No quick fix for energy crisis!The temporary respite for many of us from 'load shedding' is over.

Eskom has announced that from March it will go ahead with turning off the power at certain times when it needs to.While most of us have been relaxing with our power restored for the last month, this was only possible because Eskom had reduced its power supply to the mines and smelters to 90%.

But this was not a long term solution.

Harmony Gold and Goldfields had already threatened retrenchments. Contractors' jobs linked to mines would also have gone.

At BHP Billiton in Richards Bay, the power reduction to 90% had resulted in some of its aluminium 'pots' being shut and others being operated at a reduced temperature.

Already Alton Duys, a company that does maintenance and repair work on these pots, had proposed retrenchments of 45 workers.

Other companies that do similar work for BHP had also indicated possible retrenchments.BHP Billiton had also said that its Bayside plant employing about 1000 workers, could be closed completely if they didn’t get enough power.

The problem is that aluminium smelters and mines use mega, mega watts of electricity.

A single aluminium refinery can use more electricity in a week than a metro area in a month!” says policy coordinator in the presidency Neva Makgetla.

Less than 20% of total electricity is used by households. At a meeting of government, business, labour and ci

vil society on February 29, parties agreed that what was important was to avoid job losses and to spread the 10% saving of electricity across all sectors so that it was not just the mines and smelters that were badly affected.

"The plan requires both households and enterprises to take vigorous action to save energy in order to avoid rolling blackouts," minister of public enterprises, Alec Erwin told a press conference after the meeting.

Why the power blackouts?Eskom's generating capacity is about 40 000 megawatts. Eskom's ideal reserve margin is 15% (the amount of spare energy it has available).

Over the last few years its reserve margin has fallen from 25% in 2002 to 8-10% this year."Eskom did request government to act to ensure that more power stations were built to avoid this catastrophe way back in 1997," said the Cosatu CEC.

"Government failed to act and now workers are asked to understand." The low reserve margin has meant that power stations are being run harder and there is less opportunity to do maintenance.

Numsa's Eskom coordinator, Bafana Ndebele, alleges that the outsourcing of maintenance has complicated this. “Before teams would move from one power station to the next and sort out problems. Now that part of the job has been outsourced.

The super artisans that were doing those jobs took packages and became consultants. There is no ongoing maintenance like before – now teams wait for calls.

If there is a breakdown, then they go and fix it.”Could this be the reason for the unplanned outages in January when Mzansi joined the rest of 'darkest Africa'?

Eskom has admitted that it had boiler tube leaks/failures as well as various smaller equipment failure which was unplanned. It has also admitted that it ran short of coal! Instead of having massive stockpiles of coal, its reserves had fallen to 1-3 days prior to the blackouts in January.

And to make matters worse, the heavy rains in January reduced the low grade coal that it burns to make electricity into muddy, wet slurry – not good for generating electricity! By the end of January, its coal reserves had increased only marginally to 5-6 days.

Num's NEC has called for “those that don't do their jobs” to be axed. “We cannot afford a situation in which people realise at the last minute that they have are having no stock piles (of coal) left,” said Num general secretary, Frans Baleni.As the SACP Central Committee put it more starkly: "If heads must roll, it shouldn’t be workers that take the knock!"

Will the lights go out in Mzansi again?YES! And it could get worse going towards winter and during winter.

You just have to look at the graph below to see that in winter the demand for power shoots up!Get details of when there will be power cuts at home and at work from your municipality; find out how you can save electricity at home and at work and implement these savings.

What is Eskom doing about the power shortage?Eskom has announced that it needs to add 3000MW to “provide the necessary breathing space”.

It plans to de-mothball old power stations and use gas turbines. These initiatives will release just more than 1100MW this year with a further 2400MW coming on stream next year.

But it says that the "power situation will be tight for a number of years".The energy crisis has prompted some companies like Mittal Steel to look at generating electricity from their production processes and the excess they will sell back to Eskom.

Renewable energy is another option. The sun, wind, gas and landfills can all be used to with much less harmful emissions on the environment.

Meanwhile environmental organisations have slammed Eskom saying that it was using the current energy crisis to push ahead with building new nuclear power stations without proper consultation with affected people.

A bright idea! What will you do at work when the lights go out?At Bosch, shop stewards have proposed that in the event of power cuts, that the employer provide training to its employees instead of putting them on short-time.

The employer has agreed that where this is practically possible, training will take place. If it is not possible, employees will be sent home or told not to come to work.'Write and tell us how you are saving electricity or propose to cope with load shedding at work.


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