Wed, 19 Jun 2019

Eskom's diesel addiction and your car

News24
22 Mar 2019, 23:40 GMT+10

To keep the lights on in South Africa, Eskom is burning a staggering volume of diesel fuel to power its open-cycle gas turbines. In less than a year the diesel bill for Eskom is already at R5bn.

Diesel fuel as an emergency or isolated location power source is commonplace: some outlying farms and lodges still retain a diesel generator set for electricity sourcing. But running an entire country on diesel fuel? That's very unconventional.

Importing and burning huge volumes of diesel for electricity generation is disingenuous and could potentially start pressuring the automotive diesel supply chain in South Africa, as Eskom depletes all industrial diesel stockpiles.

Not many South African passenger cars are diesel, but our most configuration of private vehicle - the bakkie - is. And all our heavy trucking transport is also diesel.

Having Eskom potentially competing with private transport and trucking logistics for fuel, is a recipe for disaster. If you are running a diesel bakkie, car or SUV and are feeling nervous, what could the fuelling alternatives be? And how close are South Africans to not having to rely on hydrocarbons?

Electric

The most obvious answer is to self-generate your own power, from a rooftop solar system, and use that to power an electric car in your garage.

The trouble is that government incentives for doing so are not forthcoming and even worse, certain cities are now attempting to legislate your right to have a private solar power source at home. Relying on Eskom for the electricity to run an electric vehicle, is simply not a realisable probability in the near future.

Biofuel

South Africa is a large producer of sugarcane and maize, both crops which have potential for biofuel conversion. Brazil developed its biofuel industry in response to the decade of liquid-fuel price spikes in the 1970s and the being South America's most populous country, it has forced manufacturer to develop flex-fuel engined version of their vehicles.

In Brazil, many private vehicles run on ethanol, produced from sugarcane. Some of the popular models which are configured to run on ethanol in Brazil, will be familiar to South African drivers.

These include BMW's X1, Ford' EcoSport, Fiesta, Focus and Ranger, Hyundai's Creta, Renault's Duster and Toyota's Corolla and Hilux. Imagine what could be accomplished in terms of alternative liquid-fuel sourcing for private vehicles, if all those models were available in South Africa, creating a demand for maize and sugarcane refined biofuel?

Hydrogen

Since the late 1990s this has been advanced by many automotive engineers as their solution of choice, when interrogated about an alternative source to traditional fossil fuels. Hydrogen fuel cells provide on-board electricity to drive a vehicle, but the issues have always been crash safety - and the transhipment, stowage an distribution of hydrogen. It wold appear that investments to make hydrogen more mainstream, are now gaining momentum.

Toyota is the largest automotive brand in South Africa, and it has championed hydrogen technology internationally, launching the Mirai hydrogen powered vehicle for sale in 2014. Toyota's commitment to assisting the hydrogen supply chain is evidenced by a R75m hydrogen refuelling station it has launched this month in Melbourne.

This is potentially good news for us, as Australia is a market very similar to South Africa in terms of climate, geography and driving distances.

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