Power me up Scotty

Arnot Power Station, Middelburg, South Africa

Here I sit, in probably the largest business city in Africa, definitely the economic hub of South Africa and I am thankful for the battery in this iPad. You see, once again we are without electricity in this bustling metropolis (cough cough, sorry, something in my throat). I can sympathise with the New Yorkers being without power for a few days thanks to Mother Nature throwing a wobbly, but those of us here in the sunny rainbow nation experience ‘man induced’ power failures with a frequency that makes it almost a natural cycle of life. In the last 10 days, the power has been off 6 times… Today it’s been like a hookers drawers. On, off, on, off… Offf… Arggh.. Off.

It’s tricky to lay the blame on anyone – lets face it, decades of ignoring the issues means we all suffer. Sometimes it’s the incumbent power monopoly (I envy countries where you can choose your utility provider) performing rolling blackouts to make sure that they can sell capacity to huge industry for less or neighbouring countries (rather than providing it locally) for cheaper than less. All the while, that same monopoly is applying for power cost increases of 16% per year for 5 years (gulp! – you do the math). It’s a government company paid for by taxes and then sucking the consumer dry through rates hikes. If it’s not them, then it’s the local distribution (handled by the local municipality – also government) failing to maintain sub-stations or simply not managing things properly and charging 50% more than those lucky enough to be able to get it straight from the monopoly. What a cluster f**k.

Oh wait, it’s not their fault. 20 years ago the government did not know that South Africa was growing and would need more power. Nah, no need to support the economy that would pay for reforms and make SA a better place for the previously disadvantaged. What for… Let’s just keep some of the money for ourselves – we can blame it on someone else when we run out of power. They can’t help it if sub-stations are under maintained because it’s better to pay employees with salaries that even the richest multinationals cannot afford. Sure, cost overruns by 400% (into the tens of billions) are acceptable – just give yourselves a bonus and write your own employment contract. Sure it’s not your fault that people are stealing distribution cables to sell for scrap metal – yes, people are risking their lives cutting live lines for the few $ they make in scrap. Sure, it’s not your fault that you can’t repair lines because you don’t have staff. Oh wait, blame it on the consumer – too many air-conditioners and geysers – sorry to all those previously disadvantaged people, now enjoying the good life – we know you have money and want electricity to power your new shiny toys but …. sorry for you, the boss has to drive a luxury vehicle….

Gripe gripe gripe. So what are my options.

Well, if I won the Lottery, I’d build a new home that would function as much as it could without reliance on government supply. I’d put in every kind of renewable system I could, from solar powered pool pumps to photovoltaic systems for the computers and entertainment gadgets. Gas for cooking and water heating (thankfully I already enjoy that – wait, a private company supplies it via a piped distribution system and guess what, in 8 years, it has NEVER been off. Not once. Hmm.. and its cheaper than the electrical equivalents.) I can dream can’t I?

But, I am not on the gravy train and I have not won the Lotto… so I’ve been looking around and just a small diesel generator intended for proper backup (not one of those portable petrol things intended for emergencies and camping) use with voltage regulation etc costs almost $2000 ex installation. That’s $2000 just to keep the TV, some gadgets, lights and maybe a freezer powered when we run out of juice. And that does not even take diesel prices into consideration. And I figure I need to get new UPS kit for everything to help protect them and give the genny time to fire up. Solar power – what I would really like to get, costs ten times as much for half the capacity.

Irritates me that we have to spend that kind of money to compensate for a utilities inability to provide a critical service but there is nothing that we can really do about it and its only going to get worse – not better. New power stations take years and billions to build and at the rate the cost is mounting, it will likely be cheaper to go solar and disconnect the utility supply entirely.

Sorry to gripe but I am beginning to truly hate living in a third world country that could not organise a piss up in a brewery.  So tired of it.  If it’s not power then it’s comms, if its not comms then it’s toll roads, if its not toll roads then its toilets and houses, if its not houses then its children without school books or classrooms halfway through the year… and if its not that then its curing aids with potato skins… The level incompetence and general rot is something else and for once it has absolutely nothing to do with the colour of anyones skin.



2 thoughts on “Power me up Scotty

  1. Pingback: sheer and utter unbridled terror | Lance Phillips

  2. Pingback: Bizzt. Bang Crash Boom… | Lance Phillips

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