Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Do wind turbines kill birds?

Do wind turbines kill birds? Let’s see….

Amazing! Guess we should outlaw glass windows and power lines! And oil! And agriculture! ;)


Friday, November 04, 2011

RE: The failure of COP

Dear friends

Kyoto has failed. COP17 is a sham. Our country leaders have failed us. The pretence of finding solutions for carbon emissions is now all about money, while carbon emissions continue to rise. 2010 saw the largest rise is carbon emissions on record, up 6%, according to the Department of Energy in the US. The means that CO2 levels are now higher than the worst case scenario from 4 years ago. And 50% of the jump in emissions comes from the US and China, the two major countries not participating in Kyoto and with no real plans to engage in carbon emission reductions.

So the playing field has moved from doing anything real in terms of carbon emissions, to buying off African countries and their politicians through a Green Climate Fund – a way of channelling vast amounts of money from North to South. But as I have previosuloy written, these funds are being earmarked for big so-call-green business-as-usual projects – not for real change.

And activists pushing for real change? Don’t be surprised if their activities at COP17 are disrupted by South Africa’s own intelligence services.

So what do we do? It is time to hold our governments accountable. Mass movements worldwide have brought about the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street has highlighted the plundering of the poor by the Koch brothers and friends. Perhaps it is time for a mass decent on Durban by people from all over the world. But even though that may highlight the issue, I fear even that will have no change. Until the US and China face up to the real issues, which will require a major shift in political thinking particularly in the US, COP will be a sideshow.

What we do need to do is to consider the changes coming, and how it will affect us, our families, our friends, our country and our planet, and act accordingly. If our lives reflect the same ethic that got us in this problem, namely greed and over-consumption, then truly what hope is there?



Saturday, October 08, 2011

A One TRILLION Rand Yellow Cake Gravy Train

Dear friends of Renewables

What would you do for One Trillion Rand, or ZAR 1,000,000,000,000? Or perhaps I should rather ask these questions: What would Companies do to take a slice of a ZAR 1,000,000,000,000 cake? What would politicians do ensure some gravy from a ZAR 1,000,000,000,000 train? Well, the cake is yellow and the train is fissile.

This exorbitant number, almost 12x the cost of the Arms Deal, is the cost of expenditure being planned for South Africa’s future nuclear build programme – six reactors by 2030, totalling around 9.6GW installed capacity.

With such big numbers on the table, just imagine what lobbying to government and other “stakeholders” has been going on over the last years and months? One doesn’t have to imagine – one can just look at the activities of Areva and the French government, for example, Sarkozy’s visit in 2008 with an entourage Areva, EDF and Alstom (all big players in nukes), just after the closing of SA’s first tender for nukes. Fortunately at that time the tender was shelved, as I understand it, due to the exorbitant proposed costs. And there are many other examples of influence in the public domain, leaving the imagination to wonder about what is happening behind closed doors.

For sure, the lobbying hasn’t stopped since the canned nuke plans of 2008 (with such a Lotto prize on the table, why would it?), and neither have the plans for nukes. Many heralded the latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) as a coup for Renewables, but that is a misreading of the IRP. Proposed yearly energy production from Renewables by 2030 is just 9%, compared to Nuclears’ 20%. The IRP is a coup for Nuclear, dressed up in a clean, green disguise.

So the first issue is, assuming that nuclear even is a good idea, how do we hold our politicians, businesspeople and dealmakers accountable when such a big check is on the table? The nuclear industry is fraught with secrecy, and considered the most corrupt industry after the arms industry (although of course we all know the two go hand in hand). Who is going to ensure that the inevitable corruption gets arrested at the station? At the moment, those activists normally keeping an eye on the nuke peeps are partying on the Renewables branch line, while just outside the carriage window the nuclear express train is about to take off.

But nuclear is not a good idea. I have argued long and hard on this topic before, but to summarise:

· Nuclear cannot help climate change fast enough

o The building of nuclear power stations has a massive carbon footprint, as does the future management of waste

o Any CO2 reductions achieved in the operational phase are brought to market way too late in the larger scheme of CO2 emission reductions we require

· Nuclear makes no sense financially

o Gas power is so much cheaper that the savings between gas and nuclear can be used to more than offset the carbon emissions of gas

o Solar power and wind power are now cheaper than nuclear power

· The traditional grid model is dead

o Base-load and peaking-power arguments no longer have merit. The smart grid has arrived. IT + distributed renewables is the future.

· The nuclear industry is invariably caught up with the arms industry and corruption.

· The long term waste management issues have not been solved.

· Fusion and/or other futuristic nuclear technologies are not yet commercially available, nor are these the technologies we are talking about.

· Nukes will not create jobs in South Africa anywhere near the scale that distributed renewables could.

· And lastly, but not least, the possibility of a Black Swan, an unpredictable event, an unknown unknown, leading to Nuclear catastrophe. 99.9999% safe is not safe enough, as the risk from human error (Chernobyl) and the unknown or unexpected (Fukishima) is always there, even if not quantifiable.

My view on what needs to happen:

1) Government needs to open the energy industry in general and the nuclear industry in particular to transparent, independent review and assessment. Secret deals and tenders (even the Renewables Request for Proposals has secrecy clauses) need to be scrapped.

2) Information on lobbying organisations, companies and individuals (such as Kelvin Kemm of Stratek Business Strategy Consultants), and their expenditure, needs to be brought in to the public domain. Their sphere of influence needs to be analysed and critiqued.

3) A strong public lobby group needs to be formed, perhaps driven by the WWF and/or Earthlife, to ensure the public’s voice is heard and considered.

4) The nuclear lobby should not be allowed to hijack the carbon agenda and carbon funding.

5) The secrecy bill currently being promulgated needs to be scrapped – I can almost guarantee the nuclear procurement process will be listed under this bill, the public’s ability to scrutinise what is happening will be limited.

Toxic food for thought. I just hope that the Renewables/Smart Grid combination arrives fast enough so that as people do their own energy systems, they end up making large nuclear irrelevant.


Sunday, October 02, 2011

RE: Windaba, met masts, and the future of energy in Africa

Dear Friends of Renewables

It has been an exhausting and fascinating last two weeks:

· We successfully installed the first NRG 80m met mast in Africa

· The SAWEA WIndaba was a huge hit (with many taking time out from the crazy RFP process to join the conference, not to mention the dancing at Madame Zingara)

· The Conference of Energy Ministers in Africa took place in Johannesburg, 15-16 Sept.

Now the latter of these three may seem to be the least exciting, but perhaps, in the bigger picture of things, is the most important, and perhaps the most cause for concern – reading the Johannesburg Declaration from the conference reveals how far we still have to go to move from a Energy-Industry Complex (such as the Minerals and Energy Complex in South Africa) to a paradigm focussed on bringing safe, affordable, sustainable energy to the poor.

Now at first glance, it seems like a great document:

· It emphasises the linkages between poverty and energy

· It recognises that the Millennium Development Goals cannot be achieved without access to energy

· It argues for universal access to electricity by 2030

· It prioritises modern clean high-quality energy services…..

Ah-ha! Whenever I see the words Clean Energy these days, I get suspicious. Clean Energy has come to mean NOT Renewable Energy, but rather Nuclear, gas, and CCS – all of which have serious issues. And as usual, despite the feel-good statements in the document, the devil is in the detail – Annex 1 to be precise. Annex 1 consists of all the priority projects to be built in Africa.

Is there ONE renewable energy project on the list? There is not (OK, there is one, a Geothermal plant, but it is small compared to all the rest).

All the rest are BIG HYDRO (such Mphanda Nkuwa in Mozambique, which will be used to power a BHP Billiton Smelter), Gas or Transmission projects. There is even a water project – the Lesotho Highlands Water project. Why? Because water is needed for the new coal power stations in South Africa!

Where are the big renewables? The distributed generation? Off-grid or mini-grid solutions? Smart grids? These are the solutions of the future, and they are not mentioned. But all of what IS mentioned is all for providing energy for Big Business, for Industry – projects that pollute, promote climate change, and certainly do not bring energy to those who need it the most.

But perhaps the worst part of it all is that the governments involved are looking to access Climate Change funds, though COP17 and other forums, to fund these projects. Could we have been hoodwinked by South Africa’s position at the COP negotiating table? Is all the talk about Green Economy, Renewables and Decarbonisation all a smoke screen to try and access low-cost climate cash for big business projects?

Many of us spend a lot of time fighting against the Business-As-Usual paradigm of fossil fuels and big business, and get really excited when we see the shifts happening in South African policy towards Renewables. However, the battle is far from won, as the outcome of this conference clearly indicates.


Friday, February 18, 2011

The REAL price of coal

A new Harvard study has found that, if the full lifecycle costs of coal in the United States were factored in to the electricity price, then the price would be an ADDITIONAL R0.75 to R2.15 /kWh!

And that is in the US. In SA, we burn worse quality coal… so why on earth are we even considering coal in our future?


Friday, February 11, 2011

Question: What do Julius Malema and ESKOM have in common?

Answer: They both would like to see coal nationalised.

Hmm, makes me wonder if there is some conspiracy theory going on here – could Juju be on the ESKOM payroll?

But seriously, for some time I have been warning that one of the under-rated risks to our future electricity generation is the availability of low-priced, environmentally-friendly coal. (OK, there is no such thing as environmentally friendly coal – that is a pipedream of the Carbon Capture and Storage people). But in terms of the actual resource availability, like most commodities, the available supplies seem to be over rated, the cost to mine are going up, and of course international demand is going up dramatically. Thus it is little surprise that ESKOM would like to see coal classified as a strategic mineral and ensure its own supplies.

Now to the shock of most of you, I am not necessarily against the nationalisation of mines and/or coal (I am certainly against the unregulated free market management of these resources). But perhaps there is another approach that should be considered in this debate.

Return ESKOM from a profit-driven company to a services company. At the moment, ESKOM is running like any normal business, i.e. for profit (and short term profits at that). It was this mind-set that lead ESKOM to speculate in derivatives, reduce their coal supplies at power stations, etc, as it made the books look good. What we need is ESKOM to refocus on delivering a service – namely low-cost, long-term sustainable electricity. Now their vision waffles on about this, but unless the financial motives of the employees change (i.e. not bonuses based on profit, but bonuses paid on long term secure electricity), ESKOM’s behaviour is not likely to change.

It is this shift that could bring Energy Efficiency to the fore, thus allowing us to delay the building of any new coal power stations, while we begin the switch to clean renewable fuels.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

ESKOM math

Firstly, a very Happy New Year, even though 8% of it has already drifted by!

There has been a strange but interesting batch of ESKOM press releases recently.

The first argued that SA had saved from the retrofit of 43.5m CFLs, “1800MW of electricity power” and that that is “1/3 of Medupi or Kusile”. What a load of rubbish! Let’s assume that a 60W bulb was replaced with an 11W CFL. Then the saving is 49W WHEN THE BULB IS RUNNING. 89W x 43.5m bulbs = 2100 MW, close enough to the 1800MW argued. But how many hours is the average lightbulb on? Let’s be conservative and say 5 hours a day, although in reality it is probably less. A coal power station probably runs 23 hours a day on average. Thus a 1800MW power station will produce 41 GWh of electrical energy a day, while 1800MW of lightbulbs will consume only 9 GWh per day. So in reality, the lightbulbs are only 1/14 (7%) of a Medupi or Kusile! It is the classic mistake of confusing POWER (MW) with energy (MWh).

Another example of this is the argument that South Africa’s proposed IRP will lead to “SA’s electricity generation in 2030” being sourced “from coal (48%), renewable energy (16%), nuclear (14%) and a combination of imported hydro, gas and pump storage (22%).” But again, these are the peak POWER figures of the power stations. Coal & Nuclear run at a much higher capacity factor than solar or wind (i.e. more average equivalent full-time hours of operation every day). Thus if you calculate the ENERGY figures, it gives a very different story:

  • · COAL and other: 70%
  • · RE: 7%
  • · NUCLEAR: 23%

That is a pathetic target for 2030! Just 7% of electrical energy from renewables.

Then to ESKOM target of installing 925,000 SWH by 2013. Over the last 2 years or so, they have installed 33 000. At a rate of 16500 per year, we will have 82,500 SWH installed by 2013…. (Good Luck!) They also say that 6.4 GWh of electricity has been saved by SWH. Simply dividing that by 33000 SWH equals 193 kWh/SWH. That’s about 4000 litres of hot water per SWH. Or about 45 baths per SWH.

Maybe people are bathing less because the lights are too dark…


PS: Off to Lesotho next week to install a met mast at 3300m! Wish us luck…