Toby on Tech on Thursdays

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Last month I felt for President Cyril Ramaphosa having to cancel his annual holiday to Switzerland, because of, you know, #loadshitting.

By Toby Shapshak

What a pity this daily hazard for all of us little people has intruded on his scheduled trip to recharge all his gadgets, as the jokes on social media put it. Instead of his much-publicised state of disaster, if Ramaphosa is genuinely concerned about saving us all from Eskom, this is how you do it.

Dear Mister President,
1. Fire the non-practising energy minister Gwede Mantashe.
2. No, really, fire Gwede. Immediately.
3. There is nothing called baseload anymore. Move on.
4. Eskom needs more energy fast. It has demonstrated over the past 15 years it is unable to get up and running itself. It’s time to ask the private sector for help.
5. Do NOT waste any more time with Karpowership. If they actually do finally manage to win a power contract, the rationality in the real world (as opposed to the twisted reality on Planet Gwede) will see such patently wrong deals overturned in court. That will lose us another few years and be a pointless distraction.
6. The future is renewables, whether the ANC’s patronage networks like it or not. Also, these huge fields of solar panels will need people to install them, after assembling them (instead of importing them) and there will be jobs created.
7. No matter what the self-confessed “coal fundamentalist” says, the future is not in fossil fuels. Stop looking for gas please. It’s another waste of time and deeply harmful to the environment. Simply put, there is no financing available to build any new power stations nor repair them. Crucially, there is no way to insure them. A R2bn explosion at Medupi’s Unit 4 last August now doubles the cost of that system – because without insurance, you just have to pay for the whole thing again. Goodbye to all of the 700MW produced by Unit 4 for another two years.
8. Tell Treasury to pay for the diesel and enable Eskom to import it directly and save on duties. The cost to the economy is much worse. 
9. Stop calling meetings with other politicians and trade unionists to find solutions. South Africa’s brilliant academics and analysts have done the thinking work already. University of Cape Town professor Anton Eberhard has laid out the necessary strategy often, while EE Intelligence publisher Chris Yelland knows Eskom’s problems better than anyone. Both of them know how to fix it. Make them special advisors, like a consigliere (Eskom is basically being fleeced by enough corrupt people to warrant the mafia title).
10. The most important thing to do for Eskom – and whatever new task team emerges from Ramaphosa’s Davos stayaway consultations – is to upgrade the grid. The reason there were so few successful bidders for bid windows 5 and 6 is that there is no capacity to transmit any new energy capacity. Unless Eskom upgrades the transmission network, there will be no way to get any new energy sources into the system. Handily, there is $8.5bn in funding available for exactly this kind of project.
11. Maybe I should belabour the obvious (in case Mantashe is reading over your shoulder): the quickest it will take to get additional energy onto the grid from the less than 1000MW of successful bid 5 and 6 winners is 18 months to two years. Those new sources of renewable energy like solar or wind have to be plugged into something so they can transmit their energy into the grid. There’s very little point for a private contractor to build a very expensive solar system if there is no way to sell that energy. It’s like having a train but no rails for it to run on. (Even Gwede can understand that analogy.)
12. Finally, beg Andre de Ruyter to stay. His attempted poisoning was the most horrific sign yet that Eskom is endemically corrupt. Someone with access to the CEO’s office was able to put cyanide in his coffee. As many have suggested, this wasn’t about De Ruyter per se, but a warning to anyone foolish enough to take the job after him. I doubt even Elon Musk would be that foolhardy. I will buy him a Nespresso machine for his office myself. And bottled water. Let’s hope he has the power to use it.

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