Plug in: How to survive SA's energy crisis

12 June 2015

By Joanne Yawitch, Chief Executive of the NBI

With South Africa facing a long-term energy supply shortage, the price of electricity is set to continue its upward curve into the foreseeable future. Access to alternative sources of energy is an option, but the cost implications are a barrier for many businesses. Furthermore, issues of technology, time and the regulatory framework aggravate the situation.

Although using less electricity is the easiest way to improve the situation with immediate effect, lower electricity usage is often equated with lower production levels and profits for businesses, and the resultant negative impact on the economy.

However, by bringing energy efficiency into the equation, the outcome is quite the opposite: energy efficiency measures = lower electricity usage = lower electricity bills + level/ improved production levels + increased profits. Put differently: through the implementation of energy efficiency measures tailored to the needs of a particular business or industry, electricity usage can be lowered without negatively impacting production levels while saving money and potentially boosting profits.

Making energy efficiency work for you

Energy efficiency measures can take many forms – from simply switching off office lights and machines when not in use to the integration of alternative forms of energy into a workshop, factory or farm. The starting point is to know how much electricity your business consumes every month. From there you can start exploring options for reducing your power usage and integrating sustainable forms of alternative energy for specific applications. Companies that have not yet conducted an energy survey, should make it their first priority.

I would like to urge you to contact the Private Sector Energy Efficiency (PSEE) programme to assist you in your energy journey whether you are just starting out, preparing for the possible introduction of a carbon tax in 2016, or looking for independent expert advice on identifying and addressing any gaps in your energy management strategy. The PSEE offers free advice and fully-funded surveys to small and medium businesses respectively, as well as subsidised interventions for large businesses. For more information simply visit or call 080 111 3943.

You could also consider running education and awareness creation programmes for your staff and equip them to become more energy efficient at home in addition to actions taken at the office. A publication on Creating an Awareness Campaign can be downloaded from the PSEE website to assist you in this, while some useful hints and tips for consideration at the office and at home are also available on the site.

To reduce the costs associated with load shedding, businesses can come up with creative ways in which to address this challenge, for example allowing employees to work flexitime in order to maximise production when the power is on. Businesses can also look at the viability of solar- and gas-generated energy, especially as back-ups when the lights are out.

Let your voice be heard

Apart from the implementation of energy efficiency measures, it is essential that companies engage with their industry and business associations to channel their views on load shedding to municipalities and/or Eskom. This could, as has already happened in certain areas, result in a rescheduling of the load shedding timetable to minimise its impact on production levels.

You could also negotiate a special arrangement with your power supplier like a group of small companies in the Western Cape did. As this group of plastic producers run 24-hour operations, they agreed to reduce their usage by a certain percentage in return for the relevant substation not being affected by load shedding.

Interaction opportunities with industry/business associations should also be seen as a platform for sharing best practices in terms of the efficient use of energy.


To find a permanent solution for this challenge, South Africa needs a much more diverse energy economy and energy mix, opened up to a broader mix of suppliers. We would like to congratulate Government on the introduction of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer (IPP) Procurement Programme as an important mechanism to stimulate the renewable energy industry in South Africa. The programme has been designed to contribute towards the target of 3 725 MW as well as socio-economic and environmentally sustainable growth. We would like to see companies with cogeneration capabilities exploit this opportunity to the full.

However, according to recent announcements load shedding could be with us for another two to five years. We therefore need to recognise that this is not a short-term crisis but a long-term challenge for the country – it will take years to get to the point where supply will be able to comfortably meet demand. Companies cannot afford to delay a move to energy efficiency. With the price of electricity set to rise further still as indicated by Eskom’s current request for an additional increase, businesses must view electricity as a scarce resource that should be efficiently used and substituted by alternative energy sources where viable.

It is in the interest of every business to investigate and implement the most efficient ways of lowering their demand on the national power grid. Not only is energy efficiency crucial to keeping the proverbial lights on, but it’s also a vital exercise to maximise productivity, save on energy costs and enhance business profits.