The opinion piece by Keith Bryer (Business Report, October 8) cannot be left unchallenged, filled as it is with assumptions, misnomers, misdirection, false information and unclear thinking.
It borders on the inane to attack electric cars because some of these vehicles will ultimately rely on coal and/or nuclear power for some or most of the electricity that will drive them. Electric vehicles (EVs) have been around for a long time but never took off because liquid fossil fuels were cheap, abundant and easier to manage. Technology has advanced enough to make EVs both viable and, in many respects, better performers than their conventionally-engined predecessors.
In South Africa, Bryer is correct that the great majority of the energy that any plug-in EV will use for at least several years is likely to come primarily from coal and nuclear power sources. Bryer at least admits or implies that the nuclear option is not a great idea – apart from issues around the storage of high-level radioactivity, which have yet to be solved adequately, there are continuing worries about safety (see Fukushima) when disastrous breakdown occurs.
To describe wind power as a “false solution” is to miss the point. It is an excellent, if not perfect, part-solution. The cost of wind power is dropping and while it can’t, on its own, reliably provide base load requirements on an industrial scale, it can contribute as part of a mix of greener energy solutions. Other elements in that mix will be photovoltaic (PV) in which great strides to increase efficiency have been made; and concentrated solar power (CSP), the latter having proved itself with one array in Spain producing 24 or more hours of power for every 12 hours of full sunshine.
With swathes of the western, north-western and central parts of South Africa enjoying 320-plus days a year of full sunshine, we are almost perfectly situated to take advantage of this essentially inexhaustible supply. PV and CSP can be built in a decentralised, modular and rapid fashion – with capital cost per kilowatt-hour far below the vast and unaffordable coal and nuclear options with which the Department of Energy seems enamoured.
Bryer’s argument should then be with the decision-makers in Pretoria, not EVs.
Almost all energy available comes directly or indirectly from the sun, whether in fossil fuel form, wind or more direct access PV and CSP. South Africa’s leadership needs to realise that “the sun is the answer”. No doubt economics and practicality will win out.
As best as we know there is no such thing as a “Green Agenda”, which implies some type of (non-existent) secret or preconceived agreements between, presumably “Greenies”, whoever they may be.
As to the old climate change denialists’ war horse – that hybrids and EVs are not “greener” than conventional vehicles – there is little point in rehashing what has been established, or in arguing with the Jeremy Clarksons of this world. Yes, lithium requires mining and mining is dirty. Yes, making lithium batteries is not cheap and there is a carbon footprint attached. But making any kind of car involves mining (steel and/or aluminium), processing (smelting and forging, which is energy intensive with aluminium) and moving the final product around. Put one against the other, run them through their life cycles, plus recycling those components that can be recycled (including much of the lithium ion batteries) and the hybrids and EVs stomp on their conventional counterparts, let alone beat them in overall “greenness”.
In broad terms, all of us are “ungreen”, as are the majority of things we use and consume. There is no such thing as a pure green anything – except possibly a leaf or phytoplankton. The rest of living things consume (at least) oxygen and emit carbon dioxide. We consume resources and despoil our surroundings with waste, directly or indirectly.
In considering all these issues, we spent a year before launching our magazine Simply Green (now digital and “greener” than when we launched in 2008 in paper format) thinking and working through the issues raised and/or hinted at by Bryer and those of like mind. We realised that “greenness” was going to be a relative term when it came to human conduct – or even the process of living. So if we could not focus on perfect green products, since none exists, what were we to do? The answer was focus on “next best step solutions”. Which is what we did – and why our approach was acknowledged with an SAB Environmental Journalist award in 2010.
It’s fine to have an opinion. However, it may be best if that opinion was based on facts, was thoroughly thought through and dealt in real circumstances, rather than being a mish-mash of inadequately considered ideas, half-truths and reiterations of distorted perspectives such as put forward by Bryer, who, on this topic, should perhaps best remain retired.
Publisher and Executive Editor, Simply Green Magazine