Our energy future
There are many things one might expect a computer science graduate to be doing, but these days I find my typical day contains none of them. Its difficult to know where to start, because all stories have a story that preceded them, but I will give a very quick summary of how I ended up where I am today.
My father’s father was a builder, and my father inherited from him an enjoyment of working with his hands. So although my father was an academic, as long as I can remember he kept a workshop well stocked with tools and materials. Some of that must have passed on to me, because I have always liked the idea of making things.
During one of Eskom’s many power cuts I saw that there was a strong South Easter blowing, and I started to wonder about turning the famous Cape Town wind into electricity. That was the start of a long journey, and I experimented with old motors and plastic fans to catch the wind. That progressed to designing a fairly serious generator, capable of generating over 1 kW. I recorded most of this on a website www.windpower.org.za, where I posted hundred of photographs as well as descriptions of what I had done and experimented with. I remember being excited when the website stats showed the first visitor, and that grew to it getting 500 to 1000 hits a day. For a while it was usually in the top 5 Google results for ‘homemade wind power’. I was occasionally asked to give talks about what I had done, which I did with pleasure. That led to requests to teach others, and I have run a few courses, both for private individuals and at schools.
During a talk at a school I came across a poster at the back of a class which supposedly compared different ways of generating electricty. I read the section on wind first, naturally, and it contained a few common inaccuracies, including the clanger that wind power required large government subsidies! When my eyes drifted down to the section on nuclear power, I felt a power anger rising up in me. This was so blatantly deceptive that I was immediately transformed into an activist.
I realised then that there was a very well funded system in place which was intentionally attempting to deceive the children of South Africa. What followed is a whole story in itself, but ended up with the head of the department at the City of Cape Town whose department distributed these posters to schools being hauled in front of the Mayor to explain how this had happened. He is actually one of the good guys, but through inattention on his or the part of his staff, the city had been duped into distributing this blatant propaganda. See full poster here.
I ended up reviving an old organisation, Koeberg Alert, and we are now involved in trying to prevent South Africa making the terrible mistake of committing R1 trillion to nuclear power. We have launched a drive to inform Capetonians about nuclear power, and a petition against building new nuclear plants near Cape Town. You can see our website at koebergalert.org and follow us on Twitter at @koebergalert
- 4 November 2011: Should SA invest 1 trillion in nuclear for our energy future?