Unable to switch on lights or heaters, cook dinner or charge their phones, South Africans are spending their mid-winter evenings plunged in darkness and low-tech living.
Power outages, known here as load shedding, intensified late last month after strikes erupted at the nation’s monopoly energy provider Eskom, leaving coal plants unable to operate or undergo maintenance.
Electricity cuts in South Africa are a notorious, years-old problem.
But the frequency of power losses — two to three times per day and lasting up to four hours at a time — is the worst since a bleak episode in December 2019, and many people are livid.
“It’s like we’re back to apartheid life, whereby we’re back to candles, paraffin stoves,” said Rebecca Bheki-Mogotho, a Johannesburg city employee.
Her comparison was with life under South Africa’s former segrationist regime, which deprived the black majority of basic infrastructure and services.
The leading economy on the continent, South Africa relies on coal to generate more than 80 percent of its electricity.
The country has plenty of coal, but most of its plants are ageing, need repair or are scheduled to be decommissioned in the coming decades.
“We didn’t do what we should have done in the past five to 10 years,” energy analyst Clyde Mallinson told AFP.
“We’ve got ourselves caught in a situation where we are desperately trying to plug what’s broken rather than get ahead of it.”
– 101 days of blackouts –
The wage dispute that compounded the crisis concluded Tuesday with Eskom employees accepting a seven percent increase, which the electricity provider said in a statement “will be a struggle for Eskom to afford.”
But even with workers back on the job, Eskom warned it would “still take some time” for the system to recover due to the backlog of maintenance.
The public entity is already laden with debt and struggling to recover from years of alleged mismanagement and corruption, which made it a key entity investigated during a four-year public inquiry into state graft.
To bridge the severe gap in supply, Eskom is relying on back-up gas turbines that blast through 14 litres of diesel (3.7 gallons) per second. Seven of these turbines were in operation Friday.
The cost of using diesel as a substitute fuel has been stratospheric.
Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter said the company spent 1.54 billion rand ($93.8 million) in June alone — more than double its original budget.
It has also spent more than double its annual budget for diesel only halfway into the year.
The big splurge is still not enough to avoid outages that can cause havoc, from delays at intersections with downed traffic lights to faults at substations prolonging blackouts.
In April, the company warned the country could see as many as 101 days of load shedding this year due to breakdowns.
– Delayed renewables –
At least 10,000 MW of renewable wind and solar energy should have been brought online since 2015 to keep pace with demand, Mallinson said.
An intensive building strategy to make that up in the next two years would relieve the issue.
“We have to build rapidly, like our lives depend on it,” Mallinson said.
The mining industry, the country’s economic backbone, has begun investing in self-generation with renewables, Henk Langenhoven, chief economist at the trade grouping Minerals Council South Africa, told AFP.
“As the problems… with the core energy supply from Eskom are rising and the shortfalls are increasing, the pressure and the inclination to actually move that way is actually getting stronger,” Langenhoven said.
Eskom’s senior officials have similarly made repeated calls for the swift development of new energy sources.
But in February, Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe declared coal would remain “a mainstay” for South Africa’s electricity mix for the “foreseeable future”.
This comes despite South Africa being promised at least $8.5 billion from rich nations at the UN climate summit last November to aid its low-carbon transition.
The country’s energy burden is only expected to grow in the coming years.
Power demands could triple by 2040 as transportation and other industries move to electrification, Mallinson said.
Without rapid investment, load shedding will remain a fixture.
Contech leaders say convergence is driving a construction industry renaissance
In the building industry, convergence is a blurring of lines between tech, process, and sectors such as architecture and manufacturing.
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In the building industry, convergence is a blurring of lines between technology, process, and sectors such as architecture, manufacturing, and entertainment.
The goal? Finding better ways to design, build, and make space.
“Architects and builders are looking to manufacturing to make the construction process more like industrial assembly lines — modular, repeatable, and efficient,” Autodesk University writes. “And they’re finding ways to use standardized parts and digital tools to improve safety and accelerate project timelines.”
As VP Industrialized Construction at Autodesk, Amy Marks says construction business models are shifting to meet demands from a growing client segment called “convergence customers.”
“When you think about what a convergence customer needs, it’s very different than what just a general contractor needs, or just an architect needs, or just an owner needs, or just a building product manufacturer needs,” says Marks.
“They need a platform of connected data. They need the interoperability between many different ecosystem partners, whether that’s in services, or technology, or products. They’re looking across the silos — they’re basically burning them to the ground at this point. And I think that changes everything.”
During her keynote address at the Advancing Prefabrication 2022 conference, Marks said 82% of the audience considered themselves convergence customers.
But they’re not explicitly asking for convergence solutions, Marks notes.
Rather, clients tell her they are looking for integrated support because their business models are changing and “there are forces on my business, and the way in which I do business, and how I make money that have changed.”
So if a contractor responds to an RFP by offering up an evolved framework that incorporates a convergence of prefabrication, technology, and advanced processes, the customer feels better enabled to achieve their project goals.
How convergence in construction actually works
Marks touches on two key ways convergence takes place in construction.
The first is a “horizontal” integration of different — but often adjacent — business types that merge, or incorporate another offering, to increase their shared value. “Architects are buying [pre]fab shops, and general contractors are becoming makers and makers are becoming designers of things,” she explains.
We’re seeing “vertical” compression too, according to Marks. “Whether it’s the GC or the mechanical, electrical, or plumbing subcontractor, or the traditional building product manufacturer — they are merging together as makers.”
For example, she describes how an electrical contractor might not actually produce anything that’s included in the electrical skids they supply.
Instead, they function as a “product and system integrator” of the manufactured items provided to clients. Or the building product manufacturer who creates those items offers the entire skid as an aggregated solution.
If you think bigger, Marks says, this type of convergence can enable the creation of smart buildings and even whole smart cities that function as vertically integrated environments.
Envision future cities where “platform companies like Meta and Google own undersea cables to emerging geographies. The data center will be owned by them, the infrastructure that gets built around them potentially…I’m sure they would like it to integrate with their platforms down to the end use in their home,” says Marks.
“And so I think it’s a very interesting conversation about convergence and platforms that’s much more far reaching than we think.”
Shared context is key to evolve your business model
Merging previously separate industries or processes is not a simple task. To make it work, all the stakeholders involved must learn how to speak different languages (in a figurative as well as terminology sense) to bridge contextual gaps, Marks says.
“As you’re starting out and these business models are first changing, you have to understand the language of the genesis of the original core competencies. And then you have to understand the language of your adjacencies.”
For instance, “the DfMA in a manufacturing setting has different interpretations than DfMA may in an architectural setting. You’re converging with and reconciling the [industry] language to make sure that you both mean the same thing.”
Merging with other specialties requires an appreciation of diversity and perspective to create shared understanding, and perhaps in the future, even a new language, Marks says.
Randee Herrin, Senior VP of Construction Technologies & Manufacturing at TDIndustries Inc., says her construction and facilities services company utilizes a “model-led workflow” to spark collaborative understanding.
With this approach, all stakeholders come together to make shared decisions earlier than usual in the construction process, producing a virtual model (thank you, technology) for the project.
“You have to step outside of just [your company], and engage the entire team — the general contractor and the owner or the other key subs — that means those decisions between the entire team need to happen earlier. And it needs to be much more cooperative and a partnership upfront, to have a better outcome at the end,” Herrin explains.
Perceptions of industrialized construction have evolved too
“The future is about data. It’s enabled by the [virtual] model and…by offsite manufacturing,” says Herrin, who thinks the construction industry is in the midst of a renaissance, as future-oriented firms rethink their approach to building spaces.
After all, who doesn’t want their job to be made easier and to access greater project certainty through data, she says.
“To me, it’s how many constraints can we remove? We’re managing a workforce that’s hard to find right now — a declining workforce. And we could sit with that problem or we could say ‘how can we solve it through off-site manufacturing?’”
In addition to the obvious benefits of industrialized construction, some old-school misconceptions are also being debunked, says Marks.
She scoffs at the idea that manufactured building products — a key element of construction convergence — are not considered beautiful or that architects and designers say, “I will not have prefab on my project.”
“Those kinds of things are so 10 years ago,” she says. Now there’s widespread interest and acknowledgement of industrialized construction. Project stakeholders just need help understanding how to incorporate prefabricated solutions into their construction plan.
One way or another, every building now incorporates manufactured products in construction, she points out.
“So yeah, I think at the end of the day, the word prefab won’t exist. It’ll just be products.”
This article originally appeared on Make Space, DIRTT’s editorial platform that shares perspectives from the design and construction industries.
Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s firm to sell stake in fintech upstart
Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s firm is selling its stake in the parent company of fintech upstart AMTD Digital, according to a statement released Thursday, after the company enjoyed a massive rally this week.
Hong Kong-based AMTD Digital was worth more than $203 billion when New York markets closed on Wednesday, making it the world’s fifth-biggest financial company on paper, Bloomberg reported.
AMTD Digital was listed just three weeks ago, and reported $25 million in revenue for the financial year that ended in April 2021.
Li’s CK Group said in a statement that it holds less than four percent of AMTD Digital’s parent company, AMTD Group, and has entered negotiations to sell those shares.
CK added that it has no representatives on AMTD Group’s board and has no business dealings with or shareholdings in AMTD Digital directly.
The sale would put distance between CK and AMTD Digital’s founder Calvin Choi, a former investment banker who is appealing a ban by Hong Kong regulators for failing to disclose conflicts of interest.
Li’s CK said its current four percent stake was left over from a sale nearly a decade ago, where CK sold a majority of its AMTD Group shares.
AMTD Group was set up in 2003 and lists CK Asset Holdings as a co-founder, according to its website.
Analysts have partly attributed AMTD Digital’s current rally to the small portion of shares that were made available for trading.
“The low free float in the company’s shares means it will be easier for big shareholders to push up the stock price,” research analyst Thomas Nip at Valuable Capital in Hong Kong told Bloomberg, adding that the stock is highly overvalued.
Oktay Kavrak, director at Leverage Shares, told Bloomberg that AMTD Digital was heading for a “nosedive” given the speed of its ascent.
AMTD Digital’s swift rally had prompted questions of whether it was the next “meme stock” — shares that skyrocket due to retail trading mania — similar to video game chain GameStop.
In January 2021, small-time stock traders banded together and rocked Wall Street by driving up the prices of shares like GameStop and cinema chain AMC, reaping massive profits.
But there is no evidence yet of a clear link between AMTD Digital’s stock movements this week and trades driven by social media interest, with some users of Reddit forum WallStreetBets dismissing the connection.
On Tuesday, AMTD Digital said it knew of “no material circumstances, events nor other matters relating to our company’s business and operating activities since the IPO date”.
Blue Origin sends first Egyptian and Portugese nationals to space
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin on Thursday launched six people to space, including the first from Egypt and Portugal, on the company’s sixth crewed flight.
Mission “N-22” saw the New Shepard suborbital rocket blast off around 8:58 am local time (1358 GMT) from Blue’s base in the west Texas desert.
The autonomous, re-usable vehicle sent its crew capsule soaring above the Karman line, the internationally recognized space boundary, 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level.
“I’m floating!” a crew mate could be heard saying on a livestream, as the capsule coasted to its highest point and the passengers experienced a few minutes of weightlessness.
Both the rocket and capsule separately returned to the base — the latter using giant parachutes — completing the mission around 11 minutes after lift-off.
The crew included Egyptian engineer Sara Sabry, and Portuguese entrepreneur Mario Ferreira, both the first people of their countries to leave Earth.
It also included Coby Cotton, one of five co-founders of the YouTube sports and comedy channel Dude Perfect, which boasts more than 57 million followers.
A Blue Origin spokeswoman confirmed all six crew were paying passengers — though Sabry’s seat was sponsored by nonprofit Space for Humanity.
Blue Origin has not revealed its ticket prices.
Past flights have included celebrity guests who have flown for free, including Star Trek legend William Shatner.
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