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Prepare for next wave of rolling blackouts

With the threat of rolling black outs looming once again, energy services company MaNoa gives some advice on how to plan your energy supply to ensure future company growth.

South Africa could be dumped back into the dark ages again as rolling blackouts could to hit the country as early as next year, according to energy services company MaNoa.

‚Few people realise that the slowdown in the economy has temporarily saved South Africa from blackouts even worse than the ones experienced in January 2008,‚ says MaNoa director Esm√© Bluff. ‚But as the wheels of industry start turning again: somewhat ironically, they’re moving us ever closer to critical power shortages that threaten to reverse any growth experienced.‚

Medupi, the first power station to be built as part of Eskom’s new build program, is a ‚six-pack’ (6 X 800MW units), coal-fired station.

South Africa’s power supply shortage is aggravated by further delays announced on the construction of Eskom’s second large power station, Kusile near Emalahleni in Mpumalanga ‚ another ‚six-pack’, coal-fired station ‚ that was due to plug into the grid in 2013 and be fully operational by 2016. ‚Even this is been a temporary measure as demand would still exceed supply, especially as existing power stations start reaching the end of their useful lives within the next fifteen years,‚ she says.

‚The only solution is for every single electricity user to reduce demand as a matter of urgency: else we’ll all be experiencing power cuts together.‚

Eskom’s 15% largest customers use around 80% of the electricity it generates. ‚As big industrial users, many of these companies are already doing a lot to become more efficient users,‚ says Bluff. ‚But it’s the large users just under this top bracket, like mines, industries and municipalities that need to do more to free up capacity. Meanwhile, smaller users should also do their bit to save.‚

According to MaNoa, in the face of this risk, the smartest thing every company can do right now to ensure its future sustainability is to devise an energy policy based on existing usage. ‚An audit needs to be done on where exactly your electricity is being used. Based on this, energy services experts will be able to advise on how usage may be reduced, recommend alternative sources to reduce dependency on the power grid and help devise a back-up plan in the face of power cuts.‚

Bluff says the potential for savings is enormous: from 5% where companies have already done much in terms of energy efficiency, to as much as 45% particularly for industrial firms.

‚This policy needs to be taken as seriously as any other that determines a company’s success,‚ says Bluff, ‚And perhaps even more so as without electricity, most would cease to function.‚

Energy saving

‚Many people think that if they’ve changed their old incandescent light bulbs to modern CFLs or improving existing fluorescents they’ve done enough ‚ but this is just scratching the tip of the iceberg,‚ she says.

By redesigning office layouts, lighting, air-conditioning, as well as scrutinising the manufacturing process, for example, businesses can reduce their electricity usage significantly. ‚The changes made quickly pay for themselves as businesses reduce their utility bills and receive tax breaks from government, which recently introduced attractive tax incentives for energy efficient users.‚

Individual users also need to be made aware of small things they can do that add up to big electricity savings and a reduced demand on the power grid. ‚These include switching off all unnecessary lights, air conditioning systems, appliances like computers, photocopiers, geysers and more.‚

Getting off the grid

Although it’s not feasible for everyone, first prize is to get off the grid as much as possible ‚ which is not as expensive or tricky as it may sound. ‚When the power cuts started in 2008, loads of businesses opted for diesel-powered generators,‚ says Bluff. ‚But this isn’t sustainable as it costs a lot and there simply isn’t enough diesel for large numbers of companies to go this route.‚

Depending on their size, companies should consider using solar-powered batteries, or even gas, or biofuel-powered generators. ‚The capital costs may be more but it’s cheaper than relying on diesel in the long run, especially if there isn’t going to be enough diesel for everyone.‚

‚Innovative solutions also need to become the order of the day, for example, shopping centre or office tenants pooling their money to ensure back-up systems that enable uninterrupted trade.‚

According to MaNoa, calling in experts for advice on developing a workable policy, implementing solutions and ensuring maximum energy efficiency is maintained is a key consideration.

‚Medium-sized businesses, in particular, are better off focusing on their core business while energy services experts take care of energy efficiency matters,‚ Bluff concludes. ‚The bottom-line is: if it doesn’t receive the attention it deserves it won’t get done properly ‚ something companies should not wait to realise until the lights are out and doors have to start closing due to lost business.‚

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