Over the past decade, South Africa has experienced significant growth across the spectrum. While positive in many respects, growth comes at a price. In South Africa’s case, energy has proven the dearest commodity in respect of this growth ‘barter’.
In the past, electricity was cheap and plentiful. This bred complacency with regards to energy usage, which, when coupled with the country’s swift expansion, placed strain on its energy resources. This energy shortfall became manifest in 2006 and continued through to 2008 when rolling blackouts became the norm.
Fortunately, the energy crisis has since stabilised somewhat and steps have been taken to avoid a reoccurrence of the past blackouts. For instance, construction of the coal-fired power stations ‘Medupi’ and ‘Kusile’ are well under way. However, South Africa still has a long way to go before it can feel truly comfortable about its energy situation.
Setting an example for the nation, Eskom has initiated extensive internal energy reduction programmes. With a nationwide focus on improving and optimising energy consumption driven by the need to be more responsible with a limited resource, Eskom has applied many of its own recommendations to reduce electricity usage. These endeavours have been applied with great success at Eskom’s Megawatt Park headquarters in Johannesburg. Energy consumption and costs have been significantly reduced at this facility thus delivering a potent message to the general public.
Eskom says substantial and on-going reductions in energy use have been achieved at Megawatt Park through the introduction of a strategy for electricity management underpinned by several tactical measures. These range from quick and obvious interventions such as replacing inefficient electrical products and modifying human behaviour to engaging specialist consultants to assist with a detailed study of the building.
Under the banner of inefficient technology replacement, Eskom has replaced lighting ballasts, installed variable speed drives in air-conditioning units and replaced incandescent light bulbs, amongst other initiatives.
In terms of modifying behaviour, Eskom applied a few simple solutions. For instance, all building lighting is turned off between 19h00 and 05h00; cleaning activities now occur during the day as opposed to night to make use of natural daylight; lighting in the basement has been halved, through the removal of approximately 400 fluorescent tubes; all escalators have also been turned off, encouraging employees to use the stairs.
During the summer months, Megawatt Park’s extraction fans are turned on at around 4am to draw cold outside air through the building to cool down the structure. This enables the air conditioning chillers to switch on about three hours later in the morning. In winter, retained heat built up during the day is used to keep the structure warm in the morning, minimising the use of boilers.
As a consequence of these exercises, Eskom has demonstrated that it can improve its own efficiency dramatically. As industry and domestic users face the reality of escalating energy costs in response to growing demand, a valuable lesson emerges: don’t ignore the small items. Collectively they can make a difference which can substantially offset the inevitably higher price of future power.
Happily, in response to Eskom’s call for energy reduction, a number of major enterprising South African companies such as Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths have already stepped up to the plate in an effort to become more energy efficient. Collectively, these entities have already made significant in-roads towards decreasing their energy usage through initiating changes ranging from behavioral modification to overhauling lighting systems.
In the relatively short amount of time that energy efficiency has become an issue, these companies have proven that they aren’t averse to tackling challenges and have responded pro-actively. Not only are their initiatives alleviating strain on the national grid but these companies are contributing towards a reduced carbon footprint overall.