Opinion: Bring Back The Power

JUNE 10, 2015

It was getting worse. The dire predictions were relentless through the media. Cape Town must prepare for a two-week total blackout. The rest of the country needed to brace itself for a cold winter, to stock up with wood for the fireplace, and to make allowances for three years of rolling blackouts. This was going to be awesome.

Work had suddenly picked up. Tremendously. It was once again time to meticulously plan everything, to make lists, to set up reminders, to set up all sorts of meeting and deadline schedules on Google and sync them to my mail program.

So busy had I become, that I needed a full work session just to set up my schedule. It was great. In this current downward economic trend it makes you feel like you’re winning when the work is pouring through.

My daily patterns changed subsequently, and I soon found myself waking up like clockwork at 4am. I would wake up, make some coffee and slip away into the office to do a solid 2-hour grind of work before the kids awoke and chaos ensued.

When you’re desperate to get through as much as you can, and your focus is singular, it is amazing how much work you can through, effectively. Those 2 hours would be my saving grace between working efficiently all day or chasing my tail through the afternoon. It was also a good time to talk to my Australian clients. I soon found myself relying on that quiet, golden time.

Then the rains came, as they are prone to do in the Eastern Cape in winter. Our Eskom sub-station is old, our municipality, who buys electricity from Eskom to deliver to us at considerable profit, is the most bankrupt and the most corrupt in the country.

So our old sub-station is literally on its last legs. When the wind or the rains come, the station goes down. Our villages and towns and townships in the area are thus exposed to long and frustrating power failures, followed by blackouts.

I awoke at 4am to another pitch-black and icy house, and no cell phone reception. No power to run the laptop, the iPhone beaming its No Service message so no personal Hotspot to jump onto, and no lights to see my way around the house.

I found my spelunking headlamp, boiled some water over the gas stove, and made some decisions.

Firstly, I had to decide how to heat up my little girl’s morning milk, and how to prepare the kid’s school lunches in the dark and the cold. It was going to be a sarmies day, simple as that.

Secondly, I had to decide on how to get an effective backup system that was going to get me through local power failures as well as Eskom blackouts.

If I had much more wasted hours and missed deadlines, my work phone was going to stop ringing. Again. There had been so much talk and so much media proliferation, so many shares and likes and retweets on Facebook for the Tesla Powerwall home battery that was going to save the world.

A battery that would take power off the system at off-peak hours, and then have it ready and available for when the power went out. This Tesla dude, Elon Musk, was being hailed as the man who would save us from a bleak winter, who would quite literally make Eskom redundant, and who would be able to convert hundreds of thousands of households in South Africa into less grid-dependent units, and keep us warm and in juice through the cold, dark moments of the soul.

He had already invented a fleet of electric cars (Tesla Motors Inc), a massive company that provides solar energy to the American market (SolarCity Corp) a company that build rockets to enable the colonization of Mars (SpaceX) and was one of the founders of PayPal, so he did deserve some attention.

His household battery pack was a good-looking unit, and had a sexy sounding name in the Powerwall. The price in America seemed reasonably doable at US$3,500 (R43k) but there was more homework to be done, more research to be undertaken about his battery unit.

I’d only be able to do the research when the power was back on, just before the daily load shedding schedule was due to kick in.


- Genergy