Category Archives: South Africa

Firming Things Up

One of the big issues with renewables is the need for firming – production is intermittent while needs are more or less on a curve matching the human activity curve. Solar is a good match for air conditioning and heating in areas that are cold and sunny, hydro at large scale is good for dispatchable generation and can also serve as a baseload source in the right situation. But wind is famously finicky. So this article on compressed air storage is pretty exciting.

Hydro systems are often paired with pumped storage, where reservoirs are filled when power is available and used for peak generation, now Hydrostor is combining air and water for storage. The combination of wind, water, and suitable heights for pumped storage aren’t all that common, but places that have wind, water, and places where underground chambers can be built are much more available. This sounds really promising

According to Spector, “The Terra solution is highly customizable and allows customers to pick the power-to-energy ratio. For systems of 200 megawatts or more, VanWalleghem said, Hydrostor can deliver 6 to 8 hours of duration on a turnkey installed basis of $150 per kilowatt-hour.”

So $30 million gets a peaker plant that can store night generated wind in Texas, where capacity is such that sometimes operators have to pay the grid to haul excess power away, and it can be turned into $0.20/kwh peak electricity. Recover cost in 3,000 hours, if there are a hundred days of six hour peak heat in summers, that’s five years, and lifetimes on utility scale systems are measured in decades.

A 200 megawatt plant will support a western city of a hundred thousand, but it would be a much bigger deal here – Capetown, South Africa, with a population roughly five times that size.



Wind is a big deal in South Africa, almost no capacity in 2012, two gigawatts now, and another three gigawatts coming. I’m not sure what fifty five million there need in terms of power, life is very different than California. Our 2kw/house metric is much higher than their requirements, perhaps by a factor of ten.

Hydrostor’s work thus far has been with fresh water. When they do their first saltwater system I’ll get really interested. If there is a deep cavern into which salt water enters, that means there is natural pressure – which can be used for osmotic desalination or maybe a graphene system. South Africa could really use more fresh water.

South African Climate

South African Climate


Hopefully we’ve managed to avoid War With North Korea, at least for this weekend, but I’m still thinking about Functional Triage. I like South Africa’s industrialization and their isolation from the problems in the northern hemisphere. They need to focus on renewable investments, but with the added calculus that things up north might go irreparably sideways, as we came so near to doing this weekend.


African Corn, American Pest

Fall Army Worms have been causing havoc with crops in Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana while reports suggest Malawi, Mozambique and Ghana are also affected. The linked article indicates they have been found in Uganda, too.

“If nothing is done we could lose up to 15 percent of our maize production,” said senior agriculture minister official Okasai Opolot.

Roughly 10% of Uganda’s 38 million people are involved in corn production and 10 million are already underfed. I can’t make out exactly what percentage of the national diet is corn, but other crops are affected, too.

There are 1.2 billion people in Africa and two thirds of them are in the south. Subsistence agriculture is the rule, a 15% decrease in crops wouldn’t mean the death of 120 million, but I do think that’s a number of appropriate magnitude.

Africa Climate Zones

Africa Climate Zones

Africa Population Distribution

Africa Population Distribution

120 million dead sounds awful, but recall that we are approaching an inevitable round of Functional Triage.  Instead of that, lets consider the future of the 680 million survivors.


Africa is rich in resources, not well developed, and the south has already dealt with a massive long term plague – AIDS. Much of Africa can still be self sufficient, not just growing the food they need, but locally manufacturing what other goods they require. If the U.S. loses 15% of its population, things here come undone. If our national supply chain is interrupted even briefly, in just a matter of days machines and people all begin to break down.

There IS a correlation between level of development and societal preservation, but I think the relationship is inverse. Most people in Africa grow their own food, or they know the people who do. That hasn’t been at all true in this country since the Silent Generation were young adults.

Look at that climate map. Look at the population distribution map. There are six high density population centers and four of them are in the south. The Nile’s Annual Flood is already under climate driven threat, North Africa exploded into Arab Spring in 2011, and I paid some attention to The Simmering Maghreb. Nigeria is being slowly torn apart by Boko Haram. Ethiopia had massive famine in the 1980s, the African Great Lakes suffered horrendous ethnic cleansing during the 1990s.

South Africa has had its troubles, the South African Border War from the 1960s through the end of the Cold War, their own internal struggle with Apartheid. But among the BRICS countries it is they and the Brazilians who are geographically and culturally isolated from the conflicts that entangle and plague the other three. Like Wrangel Island for the mammoths, South Africa was a redoubt for our species during the Toba Eruption, some 70,000 years ago.


If there is any place on this planet where some portion of industrialized western capability can be preserved, it is South Africa, even ahead of climate advantaged and preparation minded Scandinavia, which is too close to Europe and Russia to avoid being dragged in to their conflicts.