Energy Efficiency needs to be promoted for a Sustainable Future

14 March 2008

Gareth Morgan MPThe efficient use of energy needs to become a permanent phenomenon by both business and individual consumers. Cheap electricity generated by burning our abundant dirty coal resources has resulted in South Africans becoming exceptionally wasteful.

Up until now there have been few incentives or penalties created in order to alter the way we consume electricity. Meanwhile, the true cost of generation has been passed on to the communities that reside in the vicinity of power stations – in the form of health ailments – or to the environment in general, in the form of human-induced climate change.

Government has responded to the current electricity crisis by threatening action against consumers that do not cut back their consumption in the near future. While demand-side interventions, including energy efficiency and conservation, are among the obvious requirements needed to alleviate the current state of affairs, it should not have taken a crisis situation to induce government into action. The problem with forcing energy efficiency on consumers under such conditions is that it creates resentment. Many South Africans may understandably be wondering why they have to take the hit when it was government that created this mess in the first place.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons why a culture of energy efficiency needs to be cultivated in South Africa, and the government would do well to link the need for it to the constitutional right of every South African to a clean and healthy environment.

The mitigation of greenhouse gases, created by among other sources, our coal power stations, is not yet a requirement for South Africa under the Kyoto Protocol, but it may be under a future climate change agreement. Improving energy efficiency is arguably the quickest and cheapest means to reduce greenhouse gases and develop a climate-safe energy system.

The EU wastes approximately 20% of its energy, which translates into an economic cost of €100 billion each year. Thus it is evident that energy efficiency initiatives could have the added benefit of improving competitiveness.

South Africa needs to develop a wide range of energy efficiency initiatives that go further than tariff manipulations or the mere setting of targets with the associated penalties for consumers that transgress. A national energy efficiency plan that induces sustainable change across all the various sectors of our economy, using a variety of instruments, some voluntary and some mandatory, needs to be developed.

South Africa should follow the example of Japan’s “Top Runner” programme which uses performance standards based on the best standard value for each type of appliance currently available in the market. These standards should be reviewed every few years and made progressively stricter, giving manufacturers clear and predictable guidance for their design cycles. A labelling system showing detailed energy efficiency performance for each product should be used to improve consumer choice.

The South African government itself could demonstrate its commitment to energy efficiency by developing energy efficiency procurement guidelines as part of its own procurement strategy. Government is a big enough buyer of appliances and equipment to send signals to the market that energy efficiency needs to be a critical component of design specifications. An example of this practice is used by the US Federal Government which, wherever possible, only purchases appliances that have a standby time of 1 Watt or less. Reducing standby time on appliances is not an insignificant intervention. A recent OECD study found that 5% of electricity in developed countries is wasted by appliances in standby mode.

Another useful intervention would be the design and implementation of minimum performance requirements for new buildings and for renovations of existing stock, measured in, for example, kWh/m2. The creation of zero-carbon homes is going to be a necessity in the future, so we may as well start planning to achieve this now.

Raising awareness of the need for energy efficiency in order to protect our environment is a good motivation for a national plan. Linking energy efficiency positively to a sustainable future that will be in our collective interest rather than negatively to the short-term energy crisis in which we find ourselves will create less resentment on the part of consumers.

By Gareth Morgan MP
DA Spokesperson on Environmental Affairs & Member of the G8+5 Climate Dialogue



  1. For 48 yrs we have been involved with Eskom and today we are apalled by the lack of maintenance and understanding of power as it was “in the old days” – we need to have more “in-put” to the Powers that be. They have absolutely no idea . . . .

  2. Solving our immediate energy problem is as simple as spelling the word TIMER!

    Domestic Consumers:

    Consider that a typical HWC “hot water cylinder” when operating consumes 3KW per installation ˜ 3MW / 1000 consumers.

    Solution: one simple timer per HWC, installed in the consumer’s distribution board “±R250 Retail Price” available for purchase from local electrical hardware outlets;

    Timer programming-schedule can be communicated through to the public via the media, and consumers manually program their HWC-timer in accordance with the calculated times for their residential area, ensuring optimum synchronisation with national / regional peak demands.

    This programme does not require; R&D, cellular communication, extended manufacturing lead-times, development of automated HWC controllers, solar HWC installations, certified installer training etc…

    It involves us the people of South Africa and can be implemented before June 2008!

    Electrical contractors can be given incentives on the total number installations completed / week and consumers can be audited on adherence to published schedules with incentives or noncompliance penalties etc.


    500 electrical contractors installing 30 timers / week = 45MW / week or ˜ 945MW / month ˜ 1 Koeberg Reactor / Month

    National objective 3000MW = 1 Million installed timers or ˜ 2% of the population ˜ 3 Koeberg Reactors

    Installation time = ½ hr, simple installation procedure where the timer is wired in series with the circuit breaker supplying the HWC.

    This measure alone would eliminate load-shedding by changing the load pattern at point of use.

    Eskom will be in control of MW of consumer load and can assign consumer load to predictable times where demand is available.

  3. An incredible idea. Certainly better than building a new coal power station or peaking plant.

    I think Hendrik Schmidt MP should present this idea in the Minerals and Energy Budget Vote, with acknowledgement to SBW of course.

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