Engineers may hold the key to solving South Africa’s energy crisis

The power and energy debate in South Africa continues to draw attention from world-wide players and is sparking contest between industries seeking solutions to the dire situation.

Paul Fitzsimons, energy expert and General Manager of GIBB Consulting Engineers Power & Energy sector believes that we need to look at the past to determine our future.

There is no one size fits all universal solution to South Africa’s energy deficiency challenge as each country has its own unique systems and geographical concerns.

South Africa needs to find its own solution which inevitably is a balance between sources of supply and available technologies in which skilled engineers have a big part to play.

The current energy challenge is primarily a management issue, we only see the symptoms of the problems but not necessarily the root causes.

From failure to implement policies in prior decades which prevented private capital ownership on the energy grid, to the lack of structural reform; all of which contributed to the state of the energy resources today.

Short-term energy solutions seem to be prioritised over long-term sustainability. At the annual state-of-the-nation speech earlier this year, President Zuma confirmed that the government has plans in place to resolve the energy crisis.

The potential plan involves a focus on locally-sourced gas power and managing the electricity demand with improved maintenance by Eskom.

Our current dilemma cannot be singularly blamed on one event or mismanagement of one area only. Ring fencing and addressing each of the issues through accountability and multifactor management should be our first priority. Secondary, is employing engineering strategies.

An integrated and balanced resource plan is the proposed mechanism of regulating the future energy mix in the country.

This plan however, needs to be timeous, accessible and up-to-date. One would assume that gas would take a bigger role and solar PV on roofs would be a driver of distributed energy.

Renewable energy is great resource, however we do need to consider all the implications of rolling out a large scale project. When we look to Germany, we need to take heed of any potential unintended consequences of all our energy policy decisions.

Considering the time taken to build traditional base load coal and nuclear power stations, possible short-term options include renting gas ships which work similarly to gas turbines and serve as portable energy sources for those regions in critical need.

This is a slightly more expensive option than gas or hydro energy alternatives but still a viable and accessible one which will get gas into the energy mix and can stimulate a longer term initiative.

The World Energy Council has defined energy sustainability based on three core dimensions, an energy trilemma, to assist countries in achieving power continuity.

The trilemma framework interweaves three main links which are: energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability.

Where one can’t exist successfully without the other, each having equal weighting, all three components need to be met to ensure longevity and energy security.

The trilemma serves as a great framework upon which to establish a collaborative and conjoined effort, building a cohesive and constructive foundation to revamp South Africa’s energy resources.

Ultimately, there is no one sure fire method that will be the answer to South Africa’s current energy deficiency. We need to explore the different energy source options available. We can then learn from and improve what does and does not work.

The bottom line is that everything is possible and we need to try something.

Not one energy source or initiative is going to be the sustainable energy source for generations to come, however if we try all our well-planned solutions in an attempt to solve the current energy deficiency in South Africa, we will aid ourselves in getting much closer to the eventual system that will work and will provide a lasting power supply.

We must accept that we have to make the hard choices today, take action on those plans to increase power supply resourcing and not be afraid of the repercussions, rather having tangible plans in place to correct them.

Our decisions today will progressively impact our future generations. We need a way of approaching the problem, not a solution to the problem as such.

Source: EE Publishers

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Engineers may hold the key to solving South Africa’s energy crisis