Demand side management has a critical role to play in easing electricity crisis

In the aftermath of another wave of load-shedding, constant reports about Eskom’s state of affairs and the significant increases in the costs of electricity over the past few years, there’s certainly a lot being said about electricity.

Everyone seems to be blaming everyone else – Eskom, the government, previous governments, suppliers, contractors and so on. The constant in the blame-game is the ‘supply side’ of the electricity crisis – power stations being late, coal silos, maintenance, diesel outages, and so forth – leaving us all powerless.

The Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) believes a big part of the answer to SA’s electricity crises is to also place far more emphasis on the demand side component of power.

GBCSA chief executive, Brian Wilkinson, says: “We can achieve huge reductions in electricity use through demand side management interventions. The really cool thing about this is we can achieve results in the short term and in a manner that has an excellent business case. Most importantly it’s something we can all do something about.”

The GBCSA wants to inspire property owners to design, build and operate better, greener, buildings – this is a response to the significant role the built environment plays in damaging our already fragile environment – 40 percent of end-use energy consumption is from the built environment. Also, 12 percent of water consumption and 40 percent of the waste that goes to landfill are from the built environment.

“By transforming the way we design, build and operate buildings we can mitigate against climate change in a very effective way,” says Wilkinson.

“One of the wonderful outcomes is that green buildings are remarkably energy efficient. An analysis of South African Green Star certified commercial buildings earlier this year showed that, on average, these green buildings use 34 percent less electricity than standard buildings.

“The experience will be the same for residential buildings. We’ve just completed a My Green Home project as a demonstration of what can be achieved at the residential level,” says Wilkinson. “Simple behaviour change resulted in a 30 percent saving in electricity, and the family has, with some retrofitting of energy efficient fittings, achieved a saving of over 50 percent.

“When we ratchet up the findings of these two analyses, we get some really meaningful “mega” benefits. Consider that Eskom currently has 42 Gigawatts of generation capacity. It is generally accepted that the built environment accounts for about 40 percent of total energy consumption, which is about 17 GW. If the entire built environment saved 34 percent that would reduce consumption by about 6 GW, which is more than Medupi will generate – and it won’t take 12 years to happen.

“But realistically, let’s assume that we can only do this for half the buildings out there – that’s still a massive 3 GW – or nearly one-and-a-half Koebergs,” says Wilkinson.

“Many commercial property owners and homeowners began implementing ways of making their buildings more energy efficient, to various extents, after South Africa was first exposed to load-shedding in 2008. Seeing the benefits of energy savings and attractive green assets, many have continued their green building journey, and we commend them for this. But there’s much more that can be done, and more of us that could be doing it.

“We certainly need an effective solution for South Africa’s electricity crisis, but meanwhile let’s get far more conversation and emphasis on demand side initiatives, and how we can “power up” these projects and help take better care of our fragile planet,” Wilkinson says.

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