Eskom was always the blue-eyed boy of the new South Africa – it produced the cheapest energy in the world, so cheap that it made sense for giant smelters like Hillside and Bayside to make aluminium from imported bauxite.
But after the disastrous load-shedding earlier this year, Eskom has taken a knock.
Electricity prices are set to rocket in the coming years. While this is a disaster for the poor, it does mean that other more clean energy alternatives like solar and wind power now become more economically viable.
But is government considering this?
Recently Cabinet approved the building of new nuclear plants. Eskom wants nuclear plants to generate 25% of electricity by 2025. There are also plans for more coal-fired power stations. Together these will cost more than R300 billion but much will only be operational in 20 years.
On the other hand Eskom's proposal for a solar demonstration plant costing R6bn and producing 100MW is still awaiting funding.
The current renewable energy target for SA is 10 000 Gigawatt hours by 2014, which is less than 0.5% of SA’s total energy needs, and less than 4% of SA’s electricity needs.
However with South Africa holding the dubious record as the world's 11th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the planned coal-fired power stations will only increase this country's carbon footprint.
"There's a sense that we have an abundant supply of coal so why should we worry!" says Cosatu's policy coordinator Rudi Dicks.
What can we learn from Europe?
Last year European countries agreed that by 2020 they would try to source 20% of their energy needs from renewable energy. This was to fight climate change and promote renewable energy.
Germany is one of the leaders in generating electricity from wind power, with solar power and biomass also important contributors.
It aims to phase out its nuclear plants which currently provide just more than 20% of its energy requirements and replace these with renewable energy sources.
France on the other hand is the leader in nuclear energy in Europe. With 40% of its energy coming from nuclear and plans to increase this, it also gets 6% of its energy from renewable sources namely biomass and hydro.
Many European countries, like Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, have no nuclear facilities at all.
Meanwhile European countries are crowing about the benefits of renewables. Magazine-Deutschland claims that in Germany electricity from renewable sources in 2005 "prevented damage – for example caused by emissions – worth 2.8 billion euros."
A European Union press statement of January 2008 says that renewables will "strengthen (our) security of supply and develop jobs and growth in a high tech developing sector." Much of the inputs needed for solar and wind generation are currently manufactured in these countries.
Looking at South Africa
In this section of the Bulletin we put the spotlight on the energy crisis.
We include the National Energy Regulator's (Nersa) summary of its findings on the Eskom load-shedding disaster earlier this year.
We interview Numsa's organising and collective bargaining head, Bafana Ndebele, and Num's national treasurer, Derick Elbrecht, to find out their views on nuclear.
We carry an extract from a talk given by independent researcher,
David Fig, who challenges us to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear. We explain what is renewable energy, the different kinds of renewable energy that you can get and its job creating potential.
And we give you Mphadile Mohale's opinion on the benefit that Sasol is reaping from oil prices that have reached all-time highs.
Numsa News No 20 2008