By Warren Williams
I bit into my egg sandwich and washed it down with a large gulp of lukewarm coffee. Beaufort West was cold this morning so the rushed breakfast brought some welcome warmth. Francois emerged from the petrol station store with some biltong in hand. We jumped into the car and headed off. Destination Golden Valley Wind Farm just outside of Bedford in the Eastern Cape. A few days later it was a different story. This time we were standing in Springbok. Different place, same lukewarm coffee. Destination Aggeneys and Konkoonsies Solar Farms. And then a few days later, you guessed it, lukewarm coffee on our way to Excelsior Wind Farm near Swellendam. All this, crossing inter-provincial borders with our precious lockdown paperwork permissions in hand. I was shooting ground stills and video. Francois was doing the same, but from the air with the drone.
Now if you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting a wind or solar farm, let me tell you, the people who work on these operations are tough as nails. You don’t just throw up a wind turbine. It’s a serious, serious business. This is where pure Wilbur Smith heroes are to be found. They have muscles on their muscles. But a nicer, more accommodating, more happy bunch you are yet to meet. Our job was to capture the real essence of what goes on at these operations – and it was eye-opening. First up, don’t think you’re just going to schnuck in for a quiet stroll around. Health and safety protocols are rigorous (and it’s best you listen carefully to the briefing and then behave accordingly). Hard hats, steel-tipped boots, reflective clothing, mandatory mask, qualified ops person to escort you and off you go.
First thing you notice is that these operations are large and stretch across vast expanses of land. Second thing you notice is that this is where man and technology sync with magical grace. Third thing you notice is that if you want clean, you get clean. There’s not a paper, a plastic bottle or a cigarette butt to be found, period. This is not just clean energy, this is clean environment too. Wind turbines might look hellishly graceful as you pass them by from the roadside, but if you want that feeling of pure power and adrenalin, go and stand near(-ish) one when they actually ‘fly’ the turbine (in other words, when they take those big propellor looking things) and actually attach them to the tower. That’s pretty darned cool. Teams in cranes and teams on the ground (and in the tower) working harder, faster and slicker than Cheslin Kolbe stepping Owen Farrell to the try line. Remarkable, highly watchable stuff.
Now admittedly, the solar farms might not be quite as interesting as watching a turbine go up amongst the canola fields, but the way they stretch forever across the veld is hardly unimpressive. Great big panels that move silently with the sun to generate the electricity we all need. Thank you to BioTherm for being an exceptional client and host – you have great people on your team, one and all.