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!

Day 8: Is that a Power Station or are you just happy to see me?

Driving down the N12 is quite an experience. It’s actually a really boring freeway with not a lot going for it. It’s not like the Karoo stretch of the N1 or the Free State stretch of the N3 which is surrounded by pure nothing – this is just an arbitrary freeway that passes some really random looking farms as you drive further and further into the East which sucks you in with its mist. Moreover, today I drove the route at 120kph whilst only using the white line on the right hand side of the road as navigation. The Eastbound drive is marred by the rising winter sun and you really can’t see anything that is more than 50m in front of your car. Nevertheless, I don’t think my speedometer dropped below 120kph! However, there is one feature that actually awestruck me today.

After travelling 70km or so past the OR Tambo Airport, one approaches a slight incline which peaks out and results in an amazing site. No, it has nothing to do with an endless green landscape or mountains like those pictures taken in the States as you approach the Rocky Mountains. It’s a manmade monstrosity known as Kendal Power Station. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the world and holder of countless records. As you reach the peak of the incline, in the distance, the six cooling towers and the two smoke stacks engulf the landscape. You are around 50km away from the station but its grandeur just stares back at you. Maybe it’s because of my career in the Power Utility industry but these stations do amaze me. The sheer scale of it all is mind-boggling and moreover, as we have realised in the last few months, its operation is vital to the well-being of humanity. Without electricity, we are just cave men!

I’ll try getting some pictures of it and posting then but hey, next time you drive the N12, keep this in mind and draw your own conclusion.

Day 7: Bring a Machine-Gun to Work Day

Haven’t we all experienced the sensation of wanting to rid the world of certain people because of some element that really irks us? I wonder where the whole moral dilemma of killing people came around. Other species on the planet that number around six billion really don’t have a huge problem with killing of a few for the greater good of us all. Take sardines for example, though that might be a bad example seeing that there might be more than six billion of them around. But I’ll use it anyway – if you’ve seen those documentaries on the Great Sardine Run that occurs up the KwaZulu Natal coast every year, you see the methods they use to stay alive which includes forming huge shoals. If a few get eaten from the peripheries of the shoal, it’s not too bad because altogether, a greater number survive. A similar technique is used by other animals – lay a few million eggs and hope that a few do survive through the advantage of numbers.

The differing element is the way our minds work. The emotional attachments and the analysis that happens up in our cranium are what make the difference. I doubt the sardines worry about the one’s that got eaten. We, on the other hand, would have a problem if someone we grew up with from the time we were in nappies, was eaten by a shark in a singular bite. Anyway, so this is really what holds us back from blasting the guy that cut us of in traffic to kingdom come. Using the whole technique I talked about a few days ago, it is up to pure choice – the guy would have cut you of for some reason that you don’t know that could be valid. Change your way of thinking rather and see it from a different angle. All good and easy but, well, where do you stop changing your own thinking and recognising that that person is really just a doos?

The Eskom annual results came out a while back and from a profit of R6 billion, it drop to a profit of about R600 million. That is a huge drop and one of the factors that influenced this was the increase in diesel use. From using 11 million litres of fuel last year, this year, 400 million litres was used. Couple with the massive increase in fuel cost, this was a recipe for financial disaster. Now, what were the reasons that so much fuel was used? The main reason was that there was no power and Eskom HAD to produce power somehow to keep the country alive. The load shedding that happened between February and April showed exactly what problems did occur when South Africa was not with enough power. Now with the base load, coal stations undergoing either planned or unplanned shutdown, the only option was to run the gas-fired turbines in the fleet. Now, IF it was known long in advance that these expensive devices would be needed, as a decision maker, you would have done some studies and found an optimal solution to make these run as cheaply as possible. But, this was NOT know long in advance, the reaction was not to do these optimisation studies that would take a few months but instead, get these suckers running in the way that you have at your disposal. In this case, these gas-turbines would be run with diesel fuel. The reason for this would be that in Eskom, there are current agreements with diesel suppliers to provide what is necessary and since you need power right now, you’d use this option as it would require the least red tape and it would be quick and easy to implement. The result would be a slightly higher bill for producing the power but at the end of the day, the country has power which was the primary aim.

However, there are other sources of ignitable gas that do exist. Things such as Natural Gas, gas from Underground Coal Gasification, Biomass and even Biofuels could have been used. All have certain pluses that come along with the technology but the bottom line is, these technologies weren’t available at such short notice. They haven’t been utilised before because the need did not arise. Or, if they have been utilised, the technologies would be undergoing or have undergone rigorous tests to determine the usefulness of it all. Moreover, since the gas fired stations are new, studies would have been done to figure out whether these options are viable. This is basic engineering practices – nothing fancy.

Now, to tie this up to the beginning of the story – if this is the case, it boggles the mind to have someone blaming the fuel bill on Eskom utilising diesel. It was proposed that instead of using diesel, Natural Gas should have been used. All good and well but, as I said before, the country was in a crisis. Diesel was readily available and Natural gas was not. Natural Gas would be the better option as it burns cleaner and is cheaper if it was available. But it was not. It’s like buying drinks in a club. You pay a premium price just to get drunk whereas with all the money you spent on getting yourself drunk, you could have gone to Makro and bought enough alcohol to get five people much more drunk than you were! However, you chose to drink the alcohol in the club because it was available at the time whereas at that time (which was some ungodly hour early in the morning) Makro would be closed and much further away that the bar that you are leaning against. You wanted to get drunk at that moment in time and the bar was the “only” option whereas if you wanted to get drunk sometime in the future, you would have bought from Makro. Just like the analogy, in this case, diesel was the option that had to be taken and the consequences of these had to be dealt with. Now, the part that got me thinking about the “Bring a Machine-Gun to Work Day” was that this was suggested during my Self Management course with a facilitator that has nothing to do with Eskom during a lecture that had nothing to do with power cuts. This is where it should to stop. It does not work when people try to indoctrinate beliefs into the wrong forum with the wrong people in order to show off how intelligent you are or degrade other people that were forced into making immediate decisions. It is fine having a lot of good ideas but what good does destructive behaviour serve?

Sacrificing such person would be in the greater good after all? It would have been rather cool wielding a machine-gun at that point in time! Lol. Mr. Kalashnikov would have been super proud of me! But anyway, the question then needs to be asked: Who determines what the greater good is and where does this greater good stop? But that’s another issue altogether!!!