Day 65: The End

Wow! The course has now come to an end. Just over two months of intensive learning coupled with experiences (and heartache!) that will indeed last a lifetime. I do feel bad for not actually blogging over the last few days of the course to get the best out of it, but well, the blog before this will explain a lot on my state of being. On that, Witbank does have a real odd drinking culture seeing that the bar at the Casino on a Monday night was really full! Oh well, better that than drinking alone!

Well, what can I actually say in conclusion here – the course was brilliant hey. I think the main issue was coming into the course with a really good frame of mind and expecting things to be different and, well, embracing the difference rather than shunning them and feeling all sorry for myself. I guess the fact that I did go back home every weekend did help my sanity whereas the people that stayed here for the entire course would have had a totally different experience especially with the non-activity of the weekends. But hey, I went out there and I did enjoy every minute of this life less ordinary.

The work was real important though and the knowledge that I have gained about the Auxiliary Plant, Boiler, Turbine and Electrical Reticulation is of such high value and importance. Oh yeah – I did learn that actually finding any usable information on a power plant is impossible using the internet! HAHA! But, well, that is what libraries are for and the immense scale that power generation is built upon would warrant it necessary for people to actually not allow public content to be available.

Today was the final presentations that we did. Mine was on Water Separation in the Boiler Drum. I think I should upload the presentation somewhere or even write my next blog on the operation of it! It was a bit more exciting than it sounds and a little quirk, the spelling of “separation” with the two A’s was a total mindboggler for me! I still type it out with a single A and E after the P. And to think, I’m such a spelling Nazi under normal circumstances. Anyway, the presentation went brilliantly and actually taught me the power of practice. It was the first time that I stood in front of a mirror and practiced around five times before calling it a night. That practice gives you such confidence and just increases your knowledge to a level that makes the actual presentation a breeze. Then again, I am now used to presenting in front of knowledgeable crowds.

I am going to miss Eskom Park and Duvha though – the atmosphere was so laid back and, well, the Kitchen staff provided such, well, memories! As I detailed in a blog earlier, they were just unable to fathom that only vegetables could be eaten as a whole meal! I will miss it all though with the Witbank way of life now but a memory. But as I drive back down the N12 today for seemingly the last time, I will have a smile on my face and in my brain that reminds me of this experience that I will cherish (yes, I said cherish) for years to come…

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Day 38: Where tractors and vetkoek collide

I took a drive to Bethal. Yes, that is indeed what I did. We finished early at the Plant today so, using my adventurous spirit and petrol that I wasn’t paying for (I did but we’ll get to that in time) and took a drive to this well, little town. I was going to call it a hamlet but it was rather industrious looking as such and can’t really be called a hamlet. Then again, it is in Mpumalanga – the part that possesses all the coal mining towns. I did enjoy the drive thoroughly actually even though it wasn’t really that scenic. Then again, it was prettier than the drive to Ermelo. Oh well, I’m rambling – let us get to the pictures.

What possessed me to drive to Bethal was basically the Duvha turnoff. On our way out of Witbank, there goes a road that takes you deep into Mpumalanga. Before we get that deep, we turn at Duvha. What lies beyond? Does it take me to the land of milk and honey? Apparently not – it’s more like a badly kept road with several potholes and the marvellous view of mine dumps. It does clear up and just before you hit the R35, you get a nice view of Komati Power Station.

Komati is one of the Return-To-Service Stations that was mothballed in the late 80s and early 90s when supply way outstripped demand. Basically, there were several stations running for around 50 years, with 50 year old technology. It made sense to close down the plants that were using outdated technology and instead, use the larger plants that generated much more electricity at higher efficiencies. At that time, there were plants like Kendal with generators producing in excess of 600MW whilst older stations, like Taaibos and Highveld had generators rated at 60MW. Komati was one of the “old school” stations with, if you look at the picture, eight cooling towers. The generator set consisted of five 100MW units and four 125MW units – not as much as the six-pack stations but better than the antiquated 60MW units. Anyway, in recent years, electricity capacity has dictated that Komati, like Grootvlei and Camden, be brought back into service. So far, Camden is back online and Komati will be brought back onto the grid within a few years. One can see the new smoke-stack that has been built – just one of the modernisations that has been introduced to the station. Like Hendrina, these larger, older stations make for exquisite viewing and as I’ve said, it’s not exquisite like the Italian lakes but well, they do have that effect of awe on the mind!

The R35 runs, basically, between Middelburg and Bethal. From my experience, it was a relatively well used road (and by this, I mean that you passed a car every five to ten minutes as opposed to other roads where you won’t see a car for half an hour!) in really good condition and the odd sign pointing to a German sounding town. There were a lot of these towns on the way mind you.

As with all of these R roads, they have these weird little quirks which make the drive oh so enjoyable. One incident on this road was the appearance of this tractor on the road. As luck would have it, there was oncoming traffic when I reached the tractor! Once these cars passed, the tractor made a very sharp right; drove across the other lane and into the field. I just looked at it with that look on your face which mixes a smile, laughter and WTF.

So I reach Bethal and drive around, admiring the town. Then I find a Baby Friendly Hospital. Apparently, the other hospital in town is waging a war against babies since 1996 with both factions now at a deadlock. Bloodshed might follow in the next few months. Watch the press. Lol

As with all quaint, little towns, Bethal is equipped with a rather pretty looking church with a steeple!

It also has the obligatory Indian businessman that buys a centre and makes a pretty good living by selling to the townsfolk.

If you have read my blog, you would know how dumbfounded I am that people eat so much meat. Well, this just dumbfounded me even more – the store name implies that it is your one-stop vegetable market yet…THEY SELL CHICKEN!!!

I’m guessing this was jumping!

And this all brings me to this take-away establishment – a rustic looking tea room type shop claiming to sell. “The Tastiest Take Away Ever.” It’s a relatively eye-catching store on the main road into town and my eyes (and stomach) were drawn to it just to test out this claim. My problem was that, as a vegetarian, I was not able to sample their finest cuisine. Nevertheless, I thought that a good way to test the place out was to order Vetkoek which should, ideally, taste divine regardless of the filling. Herein lies my second problem – I walk into the shop, take a look at the menu and alas, it is in Afrikaans which is hardly a language I am strong in! I recognised the words “vleis” (grr…more meat!) and “kaas.” The kaas option would mean probably vegetarian unless these people grated some biltong along with the cheese. Judging from the menu, I wouldn’t be surprised. So I walk up to the counter, order a “Kaas Vetkoek” in my best Afrikaans, hand over my R5 (Yes, ONLY R5) and get back a paper bag with oil visibly seeping into it. It looked yummy, it tasted yummy too! It probably had more oil than a tanker as well. Seeing that I’ve not tasted a lot of Vetkoek, I’ll go with say that this was the ‘tastiest ever.’ Lol!

Oh I also bought boxers from this random clothing shop. R15 each – almost as cheap as Durban! I also ran out of petrol on my way to Bethal meaning I had to fill petrol! Shock! Horror! The sad bit was the petrol claims were not on my name meaning the R100 that entered the tank was lost from my pocket forever. It was truly a sad day…

The trip back took me back on the R35. The one thing I don’t enjoy is travelling the same road twice. It almost seems a waste of, well, exploration. It does have it’s perks in that you are able to stop and take pictures of the weird and wonderful sites that you didn’t capture onto celluloid because you were travelling at 120kph and by the time you stopped, you were a good half a kilometre down the road. You also “know” the route so any potholes will be anticipated and you can time yourself pretty well – especially if sunset is pending. These R roads usually have cat-eyes but there are many that don’t – travelling at night on these roads is not recommended. But these reason pale in comparison to driving down the great unknown through scenery you have never encountered before. Luckily, around 10km outside Bethal, there was a sign indicating, “Witbank.” So I took it…

The excitement of this road lay in the fact that it was nearing dusk and there were no cat-eyes on this road! Also, if you have listened to travel stories from people who go out to the mines, you are sure to have heard the mythical stories of driving at 120kph on the dirt skirtings on the side of the road just to avoid the potholes that would devour your entire car even if you had a Hummer. This road started beautifully – long, gently sloping and incredibly straight roads with maximum visibility where you could unleash the true power of your car. A few kilometres later, the road had me driving more on the dirt than on the road with occasions where I braked from 120kph down to around 20kph just to navigate the potholes. This coupled with me trying to beat the sunset made for one of the most exciting drives I’ve ever taken.

Tired, I entered into the municipality of Witbank with Duvha welcoming me back to civilisation. What I saw was the bare soul of industrial Mpumulanga and what we have done to it in pursuit of fuel, power and money. It was a rewarding drive though and, well, it put a smile on my face!

Day 29: Remember the Days of the 330 Engine Room

This blog has nothing to do with 330 at all. It just seemed a good title! This week was spent in this little part of the power station called the Boiler. And by little, I mean huge. It’s probably the most complex bit of the station and it does not resemble a kettle! It’s like a never-ending maze of pipes going in and out of the metal housings and walls and feeding the turbine with the special steam that is needed to make power for us in South Africa. I’ve always found it quite funny that we still use Steam for the most important aspect of Power Generation seeing that it’s a technology thought about in the 1700s. However, those English guys who pioneered it back then would be in awe of what they see in today’s modern steam powered power plants.

Anyway, this blog my first picture blog of this course so I will try and keep the words to a minimum from here on in. The pictures, well, technically, we aren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside of a Power Station but well, as you will see, most aren’t actually from inside!

So this is the drive on the way to Duvha Power Station pre-7am. Power Stations start work at 7am and, so to maximise our experience, we did the same. Waking up at that ungodly hour is really taxing! The crap thing is that after you do this for weeks on end, you get used to it and end up waking at that time on weekends as well! Disturbing I tell you…

The sheer size of the components inside the plant was something that just wowed me. This is the Hot Reheat Piping that takes the reheated water from the superheater to the IP turbine blades. In English, heat from here is transferred to the turbine blades which turns and makes electricity. You can see the guard rails around if you are worried about scale.

These are ducts for the fans that provide air to the system. The air is usually used to transfer the pulverised coal into the furnace for combustion. I think you could even transport Kanye West’s ego using these ducts.

The thing with a Power Plant is that it is so huge that basically, you could have a waterfall that’s around five metres high in the middle of the auxiliary plant and its okay. It does give you a shock when you see it, but it is okay!

Anyway, the highlight of the week was going onto the roof of the plant and seeing the magnificent view. The roof is around 110m above ground level and apart from being very scary, it is awe-inspiring. This is a picture with the Northern Cooling Tower in the foreground and the Witbank Dam in the background. At the bottom is the HV yard. If you need to braai some meat really quickly, I suggest you throw the meat in there. Anyway, the next couple pictures were also taken on top of the roof. Enjoy them!

The little structure that’s been pointed to is the 250m or so tall Smoke stack at Duvha which, if I’m not mistaken is probably the country’s tallest structure at present. Power Plants nowadays have either precipitators or fabric filters which get rid of the gunk before it’s expelled into the atmosphere. These include the NOx and SOx gases (pretty catchy names!) though when the Boilers are being lit, they tend to burn quite dirtily so these are expelled into the atmosphere. The theory behind the height is that the higher the tower, the less chance of the air infiltrating the air we breathe. Well, go to Witbank and take a deep breath in and you can judge for yourself. Then again, from what I’ve seen, the amount Power Stations lets out into the clear blue sky is miniscule compared to some factories in Witbank. I saw this one factory with brown smoke coming out from the roof – not even the stack! Oh well, so much for a small carbon footprint. Anyway, the rest of these pictures are just general pictures I took out. Yet again, enjoy!

Professional Write does indeed suck. They don’t even have a WYSIWIG interface. Come to think of it, neither did WordPerfect back in the 90s.

I don’t know. Do not even ask!

I thought this was a Coal Plant. I apparently was wrong…

Beautiful 🙂

There is something about narrow corridors that has this oh so powerful effect. If you look at the doorway at the end of the picture, it looks like someone is emerging from the fiery pits of hell!

Apparently, Witbank was the actual setting for the Blair Witch Project.

Dusty Duvha – the one thing about this plant is the immense ash deposits EVERYWHERE! The furnace and precipitators have these opening everywhere which makes the ash from the coal get all over the place. On the 87m platform, the ash deposits on the pipes were around 5cm high. Approximate that using your fingers and you’ll realise that it is quite a lot! Even worse is that the ash is supremely fine and breathing it in is bad for your health. I was like a kid and made sure that I got as dirty as I could! Hey, it was fun okay!!! But anyway, there is my hand, hair and my hard hat. They don’t really tell the story though but you get the picture I hope. Well that was my first foray into the world of Duvha and it was rather enjoyable even though I was covered in ash! Ash Ketchum – he’s my hero!

Day 19: Procrastination

The one certainty about this course was procrastination. It has actually been such an awesome week that has gone pass but each day, I keep on procrastinating and saying that I will start my project tomorrow or I’ll update the blog tomorrow.

Well, first things first, this blog won’t cover the whole week but I will (hopefully) get back to that in time! This week started on Tuesday actually – the weekend, which extended to Monday was brilliantly spent around 700km away in Durban. So that meant that on Tuesday morning, at 5am mind you, I had to trek from my place in Johannesburg to Witbank. Leaving at 5am wasn’t too bad especially since there was no mist and I encountered one of the most beautiful sites – the sunrise over the Highveld. It’s nothing compared to those beautiful sunrises one sees in Durban, where the sun slowly peaks over the ocean on the horizon and within an hour, it blazes and warms the souls of Durbanites. On the Highveld, well, the sun peeks over the, um, veld! The stunning red crept over the hills in the distance and bathed the barren landscape in a weak shade of yellow. It’s as if the sun wasn’t trying that hard to make any real impression on the Earth. It was beautiful though!

Driving in the dark, though, has a major problem – you can’t see pedestrians. And when you are travelling at 120kph and some random guy wearing impressively dark clothing takes a casual stroll across the freeway ten minutes before 6am, it’s something that makes you go “WTF!!!” I was lucky that this brave soul had comfortably crossed the freeway and was a good metre away from my car as I passed. You never know what you would do in a situation where you hit someone who is crossing the freeway. And the scary thing that I thought about was that with life as it is nowadays, the one n problem that people will consider is the time you lose on your travel schedule. I had to be at Duvha Power Station before 7am and if I had hit the guy, I would have never made it there in time. So the choice would have been stop, see what happened and help the guy or just drive on. It’s scary that the second option is an option that really could be taken!

The day was interesting with a walk down of some auxiliary systems of Duvha Power Station. This included the Precipitators and Water Cooling Plant. It’s amazing how much water is actually used at a power station. And when you look at the clouds coming out of the cooling towers, it just amazes you about the huge scale that power generation exists upon. There will be more about this later in another blog.

These three weeks have exposed me to something that I can’t make sense of just yet. Apparently, a South African peculiarity is that people of especially White and Black origin eat meat at every meal! A meal is almost not considered a meal if there is no meat present. And this meat is properly prepared steaks, chops and chicken – it seems the fish are lucky as they aren’t considered a proper meat! I was in Ermelo yesterday and at the Spur, where I had supper, I ordered the Enchilada and the waiter asked me if I’d like Beef or Chicken in it. When I said I want vegetables (because I’m vegetarian) it didn’t register as a proper choice. It appeared as if he was pre-programmed to either bring Enchilada meals that have Beef or Chicken in them and anything else is just wrong and the world might explode. Similarly with my sister, who was also somewhere in the bundus like me (Zeerust in the North-West to be precise) relayed a similar story. She is also vegetarian and she was forced to eat meat because the chefs didn’t cook the vegetables in a way that would constitute a meal. The vegetables were just boiled and were meant as an accompaniment to the meat. The meat that they did cook was almost gourmet – perfectly cooked steaks, roasted lamb, grilled chicken and the like. And, people ate this at every meal! Anyway, when I was a meat eater, I think I ate meat a maximum of four times a week. This is not because I fasted but because eating that much meat was not necessary. There are countless vegetable dishes that provide a more than adequate meal. Eating meat 21 times a week (yes, even at breakfast) just doesn’t register in my mind. Yet, I have witnessed people eating meat for all three meals in a day and they do complain if there is no meat!

The interesting thing about this is that it does show that the prices we pay in South Africa are really low. People from all socio-economic classes eat meat everyday which does give an indication that meat is readily available at a reasonably affordable price. When I discussed this issue with some people, they did point out that meat overseas does have a high premium attached to it and this means you can’t cook meat at every meal. This forces you to search for an alternate and, as a result, this helps in health terms. This whole meat issue does explain the size of some people I’m guessing. Then again, I’m not a doctor so I won’t factualise that link! But anyway, this has made me think of the state of things in South Africa and the world as a whole. Globalisation has meant that everything around the world is slowly settling towards a common price. Whether you buy an item in Hungary or in South Africa, because of global competition (and price-fixing!) you will pay around the same amount. And that is what is happening in several sectors. Coal, for example, is needed around the world for energy use and because South Africa has so much, they can supply everyone! This means that to buy coal in South Africa, you will need to pay a higher amount than before because there is a market outside the borders that is willing to pay a higher price than the historical price that a local paid. At some point, there will be equilibrium as such – the local price will compete against the international price so the miners will be happy selling their coal to either market. I hope that makes sense!

Now, how does this tie in with the meat? Quite simply, South Africa has historically had cheap meat. Maybe it was the self sufficiency of the Apartheid government that put us in this situation but because we were forced to have enough livestock to sustain the country, it was possible for meat to be sold cheaply as it was abundant. Cheap meat means you eat meat – and lots of it! So your culture is grown around providing meat to eat at every meal. As a child, you grow up expecting meat and not having meat means the meal is severely deficient. Now, taking the coal example of above – I hope you can see where this is going? The globalisation is going to drive food prices higher and now, people won’t be able to afford “eating” (i.e. eat meat!) and hence, they go on strike! They couple this with a grievance against the high electricity prices which is directly related to coal and what do you get – a nationwide strike which we had this week!

All in all, this means that the global energy crisis is caused by the smugness that South African’s have of eating meat at all meals! Wow, who would have thought that!