of these on their own could solve the power demand. South Africa must diversify its power supply (and supplier!). We must change our dependence on coal and be open to other renewable, cleaner options. Saliem Fakir says it well: “Renewables are no longer a thing hippies dream about.” And the “environment” is not just about saving trees and dolphins!