on February 14th, 2008

The first few weeks in Jan’08, with rolling power cuts, have been hell for industry and mining in South Africa. There is a feeling that the genie has escaped from the bottle and with it a sense of reality.  And solutions to the recent developments seem elusive.

The 2010 World Cup is being held in South Africa! Confidence in the success of these games is difficult with the power shortages prevalent, with few remedies apparent.

I must confess that I was wryly amused with these problems facing our engineering cousins in South Africa as the crisis has been looming for a good few years with little forward planning evident.  If I were directly exposed to it, however, I would be less than amused, downright irritated and rather twitchy about future prospects for a reliable power supply. 

Possible solutions have included reducing the demand, accelerating the construction of power stations and using more renewable energy solutions. More extensive private sector provision of power has been encouraged too. Despite the obvious lack of power available in a burgeoning South Africa there also seems to be some incompetence afoot.  Contractors responsible for coal delivery to the power stations have failed to adequately supply them, for example, exacerbating the problems of unplanned outages. Furthermore, the lack of engineering training seems to be an issue – not only with regards to technical training, but also in engineering management. There is an important lesson for us engineers and technicians in this whole debacle – no matter where you live in the world –
As engineers and technicians we must actively look at the issues that confront us on a daily basis and anticipate the problems and crises that will occur and make engineering opportunities of these. And then actively canvass our local (political) leadership to fix the problems with suggested realistic engineering solutions. And then using media spin to hold them responsible. Whether it be; diminishing reliability in power supplies, inadequate sewage, crumbling infrastructure, defective telecommunications facilities, polluted environment, poor quality water or neglected education facilities.
At the end of the day, we are the engineering experts and can provide the solutions. And sadly enough, if we don’t do anything about it, we are ultimately responsible for the crises that result. After all, each country gets the political leadership they deserve (or elect).
A US President, John Kennedy’s remark is relevant to this crisis and others in the future:
The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.

Yours in engineering learning

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