Catching the wind
Besides the prospect of spending an entire day with just my thoughts in the luxurious confines of a fine automobile, it was the detour I was looking forward to. Road trips seem to criss-cross my childhood.
I’m glad they can still be part of my life today. Even better, this latest episode of the soap opera that could be called A Guy And A Car plays out in a vehicle that represents a kind of breakthrough. But that’s another story and it’s told on Page 70.
This story is about turning off the N2 as it rolls along the Eastern Cape coastline and headin... show Moreg inland away from J-Bay’s surfing paradise. Minutes later, electric drive engaged, I was cruising near-silently through a forest of tri-blades whirling deceptively lazily (tip speeds get up to over 300 km/h).
Jeffreys Bay wind farm is 0,6 MW short of the country’s biggest in output, and second biggest
in number of turbines. But South Africa’s renewable energy programme is premised on balancing social needs with the need to create a more varied energy mix. So, like its fellow renewable-energy suppliers licensed as part of national energy policy, the Jeffreys Bay operation has both created
jobs from maintenance to support, much of it sourced locally and ploughed back a mandated proportion of its revenue to the local community in outreach and corporate responsibility programmes.
Farming goes on, which is good, as much for neighbourly relations as for security. Animal life is strictly
monitored and, by all accounts, birdlife is flourishing. A pair of martial eagles is known to be breeding on site in a tree in a densely forested valley. Blue cranes are found in good numbers and have, apparently, found this to be a suitable place to raise a family. The problem with renewable energy is that at times there’s not enough of it, and at other times more of it than you can use. Still, people
who think deeply about this have suggested that the most cost-effective route open to us is a mix that’s biased towards renewables.
When the wind blows and the Sun shines we will run on renewables; at other times we will run relatively cheap open-cycle gas turbines on relatively expensive imported gas, while exporting (at great profit) biofuel created using our excess renewable energy.
And of course, we have got at our disposal plenty of installed coal, which isn’t going to go away any
time soon. If there is an element of wishful thinking to this, there is no reason to believe that the
hard-nosed insistence on staking our futures on a roll of the nuclear dice is any more rational
particularly given conflicting estimates of how much energy will cost. And it’s immensely troubling that, after initial enthusiasm, the government or, more precisely, Eskom is blowing hot and cold on how renewables fit into its energy mix.
Whatever your views on energy, one thing is for sure: purely on the grounds of cost, never mind any environmental concerns, the arguments for renewables are becoming harder to dismiss.
This month we welcome another addition to Popular Mechanics. Lumka Nofemele brings to our
team a quiet energy (we’re expecting the quiet part to change), a consuming interest in geek culture
and a sufficiently healthy curiosity about our Popular Mechanics world to persuade her to relocate to
Ndabeni from KwaZulu-Natal, where she obtained her Soc Sci degree.
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