Gavin Foster
Gavin Foster

Electricity for 2010? No worry!

TO: Mr Jacob Maroga
CEO, Eskom

CC: Mr Jacob Zuma
Mr Thabo Mbeki (Please ignore if no longer applicable)

December 5 2007

Dear Mr Maroga,

RE: RELIABLE POWER SUPPLY FOR 2010

I see that Engineering News ran an article on July 13 stating that Eskom’s capital expenditure budget over the next 20 years is set to be a very impressive R800-billion. That’s R40-billion per year, or just under R110-million per day. That, my friend, is a lot of money, yet you’re quoted on the Fin24 website that same week as saying that taxpayers can only expect to see a reliable electricity supply by the middle of 2011 at the soonest. This worries me as it does, no doubt, you; one should remember that there’s no “2010-ish World Cup”.

I realise that you’ve been taking lots of flak from the public lately, so you’re going to really love me for the proposal I’m about to put to you. I can guarantee a cheap and reliable electricity supply to every home in the country, within a year of your buying into the concept. Not only that, but when there is a technical problem it also will affect but one home at a time.

I have a friend who imports generators from China. A 3KVA unit will run just about an entire household, as long as you turn some of the lights off when mom fires up the stove or the kettle. These machines retail at about R3 800 each, which means that our daily capital budget of R110-million could electrify almost 29 000 homes every 24 hours! Multiply that by 365 and you’ll see quite plainly that by the end of the year there’ll be more than 10-million little Chinese generators burbling happily away, each providing an individual household with warmth and energy.

Statistics SA estimates South Africa’s population in 2007 at around 47,9-million, which, if we assume the average family unit to be made up of about 4,5 people, means that everybody will have their own miniature Eskom looking after their power-supply needs within 12 months. And there’ll still be 19 years’ worth of capital budget left over to play with!!

The DIY philosophy behind this is not unprecedented: traffic departments already expect motorists to research their own outstanding tickets, try themselves, pronounce guilt and pay the “fines” without quibble, so why can’t Eskom expect taxpayers to take control of their own electricity supplies?

There are countless hidden benefits to my scheme. Firstly, because consumers will have to buy their own fuel for their generators, they’ll automatically be on a pay-as-you-go system that we won’t need to administer, so you can lay off your billing staff, and all the municipalities you feed can in turn retrench their accounts-office people. There will be no need for power-station or network-maintenance people either, which will reduce your operations budget substantially.

On the other hand, you could retrain all those nuclear physicists as generator servicemen, and Eskom could turn a tidy little profit sending them out on the road to change spark plugs, oil filters and armature brushes when necessary.

Secondly, if anybody hooks into a power supply illegally, it won’t be your problem. In fact, this could swing the other way for the state and municipalities — metro officials could hook traffic signals and streetlights up to ratepayers’ generators, all in the interests of road safety, of course.

People become very grumpy during load shedding at the moment, because when their lights go off, so do those of all their neighbours, and they have to travel miles to scrounge a cup of tea or a hot shower. With the new scheme, when one of the Chinese mini-Eskoms goes on the blink it will affect just one household, and possibly a set of traffic lights or a streetlight or two.

Back to World Cup 2010. You know how all those racists are saying that Eskom’s never going to be able to guarantee power for the floodlights and the TV cameras? With my system the people watching the games at the grounds can take their own generators along! Most of the stadiums are still under construction, and the plans can easily be amended to include a generator platform with a power intake point at every seat. Big business and industry too could adapt — lowly paid workers could bring their home generators in during the day, while the wealthy could perhaps elect to have two power supplies, one at home and one in the workplace. Who knows — generators could become status symbols, like cars and cellphones are now!

The self-help electricity scheme will also be very educational. The masses will learn all about the laws of supply and demand, so they won’t expect the system to produce more power than it was designed to do. They’ll learn about the necessity of maintaining their generating equipment to ensure reliable service, and surely the message will soak in that if they build another bathroom and three bedrooms on to the house, they’re going to have to upgrade their power supply in advance? Who knows, with all this education going on, we might even produce the next CEO for Eskom!

Yours, in the power of light,
Gavin Foster