One clear message that came through at the Power-Gen Africa conference in Cape Town this week was directed at politicians and the governments they serve: stop short-term thinking and planning.
In energy terms as well as water and food security, it is necessary to plan for 30 or even 50 years ahead.
Lawrence Jones, vice-president of US energy company Alstom summed up this view in a panel discussion when he noted that politicians should be prepared to put in place projects that they might not live to see implemented. However, short-term thinking remains the order of the day and political considerations are most often given priority.
A classic case, mentioned only in passing by Leon Tromp of the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission, applied to the need to carry out essential maintenance of the tunnels and equipment that provide water to South Africa and electrical power to Lesotho.
This coincided with the last election in South Africa and there was no way of knowing in advance how long this might take.
Such maintenance takes place every ten years and covers the 55km of tunnels that link the Mohale to the Katse dam and from there to the Ash River that feeds Gauteng’s major water source, the Vaal dam.
Not only would Lesotho lose its generating capacity during maintenance — it would have to be made up from Eskom in South Africa, so reducing output to South African consumers — but the flow of water into South Africa would be disrupted and could cause shortages to farmers.
“So it was not possible to have an outage then,” Tromp noted.
In the event, the delay caused no problems and, with the election out of the way, the maintenance was completed.