Let's work together to save energy

22 May 2013

Phumla WilliamsAs the temperature drops, the electric blanket and heaters get switched on. In homes across South Africa the smell of soup and hot meals fill the air. As winter approaches we inevitably spend more hours indoors resulting in rising electrical consumption.  

As the temperature drops, it is all too tempting to switch on the under floor heating many heaters in the house. Pause just a bit and consider what this does to our national effort to save energy.  

One important reason to save energy is to be kinder to the environment. In South Africa electricity is produced mainly by burning coal. This releases harmful carbon fumes – known as greenhouse gases – into the atmosphere, which is severely damaging to our health and the future sustainability of our planet. The more energy we save, by switching off lights and electric appliances, the less coal our country needs to burn in order to produce electricity.

South Africa sits with a unique situation, where our own electricity supply network has been put under severe pressure because of the significant economic growth we experienced in the last 15 years. In simple terms, we, as consumers, used more energy than the country was able to produce. Also, the democratic dispensation in 1994, government has rolled out the electrification programme to the previously excluded communities.

Eskom has said that its generation capacity is tight and that the peak hours in the early evenings between 5pm and 9pm, which experiences a significant spike in demand is of concern.

Government's '49m campaign'  calls for the following lifestyle changes: to switch off all geysers and pool pumps during peak hours; to switch off all non-essential lighting; to find alternatives to electrical heaters, such as dressing warmly or using gas heaters; and to respond to alert messages by switching off all appliances not in use.

Eskom is also collaborating with the SABC to use all three of their television channels and 18 radio stations to flight a power bulletin at various times during peak hours, urging households to reduce the electricity demand.

So far South Africans have responded well to the 49m campaign, which had seen the country save 3 586MW of energy since 2005. 

Although our energy saving campaigns are bearing fruit it is important that we plan for our future energy needs if we are to  meet the needs of our growing economy, as well as connecting new households to the grid.

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is our blueprint to meet South Africa’s medium- to long-term energy needs over a 20 year period. It aims also to achieve a balance between affordable electricity and cleaner energy.

IRP predicts that electricity consumption will increase from 260 Terawatt hours (TWh) in  2010 to 454 TWh in 2030, and that the peak demand for electricity will increase from 39 Gigawatt (GW) in 2010 to 68 GW in 2030. Therefore the IRP envisages a new generation capacity of 52 248MW over the next 20 years, which will take the country’s total energy generating capacity to 85 241MW in 2030.

As part of reaching our 2030 IRP vision, we have an energy build programme in place which is addressed under Strategic Infrastructure Project (SIP) 8. This SIP is advancing at a rapid pace with the Medupi Power Station expected to start generating its first power from December 2013. The Kusile Power Station is anticipated to be completed in 2016/17. Additionally, the Ingula pumped storage scheme will come on line in phased intervals from 2014, adding 1 332 MW of hydro power to South Africa's electricity grid.

President Jacob Zuma reassured South Africans that “through these electricity build projects, we will be able to provide the electricity capacity needed to grow the economy, attract investment and create jobs.” The President added: “Medupi, Kusile and Ingula are expected to create approximately 40 000 job opportunities, which translate into 35 500 direct jobs during construction and operation and about 4 500 indirect jobs supporting the programme.”

However, South Africa is also committed to increase its renewable energy capacity.  Last week during the Department of Energy’s Budget Vote Minister Dipuo Peters emphasised this when she stated: “In line with the commitments made by President Zuma at COP15, our focus for last year has been on taking forward the clean energy initiatives. The positive outcome of our efforts in this area has been witnessed by more than R70 billion investments in new generation capacity, with a total of 2 450 MW of renewable energy capacity to come on stream from 2014.”

The Department of Energy has set a target of 1 million installations of solar water heater (SWH) geysers by end 2014, with 335 000 already installed. Additionally, Government has ensured that the SWH programme strictly enforces the inclusion of a minimum of 70 per cent local content threshold, in an effort to optimise the benefits of localisation and create much needed jobs.

During her Budget Vote Minister Peters also mentioned that the Independent Systems and Market Operator Bill will soon be debated in the National Assembly. “This will create the framework for the restructuring of the electricity supply industry and create the necessary space for the participation of the private sector power generation,” she said.

Since democracy we have made significant inroads in providing electricity to all South Africans.  In the last 19 years we have made over 5,6 million new electricity connections.  According to Census 2011 the number of households with access to electricity is now at 12,1 million, which translates to 85 per cent.

Government is committed to meeting the country’s energy needs. However, we need South Africans to be responsible citizens and to conserve as much energy as possible. By doing so Eskom will be able to meet energy demands this winter so that we all can stay warm.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)