It's time for an energy efficiency strategy

29 April 2015

Apart from the other challenges that South Africa’s retail sector is currently facing, energy constraints and the rising the cost of electricity are cutting into already tight margins.

NERSA-approved hikes in energy costs between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2018 represent an increase of at least 47% in electricity costs for businesses over the five year period.

So how can businesses cope during these volatile times? Measurement, monitoring and management of energy are crucial in laying the foundation for energy efficient behaviour that has multiple benefits, including cutting down on electricity costs and contributing to operational efficiency and business sustainability. It helps you decide which alternative energy sources and technologies to use without spending more money than you have to or being stuck with a white elephant later on. This way, retailers can also increase profit margins while at the same time contributing to easing the demand on South Africa’s grid and contributing to the country’s energy stabilisation plan.

The Private Sector Energy Efficiency (PSEE) programme of the National Business Initiative (NBI) offers free and subsidised services to enterprises of all sizes – small, medium and large – designed to improve energy efficiency, increase competitiveness and lessen the dependency on electricity as the key method of ‘keeping the lights on’. These services are provided by experienced third-party consultancies with competencies in energy strategy, green buildings, HVAC, pumps, motors, lighting, compressed air and industrial processes, amongst others. They are contracted by the NBI and are overseen by a team of professional programme managers and account managers.

The PSEE has compiled some critical points of advice that will not only save energy but will also reduce electricity costs by at least 20%. These include:

Label light switches – Light switches should be clearly labelled to help employees to select only those lights they need for the work being carried out. Lights in unoccupied areas should be switched off, particularly in corridors and staircases, while taking care to adhere to health and safety regulations. Installing occupancy and daylight sensors can achieve savings of up to 50% on lighting costs in some operations.

Introduce a policy of ‘switching off’, involve staff and increase awareness – Staff at all levels should be involved in saving energy. This can be achieved by conducting regular meetings, placing stickers above light switches and displaying posters around in-store service areas. Failing lamps or equipment should be reported by staff and replaced or repaired. This will help maintain optimum equipment efficiency and provide a safer working environment.

Maintenance – Keep windows, light fittings and skylights clean, replace old, dim lamps with new low-energy LED technology, keep controls and timers in good working order, and repair faults immediately. Energy efficient equipment does not save energy if it is not used or maintained properly. A regular, documented cleaning and maintenance schedule will keep your equipment running longer and more efficiently, as opposed to only fixing things when they go wrong. For example, light levels can fall by at least 30% in 2-3 years without regular maintenance, and a fridge compressor that never stops running due to a faulty thermostat uses huge amounts of electricity – all unnecessary and avoidable costs.

Heating and cooling – although heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) can all be separate systems, it is worth considering them together because they interact with each other when providing a conditioned environment for a building. By looking at how each element of an HVAC system complements the others, the system could be fine-tuned to save energy and money.

Despite the fact that Woolworths has been actively saving energy and reducing carbon emissions for quite some time, they decided to make use of the PSEE’s subsidised service for large companies to have energy audits conducted at three of their distribution facilities. It turned out to be well worth the effort: for just one of their new projects the survey revealed that an initial investment of R556 000 would translate into a massive R14-million saving over the next 10 years.

This means that the investment would be recouped within the first year, freeing up well over R13-million to plough back into the business. Not surprisingly, Woolworths’s progress to date has established them as one of the leading South African companies in this initiative.

The PSEE is also engaging with 16 branches of another franchise retail group. To date surveys have been completed on nine of these with a combined total annual energy spend of R16 million. Potential savings of R2.4 million (or 17%) per annum have been identified, with an average payback period ranging from 0 – 4 years.

“Creating a culture of energy efficiency in the private sector is crucial to reducing energy consumption for businesses and the country as a whole,” says Val Geen, Head of the NBI Energy Programme. “The PSEE offers companies the opportunity to assist in freeing up much needed energy in our country while contributing to the sustainability of their businesses and reducing the need for load-shedding.”

Acknowledgement: Petro de Wet
Private Sector Energy Efficiency Programme