Why is energy efficiency still on the to-do list?



Energy efficiency, which has been defined as “the best and cheapest way to reduce CO2 emissions and use the least amount of electricity to achieve a desired result” and is often viewed as an obvious cost-saving option in an industrial or commercial operation, is frequently not implemented in South Africa.

The National Energy Act of 2008 states that “diverse energy resources [must be] available, in sustainable quantities and at affordable prices, to the South African economy” [1]. Energy efficiency goes a long way in meeting that ideal without increasing the demand for additional generation. This is important in South Africa where about 80% of our electricity comes from coal-fired power stations and generating additional electricity would result in higher levels of CO2 emissions.

The South African National Energy Association (SANEA) hosted a panel discussion at its monthly Energy Rendezvous event at the Ditsong Museum of Military History in Johannesburg recently on the topic of energy efficiency in South Africa.

From left: Sashay Ramdharee, Brian Statham, Luc Koechlin, Helene Claire, Karel Steyn.

Eskom’s Karel Styen said that to survive, a power utility must change its business model to match current realities. By sticking to an old model, the utility runs the risk of becoming the victim of the so-called “utility death spiral” where lower demand results in increased tariffs to cover fixed costs, followed by a further reduction in demand in response to the higher tariffs. This cycle continues until the utility can no longer cover its operational expenses.

Power utilities, Steyn said, need to flatten the demand curve as far as possible to reduce peak demand to levels closer to the average. This can be achieved in a number of ways. According to Steyn, the remote control of pumps, electric water heaters and air-conditioners by utilities could move the load away from peak times, thereby flattening the demand curve.

Utilities should also make use of modern generating technologies such as wind turbines and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems which operate at zero fuel cost. These technologies, when combined with energy storage systems can help to reduce the utility’s costs. He suggested that PV panels be mounted facing east and west, rather than north, to generate more electricity during the morning and late afternoon demand peaks.

Sashay Ramdharee from the CSIR’s National Cleaner Production Centre, said that while inflation has caused the general cost of doing business in South Africa to increase by about 45% since 2008, Eskom’s tariffs have increased by more than 300% over the same period – a trend which is expected to continue. For this reason, companies stand to save as much as 38% of their energy bills – and assist in the reduction of CO2 emissions – by implementing energy efficiency measures.

Many companies try to reduce energy consumption by replacing older equipment with newer, more efficient equipment. This however is an expensive approach. According to Ramdharee, a cheaper alternative is the system approach. The system approach addresses behavioural changes, such as turning equipment off when not in use. Insulating steam pipes, reducing the demand for compressed air – or sealing leaky air-pipes, can result in savings of between 20 and 50%, he says.

Companies stand to benefit by reducing their energy demand by saving money on lower utility bills and through the 12I, L or K tax rebate systems. To benefit, companies will need to report their energy savings and plans for further reductions to the South African Revenue Service, he added.

Luc Koechlin, the managing director of EDF Southern Africa, said that although some investment is usually necessary when implementing an energy efficiency programme, it is often lower than the price paid for wasted energy. After all, he said, the cheapest electricity is the electricity you don’t use. The enemy of energy efficiency is low energy tariffs. Low tariffs encourage more energy use and with it, greater CO2 emissions.

People in countries with high energy tariffs implement energy efficiency programmes more actively, Koechlin said, siting the example of efficient central heating systems in European homes vs. the way in which South Africans use inefficient space heaters. Local heating systems are often inefficient because many South African homes do not have adequate insulation in the ceiling, and windows and doors do not seal properly. When energy prices soared in the 1970s, people living in old European houses had to improve their insulation to reduce their heating bills. As a result, energy efficiency became a part of European culture. Some people have suggested that expensive energy can result in job losses, he said, but companies can save jobs by reducing energy demand through effective energy efficiency measures, he added.

It’s time energy efficiency came off the to-do list and became a part of a business’ ongoing operational programme, said Enviplan’s Helene Claire who moderated the panel discussion on behalf of SANEA.

Send your comments to energize@ee.co.za

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