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Eskom: 'How much for a dozen?'

by Starvid Thu Feb 7th, 2008 at 01:37:19 PM EST

IHT/JOHANNESBURG: At first, the power blackouts seemed a mere nuisance, the electricity suddenly dead for two or three hours at a time, two or three times a day. Radio announcers jocularly advised listeners to make their morning toast by vigorously rubbing two pieces of bread together and wisecracked about amorous uses for the extra darkness.

But after three weeks of chronic power failures - after regularly irregular vexations with lifeless computers, stovetops and stoplights - public forbearance has given way to outrage. This nation, long a reliable repository of cheap, plentiful electricity, finds itself pitifully short of juice

The government has confessed to an "electricity emergency," and has begun a program of rationing for industrial users. This is a mortifying turn for a nation that considers itself the powerhouse of Africa and resists comparisons to its underdeveloped, famine-plagued neighbors.

On top of the embarassment, these events show how vital the tiny (1-2 % of GDP) electricity industry is for the  remaining 98-99 % of the economy and how extremely important it is not to screw it up.

But electricity shortages, now expected to be a fact of life for the next five years, are more than a mere embarrassment. They threaten growth in a nation that accounts for a third of sub-Saharan Africa's economic output and ranks among the world's top 25 countries in gross domestic product.

A slowdown would also undermine economic growth across the region, sabotaging global efforts to reduce poverty and damaging South Africa's own drive to slash its woeful unemployment rate of 25.5 percent.

One of South Africa's largest employers, the mining industry, virtually halted production for four days in the past week because the power utility, Eskom, could not guarantee enough power to ventilate and cool the deep underground shafts.


"That's a powerful message, massively damaging to South Africa's reputation for new investment. Our country was built on the mines."

How come South Africa finds itself in this bad situation? Planning an economy is notoriuosly hard, but power generation, with the relatively stable changes in demand and long lead times for new plants is the one area where it is actually possible.

So why was South Africa blindsided?

The current crisis is the result of Eskom's insufficient capacity to generate enough power, as well as its inability to keep many of its existing plants working.

This was a predicament foretold. In 1998, a government white paper warned that at the rate the economy was growing, the nation faced serious electricity shortages by 2007 unless capacity was expanded.


"The warnings were well known, but the government was too aloof and arrogant to act," said William Mervin Gumede, author of "Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC." "This is simply disastrous for the economy. You can throw out all the goals of 6 percent economic growth."

Well, bad government is the explanation, and there's isn't anything to do about the time lost. Now the focus must be on solving the problems. And well, someone has obviously managed to light a fire under Eskom.

Twelve nuclear power reactors could be ordered at once by struggling South African generator Eskom. Today Areva and Westinghouse both submitted one proposal each for two or three reactors, and another for 12 or 17.


Yes ladies and gentlemen, the South Africans are appearantly feeling positively French right now, considering ordering a batch of 20 000 MW of nuclear power.

Well, one thing at a time.

The first proposal is dubbed 'Nuclear 1' and covers one nuclear power plant to generate 3000-3500 MWe. Basically, that equates to two Areva EPR units, which generate 1600 MWe each; or three Westinghouse AP1000s at 1150 MWe each.

This is in itself really big.

South Africa has an annual power consumption of about 250 TWh. Of this, only 14 TWh are generated at the two French PWR's at Koeberg, the rest being coal.

This first project would boost South African nuclear generation from 14 TWh to about 40 TWh, almost tripling the output.

And the second one...

The second and most exciting proposals are to come later this year. The two reactor vendors will each make a proposal to Eskom covering a potential fleet of new reactors to a total of 20,000 MWe. That works out to about 12 EPR units or 17 AP1000s.

Nuclear output would rise from 14 TWh to 170 TWh.

To put this in perspective, the entire power consumption of the Netherlands is 100 TWh, Sweden is about 160 TWh and Spain is 300 TWh.

20 000 MW nuclear would completely change the South African power system, which today consists of 36 000 MW of coal.

Koeberg, the only nuclear power plant in Africa.

If this actually happens, the question mark in "Nuclear renaissance?" can finally be removed.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 at 01:37:59 PM EST
First, something about the HTML in this diary seems to have messed up the page formatting.  It's all wonky.

Second, fyi, South Africa has been working on expanding its nuclear power generation capability and developing new or modified technology for quite some time.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 at 03:29:23 PM EST
(I took the liberty of fixing the HTML, there was a table tag that needed closing.)
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 at 03:35:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently, NNadir doesn't like pebble bed reactors that much:

Crude estimate: How many nuclear plants would it take to fuel 100M cars? - Democratic Underground

I predict that the number of PBR's that are ultimately built will be less than 100, including the 25 South Africa intends to build. There will be many thousands of high temperature reactors built if humanity survives global climate change, but the PBR is at best a short termer. It's a Gen III type, but most of the high temperature reactors to be built will be the Gen IV types. It's too difficult to recycle the fuel.
by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Feb 8th, 2008 at 02:20:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I once attended a talk about Eskom's pebble bed plans. Apparently, SA's enormous coal deposits are a long way from urban centres, so either the coal has to be moved there, or long lengths of power grid are needed. If I remember correct, they chose the first and Eskom is now literally trucking all that coal across the country. I don't think there's a viable gas pipe to South Africa, so they are stuck with coal or nuclear, and decided they would go nuclear.

But from what I understand, Eskom has become very politicized since the end of apartheid.

by GreatZamfir on Fri Feb 8th, 2008 at 09:17:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There was an article in the Guardian noting that the power problems may even jeopardize the World Cup

On any serious analysis even South Africa's ability to stage the 2010 World Cup was extremely dubious. The key facts were:

  • The monopoly state electricity supplier, Eskom, predicted with complete accuracy that by the end of 2007 it would not have sufficient power not just to face peak demand but normal base load.

  • Already South Africa's reserve electricity supply was down to 8-10% instead of the international benchmark of 15-20%.

  • Electricity consumption grows more or less pari passu with economic growth. With the economy growing at around 5% per annum, electricity demand would increase by over 25% by 2010, so that well before the World Cup the country would be utterly incapable of delivering normal services across the board.

  • It takes seven to eight years to build a major new power station, so even if emergency construction began in 2005 (and it didn't) there was no hope of changing the situation before 2010.

Now the bell has really tolled and public opinion is aghast at the enormity of this failure of governance - the government had for six years deliberately banned the building of new power stations, even when Eskom begged to be allowed to do so.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 at 03:57:21 PM EST
I wasn't around, or had time available, to post up on this. The black outs have been worsening since September last year - but they have ramped up in frequency during the period I wasn't here.

They even made up the piffle word "Load shedding" instead of calling it power failures or black-out.

Eskom most likely knew all along. They were warned by lots of people, seven years ago, that at current growth rates it would take seven years to the moment power demand would outstrip Eskom's capacity. People also noted in passing its aging electricity infrastructure. Nothing dramatic happened, and we're seven years later.

Having said that, the focus I'd like to write about is energy conservation - South Africa is providing the world's best real-life test how a wasteful (and I can't describe in one sentence how dreadfully wasteful it is) society will deal with the concept of conservation, also pushed by Eskom.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Feb 8th, 2008 at 02:30:28 AM EST

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