Money and Power

Fans of this show will remember the episode where we battled a bank to access our own money. We wanted to buy a car. It took ages.

Lesson learned, we made different plans this time, and welcomed a white Volvo (tentatively nicknamed the “Albino Meatball”) into the family on New Year’s Eve.

But, with wisdom sometimes comes arrogance, and we were confident we knew enough about the relevant international financial systems to secure a home loan. Turns out we didn’t know a bond originator from a Bond Impersonator. And what the heck is an ooba?

As foreign nationals new (again) to South Africa, banking and lending options are somewhat limited. We need to build a history here before banks will take the “risk” of selling us a mortgage. It could take as long as 6-12 months before we qualify for a proper loan, and even then a bank may only offer 50% of the value of the home. That’s a hefty downpayment.

But we want the house now. So, what can we do?

We can get creative. At this very moment, we are working with the seller, agents, and attorneys to complete the sale privately, in a way that will still require us to secure a bond sometime in the next year or so. Hopefully, faster. It’s complicated, but we’re playing the hand we were dealt. (Please look elsewhere for cheap Kenny Rogers references.)

Stay tuned.

(Em)Powering Africa

This week, I was fortunate to attend sessions of the Africa Energy Indaba in Johannesburg. First off, the word indaba comes from the Nguni languages (isiZulu, isiXhosa, siSwati, et al.) and refers to an important meeting or gathering. This one was important, for sure, as South Africa is experiencing a power crisis, and governments across the continent grapple with ways to provide electricity to the 620 million people currently without access.

Energy Indaba copy

Many of the sessions were about issues unique to Africa, but some topics were quite familiar from my recent work with the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Elevate Energy, including those on energy efficiency, dynamic pricing (time-of-day pricing), demand reduction, and even some talk of micro grids, which make a ton of sense when it comes to using solar/wind/renewables in poor urban areas (or townships) and remote/rural areas.

In South Africa, it seems to be all stick and no carrot when it comes to energy efficiency and demand reduction. We are in the middle of scheduled blackouts called “load shedding.” Whole sections of cities will lose power for hours at a time, just so the utility can catch up. The utility is only about 1,000 MW short of full capacity, but that shortfall causes big problems. Plus, because this is still a developing country, the daily peak demand is in the early evening, as opposed to midday. It’s having a big impact on the economy and on politics, as if the politics in this place needed another gremlin. (See: SONA.)

But there’s no real incentive for households or businesses to pursue energy efficiency. Sure, there’s some bottom-line and pocketbook motivation, but no government-backed rebates or loan programs, and no nuanced set of messages that speak to the myriad reasons different people have for making energy efficiency decisions. Basically, the message is “switch off your stuff or we’ll switch it off for you.”

Part of my motivation for attending was to drum up some contract work with the companies and organizations also in attendance. I’ll keep you posted as to whether my chats with the Ambassador from Suriname or the head of Canadian Solar or the investment officer from the Development Bank of Southern Africa amount to anything.

I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man…

That’s right: When not pleading with the banks to please take our money and monthly payments, I’m restarting some freelance consulting work. In the hopper is a project with a NYC-based web development firm, and there may be a couple of small contracts in the queue.

Where’s Jenny?

Jenny’s hard at work, doing great things already. I think part of the appeal for her in this new job is the potential impact her work can have, not just at the university level, or within the academic community, but in this country and society. She’s in the business school, yeah, but her research and interests are about people and the intersections of work and family. That intersection takes many crazy shapes here. I’m excited to see what she does next.

(featured image: flickr photo by David Muir)

2 thoughts on “Money and Power

  1. ryan and Jen

    i have been following your travel notes this year but no writing back. some of your exper. harken back to old daze for me:

    Your bank story reminds me of living in Japan…. I could neither add a lump sum or take one out without a HANKO, a rubber stamp with my name in Japanese kanji. this was a frustration for me and I often complained that the bank was not really international at heart though they told we teachers they were a ‘global bank”.

    I also enjoyed the new year story and ride on the plane with kid….what a racket

    now those danes are amazing. I did not realize they owned norway sweden and finland about a century ago. they must have had hellish long arrows.

    so in 2015 Byung had conferences in Paris, Urbana, St Pete (the cold one) and Hungary is coming in Sept. I am the bag carrier and photographer of these events.

    together we cover many miles.

    keep writing so well,

    Liked by 1 person

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