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How to survive South Africa’s Energy Crisis

26 May 2012

Saving Electricity

Like all things in life, if you understand the cause of a problem, you maximize the chance of solving it. With the electricity tariff going up once again, the cycle of people and businesses complaining about (but ultimately accepting) the increase, seems to be a trend. Please don’t believe those who claim that we have “cheap” electricity in relation to the world in order to justify the tariff increases.

Gareth Theunissen’s article in Finweek (“Eskom price shocker”), highlighted the following:
•    Eskom needs to raise electricity tariffs by roughly 15% per annum until 2017 to pay off its debts and complete its R340bn capacity expansion programme. After 2017 these increases will need to continue to follow the Government’s integrated resource plan.
•    Worryingly, Eskom projects that by 2015, South Africa will have virtually no reserve margin available to deal with maintenance issues – which means more black-outs.
•    ”There’s massive opportunity for large-scale energy efficiency”, says Eskom CEO Brian Dames. “South Africans continue to waste electricity”

Eskom’s adequacy report shows that by 2030 there will be an operational shortfall equating to just over 13 Koebergs (nuclear power station) or 5 Medupis (a modern coal fired power station) that need to be built. With the government’s stated commitment to reducing CO2 emissions it will be difficult to justify building more coal power stations – South Africa is already, and infamously, thirteenth on the world’s CO2 emitters list with 93% of electricity generated from coal fired power stations.

The future energy plan proposes 5 sites for nuclear power plants, and it’s baffling to understand why. Nuclear’s massive upfront capital, 5-15 billion US dollars per power station (2008 figures depending on technology, location and capacity). After the Fukushima accident, add an additional 2-4 billion US dollars to those figures.

So with huge upfront capital cost, public objections, producing electricity only 10 years from getting go ahead and 56 years later no country has solved what to do with the radioactive waste; does not make me a believer in Nuclear. The money and resources can be better spent on renewable energy projects which could be generating energy in a couple of years, addressing our present energy shortage and leaving a proud legacy for our children.  That said, the bidding for independent power producers’ projects is under-way, but the red tape and lack of signed agreements are slowing the process.

So the facts speak for themselves: in the future the electricity tariff will increase annually. The only question you need to answer is – why are you willing to pay more when there are ways to pay less?

To quote Gandhi “ Be the change you want to see in the world.” To pay less for electricity you have to use less electricity. OK, that sounds too easy – and how can this be achieved without affecting my current lifestyle, I hear you say? As a society we are used to wasting electricity, and the perception of going “Green” has always been that it is expensive. That may have been true in the past but the savings now of energy, money, time and the environment cannot be ignored. The truth is you can either pay now, or you will be paying over and over in the future.

So where to begin? What can you do today to become more efficient and use less? You are unique, so there is no “one glove fits all” approach. The best place to start would be to assess and audit why, what and how you use your services.  This can be done by your own research or using a professional service to undertake this audit. Your individual needs, budget and future commitments will be assessed and then a simple plan of action can be drawn up. Knowledge is power and you will be amazed at how savings can be achieved by either behavioural or technical changes.

With regards to initial monetary outlay, many items can be done at no cost, where the sky is the limit if you want to go off grid. Remember also the return on investments is getting shorter and shorter as more products become mainstream…. and let’s not forget Eskom’s tariff increases. Installing solar water heating used to mean a 7-10 year return on investment 5 years ago.  At today’s tariff, this return is now less than 3 years, reducing further as the tariff continues to increase.

Once the investment (if any) is paid off, all ongoing savings are money in your pocket.  The sooner you make the initial investment, the sooner you can be saving energy costs and saving the environment at the same time. A colleague takes the money saved by being more efficient and sticks it in his bond. Effectively, he is cutting years off his repayments and creating a nest egg for his children’s education, whilst reducing greenhouse gases. Sounds like win – win all round and not sure if it is coincidence, but he told me he is sleeping much better now as well.

by Mathew Streatfield



Welcome, I am Mathew, a civil engineer with 20 years experience in construction. I now advise on energy efficiency in residential and light commercial buildings, and I would love to help you.

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