Government declares war on power wastage

By Louise Flanagan

Throw away your old high-energy light bulbs, get solar water heating and prepare for the municipality to cut off your geyser and washing machine in peak hours - the government has declared war on power wastage.

And it has a plan.

The government is rushing through new regulations so that emergency power rationing - a key part of its plan - can start within months.

Two weeks after widespread load shedding and a day after the national power grid hit critical strain and had to shed 4 000 megawatt (MW) in a hurry, ministers Alec Erwin and Buyelwa Sonjica announced a power conservation programme that includes voluntary and mandatory power savings.

"The unprecedented, unplanned power outages is a national electricity emergency that must be addressed with the urgent, vigorous and co-ordinated actions commensurate with such a situation," said Erwin.

The new incentives and penalties will be part of the Electricity Regulation Act.

"These regulations will be ready for public comments by Wednesday," said the ministers in a 20-page document outlining their crisis-management plan.

Quotas are being drafted to save total electricity demand by 10 percent.

To reach this, industry must cut use by 10 percent; residential users by 10 percent; agriculture by 5 percent; commercial business, large office buildings, government, municipal and electricity offices by 15 percent; and hotels, resorts, shopping malls and conference centres by 20 percent.

Hospitals, security installations, essential services and other "special cases" will be exempt.

Possible penalties for going over quotas include punitive tariffs and cut-offs for repeat offenders. Those who save will get incentives and large consumers can trade in their unused quotas.

Incandescent lights will be replaced by more efficient compact fluorescent lights. The government wants to get a million solar water heaters into homes, institutions and businesses, with subsidies of 20 percent to 30 percent depending on the cost of the units, which can be R7 000 to R20 000.

Housing laws will change so all new houses must have solar water heating with electric geysers as a back-up, and switches to stop geysers and stoves being on at the same time. Insulation for ceilings, geysers and windows will be required.

Smart meters will eventually be rolled out, allowing Eskom and municipalities to switch off remotely all geysers, laundry appliances, pool pumps and other appliances during peak demand. Government concessions will be issued to businesses to promote the sale and use of gas, mainly to domestic users for cooking.

The lights are expected to save 800MW, the solar water heating 650MW, the smart meters 3 265MW and the move to gas 500MW.

The government will also spend R400-million to convert all traffic lights and public lights to solar power with battery back up.

Motorway lights will be shut down. Small airports will be turned off at night. The entire hospitality industry will have to change water heating to solar power, with electric back-up.

The government intends carrying out energy audits of its buildings and shutting down what's not needed after hours.

The old diesel locomotive fleet is being hauled out of mothballs and rehabilitated, to reduce the railways' dependence on electricity.

The cuts are intended to reduce power use while Eskom builds power stations. By 2015, another 17 643MW in generating power is due to be added to the grid.

The plan includes 3 500MW expected to be added through co-generation by industry other than Eskom.

There's also a wind farm pilot project, to produce 100MW.

A "comprehensive" plan on renewable energy - which includes wind - is due to be handed to the cabinet within the next five months.

See Page 8

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