It’s sad, but not surprising, that the recent power outages in Cape Town have led to short-sighted calls for more nuclear energy.
There’s a better way to solve it. It requires stepping out of the box a little bit.
The tyranny of the few is coming to an end. I don’t mean this flippantly (well not too flippantly). Many of today’s problems are being solved by collaberation of empowered individuals, not centrally-imposed solutions. Open Source software and Wikipedia are two that come to mind. So how does this apply to energy generation?
Massive centralisation is one way to tackle the issue. By choosing nuclear, you choose extreme centralisation, secrecy (not necessarily, but in practice), vast amounts of capital and highly dangerous materials. Most of the budgeting formulae don’t take into account disposal of the low-level waste, or indefinite storage of the high-level waste (no-ones yet managed to work out a way of disposal). Sure, there’re no greenhouse gases. But that’s about the only advantage.
Similarly, there could be massive centralised solar or wind projects. Many have argued that even these are economically more viable than nuclearother options (which is what Earthlife Africa apparently claim, though I can’t find more detail right now – feel free to dig around on the Earthlife site).
However, by thinking beyond massive centralisation, there are more viable options. If every house put up solar panels on their roof, there would be no power crisis. Why doesn’t this happen? It’s expensive. However, quite a few countries have implemented a system whereby people can sell their excess electricity back to the central pool. So effectively your meter runs backwards. This simple innovation means that a lot more people will go to the expense of putting up solar panels on their own houses. Not only will they save electricity (though with South Africa’s under-priced electricity this isn’t much of an issue here), it could generate revenue. And that’s before any sort of government incentives. The R12 billion mentioned for the PBNR could be much better spent incentivising private solar power adoption. Utilising the roofs of existing houses and businesses means that there’s no need for huge amounts of land (one of the criticisms of centralised solar power generation).
We don’t need more nuclear energy! If government right now plastered their own property with solar panels, accelerated the introduction of a reverse metering system (I met someone at a party recently working on just this, so apparently its underway here), and introduced other incentives for private solar power adoption, the power crisis could be solved in much less time, and with much less money, than it would take to build new nuclear/coal power stations.