Blow to the budget may be good for the planet

Eskom’s 31.3% tariff hike has infuriated anyone with a lightbulb or laptop. But there could be a silver lining to this cloud.

“Where electricity is highly subsidised by the government, there’s no incentive to save electricity,” said Dr Alfred Ofosu-Ahenkorah, deputy chair of the governing board of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership. He was speaking at climate change talks held in Bonn in June under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

With climate change accelerating, there’s a greater need to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions; the obvious solution for the planet and for our pockets, according to Ofosu-Ahenkorah, is to aim for greater efficiency.

Ofosu-Ahenkorah pointed to Ghana as an example of how energy can be saved through good state planning. After distributing six million energy-efficient lamps to the public, 496000kW of energy was saved daily. This is the equivalent to taking one diesel turbine off line and translates into a saving of $38.5-million and 1.2-million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

In many developed countries energy consumption is declining because of a greater focus on energy efficiency. Much of this, according to Ofosu-Ahenkorah, is because of the improved market penetration of energy-efficient appliances.

In many developed countries appliances are rated for efficiency and labelled accordingly. More efficient appliances mean lower electricity bills and a smaller carbon footprint.

Ofosu-Ahenkorah said this kind of initiative, which is driven by policy change at government level, is required in the developing world. For it to work, the initiative must be based on local needs and resources. “There is no single solution that is good for everybody. The solution has to be achieved internally and from the bottom up,” he said.

Appliance labelling is voluntary in South Africa and only available for refrigerators. Barry Bredenkamp, operations manager at the National Energy Efficiency Agency, said we can expect this to expand to other appliances in the future.

But appliance labelling needs to be standardised, he said, and that the framework to do this is not yet in place.

South Africa’s energy efficiency can also be greatly improved through building regulations. But because building efficiency regulations are voluntary, many developers do not offer their customers green alternatives, said Bredenkamp. “There is a need for more publicity.”

In government housing schemes efficiency loses out to budget constraints—many government-subsidised homes do not have ceilings, much less ceiling insulation. This is an area where the government’s Working for Energy programme could help not only to improve energy efficiency but also to build skills and create green jobs, said Bredenkamp.

The electricity tariff hike will allow Energy Minister Dipuo Peters to enact more stringent efficiency regulations, he said.

“The net benefit is not just for government regarding energy security, but also includes a cash saving for the consumer.”

Ofosu-Ahenkorah told the Bonn conference that more than $40-trillion in investment is needed globally to meet the world’s future energy demands. He said this money should be invested in efficient, sustainable technology or “cleantech”. But cleantech doesn’t come cheap.

“Naturally, people will tend to go for the least-cost options,” he said. And with the global economic slowdown, there are fears that many companies will delay making this investment.

“We believe it’s a huge risk to business. They [companies] don’t understand the implications,” said Loshni Naidoo, manager of climate change and sustainability services at Ernst & Young.

“The only way you can turn the economy is by spending. And the big companies have to start first.

“Unless you have some kind of driver, they [companies] are not going to become more efficient,” she said.

Perhaps Eskom’s tariff hike could be the driver we’re looking for.

Developing clean energy solutions
Energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy will feature prominently at the ABB Group’s global customer event—ABB Automation and Power World 2009—which will be held for the first time in South Africa in November.

The event will be held at ABB South Africa’s head office, manufacturing and logistics centre in Longmeadow, Johannesburg.

Customers and other invited guests will be able to visit the state-of-the-art green building between November 10 and 12.

ABB Automation and Power World is the ABB Group’s largest customer event worldwide.

The event has run in the United States for the past five years. This year it will run in China and the Middle East Africa region, with South Africa as the host country.

Increasing energy efficiency and the latest renewable energy technologies will be among the key themes at the two-day event, reflecting a serious commitment to climate change mitigation.

The company is a pioneer and leader in developing solutions for the renewable energy sector.

ABB has delivered extensive power and automation solutions to solar power plants worldwide.

The company recently developed a turnkey concept for modular photovoltaic power plants enabling solar energy operators to get new plants into production in record time and obtain what is thought to be the highest plant performance ratio.

The turnkey concept was developed by ABB for the global photovoltaic market and draws on ABB’s long-established position as a market leader and technology pioneer in solar energy conversion. The concept includes standard containerised 1MW modules that are pre-assembled and factory-tested for rapid delivery.

One of the first companies to benefit from the concept is Global Capital Finance, which selected the ABB solution for a 1MW photovoltaic power plant at Totana in the Murcia province of Spain.

The installation immediately demonstrated some remarkable results. Totana produces 2.2 gigawatt-hours of grid-quality electricity and is able to displace about 1350 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

ABB is the world’s largest supplier of electrical products and services to wind turbine manufacturers, with a portfolio ranging from generators to compact substations and grid connections.

For instance, the company provides the technology that will enable a unit of E.ON, Germany’s biggest utility, to link the world’s largest offshore wind farm to the German power grid with minimal impact to the environment.

The 400MW wind farm, 130km from the coast in the North Sea, is expected to save carbon dioxide emissions of 1.5-million tons per year by avoiding the need for additional fossil-fuel power generation.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker

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