Emo­tional think­ing doesn’t ben­e­fit power re­al­ity

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION&ANALYSIS - Kelvin Kemm

WE HAVE just passed mid-win­ter’s day, or more cor­rectly in the south­ern hemi­sphere, mid-win­ter’s night, which for us in the south is the long­est night of the year. In the Highveld, win­ters are rather pleas­ant, largely be­cause there is no rain. In fact, mostly there are not even clouds. So our win­ter days gen­er­ally have beau­ti­ful blue skies and beau­ti­ful sun­light. Of course, the sun­light is much weaker than dur­ing sum­mer, be­cause the sun is fur­ther away.

So as far as so­lar en­ergy is con­cerned one would get no­tice­ably less elec­tric­ity out of a PV sys­tem in win­ter, al­though one could al­most be guar­an­teed of so­lar power for about half a dozen hours a day.

In Pre­to­ria some­thing which is very no­tice­able at this time of the year is that the air is un­be­liev­ably still.

Dur­ing num­bers of early morn­ings and evenings the air here does not move at all.

I have a large win­dow in my bed­room, and a glass slid­ing door in my lounge which each look out on to trees and shrubs.

At times I look out into the gar­den and no­tice that not a sin­gle leaf is mov­ing on any tree or plant.

It looks amaz­ing, just like a pho­to­graph. At times it looks quite un­real in that ab­so­lutely noth­ing moves.

So this time of the year is not good for wind power in Pre­to­ria. In fact, Pre­to­ria is not good for wind power at all, at any time.

Ac­tu­ally, mid-win­ter, when one needs heaters to warm the house, is not a good time for wind en­ergy any­where, be­cause mid-win­ter and mid-sum­mer are times when air move­ment is least. Wind mostly oc­curs at the chang­ing of sea­sons, like in spring and au­tumn.

If you are think­ing of us­ing re­new­able en­ergy based on so­lar and wind power, then one has to re­mem­ber the lim­i­ta­tions of their in­her­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics.

In sunny South Africa so­lar is mostly avail­able at lunch time, but not at break­fast or din­ner.

You can’t watch any TV movies in the evening on so­lar power.

In the case of wind, you may or may not get it, much like play­ing poker.


En­ergy plan­ning is com­pli­cated. It in­volves lots of math­e­mat­ics, sci­en­tific vari­ables and science prin­ci­ples. It is some­thing for spe­cial­ists to work on.

It is not some­thing for a col­lec­tive pub­lic vote based on the flawed science that the extreme greens project to the pub­lic.

I am all in favour of so­lar and wind en­ergy, when it is gen­uinely eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

So, to my mind the main chal­lenge of us­ing so­lar and wind en­ergy is to find ap­pli­ca­tions which fit in with the cycli­cal na­ture of so­lar, and the ran­dom na­ture of wind.

For ex­am­ple, con­sid­er­ing places like De Aar and Uping­ton, they should be link­ing so­lar plants to fac­to­ries which need their man power for four hours over mid­day, and none at night when all the staff are at home.

Also what would be ideal is if the factory could use elec­tric­ity at 12 or 24 Volts DC power and not at 220 or 380 V AC power. Elec­tric­ity could then be used straight from the so­lar plant, with­out go­ing through com­plex adap­tors and trans­form­ers.

But con­vert­ing the low volt­age DC to high volt­age AC to send elec­tric­ity to Cape Town is not a good idea. Think about it.

We keep get­ting told by the anti-nu­clear lobby that nu­clear power will be in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive, no mat­ter what all the ex­perts tell you.

We are told that en­ergy plan­ners, who use com­pli­cated math­e­mat­ics, and ex­perts are all dis­hon­est char­la­tans who are se­cre­tive.

We are told that the best en­ergy plan­ners are peo­ple like so­ci­ol­o­gists and re­tired bish­ops and Imams who do not use com­pli­cated math­e­mat­ics, but rather chat dur­ing mu­tual bond­ing ses­sions.

Here is some­thing else to think about: France pro­duces three-quar­ters of its elec­tric­ity from nu­clear power, while Ger­many has had a ma­jor wind and so­lar pro­gramme go­ing for decades now.

Right now Ger­many has three times the in­stalled re­new­able elec­tric­ity ca­pac­ity of France’s nu­clear ca­pac­ity, yet pro­duces more car­bon diox­ide than France. The nu­clear power of France is sta­ble.

The wind and so­lar power of Ger­many is un­sta­ble. In des­per­a­tion Ger­many has started build­ing coal-fired power sta­tions again.

The first three new Ger­man coal sta­tions are up and run­ning with 20 more planned. In­ter­est­ing that no­body is told about th­ese.

Profit mo­tive

We are also told silly things like it is wrong for Eskom to pro­vide a ser­vice and also ex­pect to run at a profit. They say: dump the profit mo­tive and just use tax­payer’s money in­stead.

We are told that pro­fes­sional en­gi­neers at Eskom and other SOEs, who have signed pro­fes­sional ethics agree­ments, are ac­tu­ally a bunch of shys­ters who se­cretly plot to pro­tect cash-cows like coal and nu­clear while try­ing to sab­o­tage wind and so­lar power.

It is mur­mured by them that the wind and so­lar has so far cost the mas­sive sum of R250 bil­lion in in­vest­ment since 2010.

That is true. They mur­mur that for­eign com­pa­nies pro­vided much of this money so that they can get a re­turn on their in­vest­ment. Also true! Re­mem­ber, the in­vestors want more money out than they put in, so they sign fixed high price 20 year con­tracts. What is not men­tioned is that right now wind power costs Eskom be­tween 5 and 7 times more than nu­clear power from Koe­berg.

With a dra­matic arabesque on to cen­tre stage they tell us that a twenty-year, high­priced wind con­tract with for­eign com­pa­nies is bet­ter than adding more nu­clear power to our ex­cit­ing highly suc­cess­ful nu­clear power. Wow.

When Eskom does not want to sign th­ese fixed wind con­tracts there is a rea­son. The Eskom folks are ac­tu­ally not that dumb… and cer­tainly for most of them their hearts are in the right place and they re­ally do carry out all the com­pli­cated maths for the good of the coun­try.

They also have to use their own salaries to buy the con­sumer goods made us­ing elec­tric­ity. So they un­doubt­edly have a vested in­ter­est in the sell­ing price of elec­tric­ity.

It is silly of the anti-nu­clear green groups to make war over nu­clear power. They are des­per­ate to stop nu­clear, at all cost. They even re­sort to court cases and smear cam­paigns.

I am per­son­ally reg­u­larly the tar­get of the smear cam­paigns, and I re­ceive hate mail and in­sult­ing com­ments. Even phys­i­cal threats.

Nu­clear peo­ple are not anti-so­lar and wind. We just say: “Don’t kid the pub­lic, you can’t run an elec­tric train and steel foundry on so­lar and wind power.” We say: “Use the so­lar and wind in ded­i­cated sit­u­a­tions in which their in­her­ent prop­er­ties make sense.”

The best power of all is… brain power. Think about th­ese things. Dr Kelvin Kemm is a nu­clear physi­cist, and is chair­per­son of the South African Nu­clear En­ergy Cor­po­ra­tion (Necsa).


A gen­eral view at dawn of the Jef­freys Bay Wind Farm. Lo­cated on the out­skirts of Jef­freys Bay in the East­ern Cape it is an ideal wind en­ergy re­source.

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