Load capacity is not our only energy problem


South African citizens are so plagued by load-shedding interruptions that few retain perspective on why energy conservation is so important. Targeted efforts to reduce electricity consumption have the result that your power bill is smaller and that Eskom or municipalities have to produce less electricity.

The overarching reason why energy curtailment is essential is the conservation of our planet’s resources. Researchers estimate that the current level of consumption and pollution is so high that three Earths will be needed by 2050 to meet the needs of the growing population.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, one of the leading advocates for accelerated international cooperation to limit climate change, said on occasion in a speech before the American Congress: “There is no planet B”. What we have as earthlings is what we have. There is no alternative.

South Africa is one of the biggest sinners in the world when it comes to the release of carbon dioxide gas due to its large-scale use of coal for the production of electricity.

Sometimes you feel completely powerless and you ask: The problem is so big, how can I as an individual or a family do anything about it? You can. Even if it’s something small, like turning off the light when you leave a room. As. Dr. Karen Surridge, from the South African National Energy Development Institute, SANEDI. She is project manager of renewable energy and cleaner fossil fuel. For her, it is particularly encouraging that South African citizens and the private sector have not just sat down because of the energy crisis, but have made plans.

More efficient implementation by the state and official enterprises in particular is essential. She points out that savings measures, if applied comprehensively across the spectrum, will require about a third less power generation. Theoretically, this means that such savings will be enough to lift load shedding. It does not require major interventions. Just an adjustment of way of thinking, which leads to an adjustment of customs and habits and then of action. Like that simple action of turning off a light when you no longer need it.

Just as an experiment of my own, the other night, after I got home after dark, I turned off the lights as far as I went. In five rooms there was not a soul, but the lights were burning.

After a visit to SANEDI in Johannesburg, I was encouraged by the fact that such a full-time team is doing comprehensive research on solutions to the country’s serious energy problems. In the past week, Dr. Surridge released an information sheet with an emphasis on electricity saving. According to her, about half of the power used in the average household is used for heating water in the geyser. The best saving is of course to be completely electricity efficient and switch to solar panels. But most households cannot afford it. Then a relatively cheaper alternative is the use of gas – for the geyser, stove, boiler and heating.

Furthermore, electricity can be saved through insolation in the roof space. All bulbs can be replaced with energy efficient Led bulbs. In this way, up to 20% of electricity consumption can be saved. Even turning off “standby lights” from the TV set, computer, mobile phones and other devices can make a difference.

The technology of battery power jammers (inverters) has improved considerably and is available in different sizes. It can be charged with Eskom’s power during the day and provide the household’s basic power in the evening. I have been to the house of an engineer who installed solar panels on the roof of his house. It provides power throughout the day and charges a large battery. In the evening it just switches to the battery for the whole house’s power needs (except the oven). So he uses clean energy instead of the dirty energy of a diesel or petrol generator and the horrible noise of the machine.

Interesting research that SANEDI is currently engaged in is investigating the efficient power use of household appliances. It’s especially older devices that don’t meet today’s savings requirements.

Dr. Surridge is also satisfied with companies’ quick response to generate electricity themselves – especially solar power which can then be sold to others and fed into the country’s power grid. She believes that enough power is already being generated by the private sector that two load-shedding sessions per day can be postponed. But the common citizen still does not get the full benefit of it – mainly because of politicians’ disputes.

The cabinet already decided in 2019 that Eskom should be unbundled into three companies: one for generation, transmission and distribution. The Minister of Energy, Gwede Mantashe, kicks hard against privatization and differs from his colleagues, Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan and the new Minister of Electricity, Dr. Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. The process delays and frustrates the private sector. Mantashe also wants the country to rely longer on coal as a primary source for electricity generation – this despite the government’s undertaking in international treaties that it will reduce its emission of capital from greenhouse gases.

Interestingly, SANEDI is actually doing research on the use of “clean coal”.

A major problem is that the country’s transmission network is unfortunately already old and less efficient in the distribution of power over long distances. Eskom can now lay about 400 km per year of high-voltage transmission lines, while the need is actually 1,500 km per year.

Question is: who is going to pay for it? Eskom’s current debt is R453.5 billion. He can barely pay the interest on debt, what capital is left to undertake projects.

Bright points are the knowledge that SANEDI’s gifted team works full time on solutions and that each of us can make a contribution.