Winter is coming, a cold one for that matter

By Tswelopele Makoe

SOUTH AFRICA needs to prepare for a very cold winter ahead. Last week, Koeberg’s Unit 2, the last functional unit at the only nuclear power facility in the country, tripped. By all accounts, this sent the nation into the unrelenting stage 8 of load shedding.

In fact, many sources have certified that we are indeed in the midst of stage 8 load shedding, and that Eskom and Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa have intentionally kept it under wraps.

In the recent years, South Africa has been riddled with more pervasive power outages than ever before. These rolling blackouts have not only been aggravated by our exceptionally aged power stations, but by our government’s constant negation of renewable power sources.

Eskom, our national power supplier and our largest state-owned enterprise, controls numerous national power stations. Recently, however, there has been an exceptional gravitation towards clean and renewable sources of electricity, such as solar power.

Although the South African energy crises has been exasperating, the government continues to place a hefty dependence on Eskom, and it’s time to question them on why that is. Eskom is not only significantly strained, providing the entire nation with electricity, but also utilising extensively outdated mechanisms to do so.

Eskom alone generates 95% of the electricity used in South Africa, and as a result, accounts for 42% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions are mostly comprised of carbon dioxide, because of burning fossil fuels like oil, natural gasses, and coal. Ultimately, greenhouse gasses exacerbate global warming, and the damage to the ozone layer. This results in extremely heated climates, severe storms, increased drought, loss of species, insufficient food production, and exorbitant health risks.

This is not only deeply stringent on our environment, but also on our population. Polluted water, air, and soil, amongst others, are a major factor in human illnesses. Tuberculosis, fungal diseases, malaria, asthma, and a plethora of other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Polluted soil means that many people, who are dependent on the production of their own fruits and vegetables, will face dangers such as malnutrition. As a result, many will be unable to heal from these diseases.

South Africa is a deeply disproportionate society, where many underprivileged people live in clustered, unsafe, and unclean environments. As a result, infections and illnesses spread at a greater rate, and many do not have access to adequate healthcare and medical resources.

Furthermore, underprivileged and outlying communities will be more deeply affected by the extensive load-shedding crisis. A huge portion of our society do not have access to alternate forms of power, such as the increasingly popular solar power.

This means that scores of people will not have hot food nor a warm environment to retreat to this winter. This is a dire situation as the coldest season of the year approaches. Many adults, and children, travel extensive distances to reach work and school, and their overall health will very likely be adversely affected.

Our economy will also continue to be directly affected by the increased power outages. Water, transportation, and communication networks are particularly strained during this time. As a result of this, businesses, especially small businesses that lack additional resources such as generators and inverters, will take a big hit.

Larger, very pertinent institutions will most definitely be affected by the ongoing power crisis, too. Lack of heating, air-conditioning, water, and lack of power to medical equipment will result in grievous consequences.

Households will unquestionably be hit hard. The constant loss of power to electronics and fridges means will result in serious economic strain, and an unnecessary loss of food products. This is worsened for business owners who supply food products, who rely on manufacturers and who work directly with clientele.

Not only will these businesses face outage costs, but also leave their customer base unsatisfied, and their employees disgruntled. Additionally, decreased productivity because of inefficient internet connections will be sure to have a ripple effect.

Under stage 6, 7 and 8, power outages could last as long as 6 hours. This will indefinitely affect schoolchildren’s attentiveness, young infants’ day-to-day practices, as well as the elderly, who are increasingly affected by the unyielding weather patterns.

Electricity plays a key role in keeping people safe and entertained in their homes. Severe weather and power outages are sure to place families at a risk and deplete important household resources.

According to Eskom, one load shedding stage sheds approximate 1 000 MW of electricity. Stage 8 will require 7-8000MW of electricity to be shed. This will be excruciatingly demanding for households across the nation. Winter is already setting in, and it is pertinent that we prepare for this gruelling season.

It is of the utmost importance that people are aware of their scheduled power outages, and monitor local alerts through phone applications, social media, the internet, radio, and television.

Unplugging household devices such as televisions and decoders will assist one in avoiding damages that ensue because of power outages. Phone and laptop batteries will also need to be mindfully conserved. Power banks are not the cheapest nor most optimal purchase, but it is a wise investment to keep at this strenuous time.

Keeping refrigerator and freezer doors shut tight will also be integral to conserving the temperatures of your food during load shedding periods. An active investment in perishable (canned) foods, extra ice packs and bottled water will be key to preventing wastage.

For example, if one’s refrigerator has been off for up to 4 hours, unspoiled foods should be transferred to a cooler box that is filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Making ice packs using old bottles or cans is one of the creative ways of conserving and saving money. Products such as milk, bread, berries, and leftover foods can be frozen to increase their shelf life.

At this time, families are also encouraged to make use of flashlights instead of candles, lining their beds with hot water bottles, keeping household doors shut, thereby preventing increased airflow.

Winter is going to be a gruelling time for all of us. We need to ensure that we take the necessary steps to prevent further ailments and difficulties as the season ensues.

We also need to ensure that we advocate for renewable power sources that will deter us from being in this crippling situation in the future. We are a nation with a diverse landscape and extensive potential for renewable power sources such as solar, wind, hydropower (water), biofuels, and geothermal energy (heat from the earth).

Our government has had countless discourses on their intention to turn to renewable power, but the implementation is sadly never enacted. I therefore encourage every citizen to not only look at their homes, but also their community’s potential for renewable and prevailing forms of electrical energy production.

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