The CSIR is stumbling boldly where angels fear to tread

By: Terry Mackenzie-Hoy

Published: 27 Jan 12


The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was established in 1945.

The Scientific Research Council Act of 1988, as amended by Act 71 of 1990, states that “the objects of the CSIR are, through directed and particularly multidisciplinary research and technological innovation, to foster, in the national interest and in fields which in its opinion should receive preference, industrial and scientific development, either by itself or in cooperation with principals from the private or public sectors, and thereby to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of the people of the Republic, and to perform any other functions that may be assigned to the CSIR by or under this Act”.

Hey, isn’t that impressive? Huh? Well, I afraid that the gold in the halo is looking a bit unpolished when you read the offering from the CSIR which purports to be the environmental- impact assessment (EIA) report for four wind energy farms in the Western Cape. The EIA has an impressive beginning, listed under ‘Need for the Project’: “The Western Cape province is currently facing considerable constraints in the availability and stability of electricity supply . . . and the Western Cape is reliant on the import of power.

“The province’s maximum electricity demand of 3 500 MW to 3 900 MW cannot be met by the transmission lines connecting the Western Cape to the national grid. Accordingly, pressure on local generation capacity, most notably the Koeberg nuclear power station (two units with a combined maximum capacity of 1 800 MW), is such that, if one reactor at Koeberg is off line, the entire province experiences supply shortages. “Accordingly, the need has been identified to generate additional power in the province.”

Whoa! Is this really true? Well, yes, it was once – in 2008. In fact, the report mentions that this information is from a 2008 edition of Energize magazine – four years ago. Too bad it was not from Eskom’s transmission department in 2011. But it is no longer true. Without Koeberg 1 and 2, there are three gas-turbine stations and the Palmiet pumped-storage scheme, which can supply peaking power to keep the lights on.

Further, Eskom is building additional lines to the Western Cape right now, so the need for local generation falls away. But the real Lulu is the assumption that wind turbines will reduce the demand in the Western Cape. Hello? Hello? The peak demand will only be reduced if the wind happens to be blowing at a reasonable speed. Which, for 70% of the time, it isn’t. Nobody in his or her right mind would base an argument for wind power on an electrical peak demand for a province.

The report states: “Siemens 2.3 MW turbines and WinWinD 3 MW turbines are used as typical examples of the types of turbines envisaged. These turbines have a hub height of 60 m to 100 m [and] a blade diameter of between 70 m and 112 m.”

Further on, it says that 70 turbines are proposed, located at Albertina, Heidelberg, Swellendam and Mossel Bay. Got that? Not too hard? Simply put, the distance from the ground to the top of the blade will be between 130 m and 212 m. For the 130 m turbines, each turbine, plus blades, will be taller than all but 15 buildings in the whole of South Africa. The 212 m turbines will only be topped by the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg and will be way taller than any building in Cape Town, Pretoria or Durban.

And they are planning to erect 70 of these along the freeway to the Garden Route. But don’t worry – the CSIR has got it covered. It states: “Visual impacts: medium to high impact on landscape character (negative), but could be perceived as a positive impact as the project represents a move towards renewable energy.”


I can see it now – when faced with a vista of 44 turbines around Mossel Bay, the tourist whips out a camera and takes photos of the completely stuffed-up view, since it represents green energy. Hello? Hello? Part Two next week: The CSIR blunders on.