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André de Ruyter and rooftop solar

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    Nat Quinn
    On Friday 24 February, I read that André de Ruyter, ex-CEO of Eskom, was thinking of leaving South Africa for his own safety. (There had almost certainly been an attempt to poison him in December, when large amounts of cyanide were found in his blood.)
    De Ruyter had been fired by the Eskom board following an eNCA TV interview on 21 February in which he had accused Eskom of massive corruption and crime, and had suggested senior ANC politicians were complicit.
    When the interviewer (Annika Larsen) asked whether he believed Eskom was a feeding trough for the ANC, he said, ‘I would say that the evidence suggests that it is’. He said about R1 billion was being stolen from Eskom every month.
    Fikile Mbalula, the ANC general secretary, has now threatened to take legal action against De Ruyter. Mbalula, as minister of transport, became notorious for refusing to take action against the criminals and terrorists who were stoning, shooting and intimidating Intercape bus drivers and passengers in 150 acts of violence between January 2021 and February 2022.
    I also read that on Thursday 16 February, Wendy Kloppers, a City of Cape Town official, had been shot dead at the Power Construction N2 Gateway site in Delft (near the Cape Town Airport). This is a development for building houses for the poor. The murder was almost certainly the work of the construction mafia, who have been terrorising construction projects all over South Africa. The ANC has taken no strong action against the mafia. Such is the perilous background for the De Ruyter affair that dominated the news this week.
    De Ruyter’s revelations and allegations in the eNCA interview have shocked the nation, and the ANC’s response has probably shocked it even more. My fear is that the politics of this matter might interfere with the science of electricity supply. De Ruyter has spoken brave truths about the crime, corruption and vested interests at Eskom. Unfortunately, he has also spoken complete nonsense about renewable energy for the grid.
    When De Ruyter became its CEO in December 2019, Eskom was disintegrating. The once fine organisation that had provided the world’s cheapest electricity, very reliably, was being wrecked. New power stations had not been built in the 1990s when they were urgently needed.
    The ANC made matters worse with racial engineering and corruption, replacing skilled, experienced engineers and managers with incompetent, unskilled, inexperienced staff who had been appointed on skin colour and political connections alone.
    The ANC implemented BEE coal procurement so that Eskom was forced to buy very expensive, very bad coal, which damaged the power stations, but which enriched the BEE coal suppliers. (President Ramaphosa has made it clear that he supports BEE whole-heartedly).
    Finally, Eskom was cursed with outright crime and sabotage. De Ruyter tried to stamp out the corruption and crime with some success, but not enough, because it seems his hands were tied. The finance minister, Enoch Godongwana, says that when De Ruyter had taken issue with the ANC government on corruption in Mpumalanga and an investigation had found criminal syndicates with links to the SA Police Service, a number of people had been arrested.
    De Ruyter promised to do the most obvious immediate thing at Eskom, which was to fix the existing stations by improved maintenance. I’m not sure how successful he was. During his leadership load shedding (blackouts) became worse and the Energy Availability Factor (EAF, which gives the percentage of power stations able to operate) dropped to record lows. Whether that was simply because they continued to age or whether they were run even worse or whether his maintenance programme was unsuccessful, I don’t know. It is said in some quarters that he demoralised the Eskom workforce; I don’t know whether this is just a malicious rumour.
    He was wrong to shut down some old but still operating coal stations, and to refuse repairs and modifications that would extend the life of other old coal stations. We need every kWh of electricity we can find. Coal-powered electricity is dirty but not nearly as dirty as no electricity at all (burning wood, coal and paraffin in houses causes incomparably more harmful air pollution than coal power stations). But, worst of all, De Ruyter wanted South Africa to move as quickly as possible to solar and wind for grid electricity. He seems to have believed all the destructive nonsense about climate alarm, and all the rubbish about the need to “de-carbonise” and the need to implement the unjust “Just Energy Transition” (JET).
    For the umpteenth time, carbon dioxide is a wonderful, natural, clean, safe, life-giving gas that has never been seen to affect the climate over 150ppm (and it has never been lower than 150ppm in the Earth’s history).
    Mankind has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels, and so has caused a wonderful improvement in plant growth. Wind and solar (usually called “renewables”) are marvellous off-grid and useless for the grid. This is because they are intermittent and unreliable. To make them reliable is very, very expensive. This is why they have been a disastrous failure in every country on Earth that has tried them, sending consumer electricity prices soaring and increasing electrical failures.
    They are also terrible for the environment, requiring colossal amounts of raw materials, requiring special minerals often mined in appallingly dirty mines, and leaving behind large amounts of toxic wastes that remain dangerous for thousands of millions of years. However, they do seem to make fat profits for the renewable power companies, which appear to have our media and our politicians in their thrall.
    In the interview, asked about the ANC’s uncertain reaction to the $8.5 billion in loans and grants pledged by rich countries to South Africa to help her effect her JET, De Ruyter said there was ‘very little explanation for the very vociferous opposition to just starting the Just Energy Transition decarbonisation’, which was ‘an essential part for protecting our environment, growing the economy, and addressing energy security’. He implied that the resistance to the JET came from a group in the ANC with special interests, legal and illegal, in coal. That might be true, but I can tell him that the move to renewables will not help our environment. It will shrink our economy and will reduce our energy security – as has happened everywhere on Earth.
    Gwede Mantashe, the energy minister, who up to then had been the most sensible minister on energy, made the most vicious and stupid attacks on De Ruyter, which was the reason for his resignation (his resignation in December was due to take effect at the end of March, but he has now been fired with immediate effect.) Mantashe also made a particularly stupid remark about renewables; he said additional renewable energy would not end load-shedding as new projects have a lead time of 12 to 18 months or more. Actually, renewables are much quicker to build than coal or nuclear; the reason why they will not end load shedding has nothing to do with their lead time and everything to do with the fact that they are utterly useless for grid electricity. Let me take the example that is much talked about now: rooftop solar.
    President Ramaphosa, the Minister of Finance and the City of Cape Town have all pledged financial support for residential rooftop solar. Rich householders (only they can afford it) will get tax breaks or other financial assistance for installing solar power on their roofs. This will consist of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, and electrical controls and batteries. They will be allowed to sell their excess solar power into the grid (the Eskom grid or the municipal grid).
    This will certainly help the rich householders, who will be subsidised by the poor, who cannot afford solar but have to pay taxes (VAT and so on). This will confirm the central principle of green economics: the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. It will not help Eskom at all. In fact, it will make it worse for Eskom.
    Eskom power stations and transmission systems have two types of costs, fixed and variable. The fixed costs consist of capital costs; the variable costs are the energy costs. Operations and maintenance are a mixture of the two. Eskom coal and nuclear stations are required to provide electricity every second of the year. Eskom sets its tariffs to recover all its costs. If Eskom  expected to sell electricity during the day, when it was easy to do so and demand was fairly low, and then found it was losing revenue because its customers were using their own solar power, it would have to change its tariffs, charging less during the day and more during peaks (breakfast and supper) and more for fixed costs.
    Being forced to buy rooftop solar electricity during the middle of the day would be a burden on Eskom and raise its costs. It would force its stations to ramp up and down to match the fluctuation solar power, putting extra strain on them. Rooftop solar would not reduce load shedding at all.
    Eskom does not shed load on the spur of the moment when it cannot generate enough power to meet demand; it sheds load ahead of time, in a planned manner, when it cannot be sure that it will be able to generate enough electricity in the hours or days ahead. This is to avoid the terrible danger of a total national blackout. This would happen if all the operating stations could not meet demand: frequency would drop; a station would shut down to protect its equipment; the frequency would drop further; all the other stations would shut down too in a cascade. The whole country would be in darkness.
    Load shedding protects the system and gives some certainty to customers. I am writing this under Stage 6 load shedding in Cape Town. Stage 6 is caused by a predicted shortfall of 6,000MW. For solar panels to prevent Stage 6, Eskom would have to be sure that they could generate at least 6,000MW for two or four hours. Obviously this would be possible only in the middle of the day.
    In a local cut-price shop (Value Co) I found the cheapest biggest PV panel. It was just over 1 metre by 2 metres, with a maximum power of 546W. It cost R4,839. You would need to have at least double the capacity of solar to be sure of generating a steady 6,000MW, so that would be at least 12,000MW. This would require 22 million such panels, at a cost of R106 billion, covering 44 square kilometres. Then, of course, you would have to add all of the cost of electrical controls, batteries etc. It is totally infeasible.
    If a householder went completely off the grid, that would help Eskom. But that would mean the householder would need to provide energy for cooking and heating throughout the year, including long, cold winter nights. Doing this with solar and batteries would bankrupt the householder. Using gas for cooking and heating would be fine for me, since I don’t think CO2 has any harmful effect, but it would not be fine for those who believe in climate alarm. It also must be pointed out that residential electricity is only about 20% of total electricity demand. Even if every householder in South Africa went off the grid completely, Eskom would still have to meet 80% of its present demand.
    The de Ruyter/Eskom story has come to a grim and frightening end. I think he was a good and brave man, and a good industrial manager, with good intentions and he did some good things, especially in drawing attention to Eskom’s corruption and crime. But he was out of his depth politically, and maybe a bit arrogant, and he had some really stupid ideas about renewables for the grid, which would have worsened our already dire electricity supply. I regard him with compassion and wish him well.
    André de Ruyter and rooftop solar  – Daily Friend
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