We should not go early to bed after all…

It seems that our poor beleaguered and derided Minister of Minerals and Energy Affairs, Ms Bujelwa Sonjica, was misunderstood. As we Seffricans say: “Agh shame…”

She now denies that she sent all of us to bed early (and presumably without milk and cookies, because there was no electricity to do any baking and the milk had gone sour in the fridge).

To quote from an article on News24 today:

“That speech didn’t say ‘go to bed, go to bed, go to bed’,” she said at a media briefing on the department’s national response plan to the electricity crisis. Sonjica was speaking in Johannesburg at the launch of the National Energy Efficiency Campaign.

She said that she had been interrupted by hecklers in Parliament, and that her words had been twisted by the media. I find that a bit odd, as I’d heard on the radio that she had been reading her speech, and not ad-libbing it. The article continued:

“A good message had become trivialised and it bordered on disrespect for South Africans, she said.”

Hmm… I don’t get how she came to that conclusion. Disrespect for her abilities as Minister, perhaps, and by extension for everyone who was and still is responsible for the years of mismanagement, denialism, and seriously bad planning, but surely not disrespect for all South Africans?

Apart from that, her words also made international news headlines, leading to foreign investors wondering whether it was a good idea to invest in our country, given the sad state of the electricity infrastructure (among many other problems).

The planned ‘power rationing programme’ apparently involves the following:

  • Implementing a power rationing programme (the newspapers mentioned that the maximum allowed usage per household would be 600-700 kW per month), and charging punitive rates for consumers who used more;
  • Restricting (banning) the sale of incandescent light bulbs and replacing all of these with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which supposedly use less electricity and last longer without burning out. They also cost a lot more, incidentally;
  • Incentivising electricity conservation (I’m not sure how they are going to do that yet);
  • Forcibly installing ‘ripple controls’ in every household, which would allow the municipality to simply switch off appliances such as the geyser and the pool-pump whenever they wanted to (I don’t see that approach being very popular, somehow…)
  • Legislating the installation of solar water heaters etc. in all new houses and apartments (the Eskom Demand Side Management website – includes an explanation of the solar water heater incentive programme, but I haven’t managed to figure out exactly how it would work – it looks as though Eskom would subsidise home owners who install SWHs, but I have this nagging feeling that they just won’t have enough money to do so, given that they are planning to build a couple of power stations in the next few years… ).

When the City implemented the incandescent lightbulb replacement plan a year or two ago, arriving at people’s doorstep with free CFL’s, they exclusively handed out the cool white light version, which makes any room look unpleasantly clinical like a hospital or an office. Understandably, people didn’t like them, so they took them out again and put the old bulbs back in. We also put in some CFLs, but the glaring white light is awful, particularly if you work at the computer, and it changes the whole cosy, romantic feel of a lounge or a bedroom. So we are only using them outdoors at the moment.

This morning, one of the clever Electrical Engineering lecturers at UCT explained to me that South African manufacturers (he mentioned Osram) do make bulbs that cast a more gentle light, which is kinder on the eyes and closer to the incandescent version, but that most retailers, like hardware stores and the big chain-stores simply didn’t stock these because they didn’t know any better. Unless more people clamour for them, loudly and persistently, they won’t stock them.

Wikipedia raises some worrying issues with regard to CFLs:

  • Firstly, many of them emit a high-pitched buzzing sound – the better ones may only be audible for pets, but that is no comfort to me at all, for who wants a frazzled kitty or a stressed-out dog?!
  • Secondly, they generate higher electrical frequencies, which can cause electronic interference with other devices.
  • Thirdly, when they break, they release mercury vapours (oh great!) – so when you break one, you should definitely not use the vacuum cleaner, but first open the windows and leave the room for 15 mins to allow the vapour to dissipate (*&#$! Where to?? What if the wind is blowing into the house?!), then put on protective gloves to pick up the broken pieces, put them into a double plastic bag (!) and use duct tape to pick up the tiny fragments…

Perhaps we should all get those hazardous waste suits with what looks like scuba-diving gear, like the technicians wear in nuclear reactors?

And then how and where do you dispose of the bits? Given the fact that every week on rubbish collection day we have scores of destitute people and recyclers opening all our rubbish bags and going through them carefully in case there is anything of value in there, it is clearly not a good idea to put them in the normal domestic rubbish. In the United States there may be proper hazardous waste disposal facilities, but South Africa is lagging decades behind in that score, with many stories of toxic waste ending up in our landfills and polluting our groundwater supplies…

I foresee that most people will just (due to ignorance, carelessness or stupidity) toss the broken CFLs out with the normal trash, which gets incinerated, and then the mercury will be released into the atmosphere and into the soil. Fab… Just fab.

A smart friend suggested that one should simply return all one’s burnt-out and broken CFLs – and that also goes for dried-up paint, batteries and all those other household products that should not be put into the bin – to the original retailer: after all, they sell the darn things and make a fortune with them, so they should be both legally and ethically required to dispose of them.

I wonder what the likelihood of that is…

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