Eskom's decline highlights need for alternatives

Manie de Waal, Head of Sales at Energy Partners

Eskom’s recent request for its customers to reduce energy consumption, even if it means reducing production, together with ordered blackouts, poses a real threat to the growth of corporate South Africa.

This is according to Manie de Waal, Head of Sales at Energy Partners, a leading energy solutions provider in South Africa, who says that together with affecting national development, Eskom’s current inability to deliver uninterrupted electricity has a massive impact on companies’ annual earnings. “The full financial effect of load shedding is often hidden as it is ‘revenue not earned’ as opposed to actual financial losses. In 2008 the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) reported that it had cost SA’s economy a staggering R15bn.”

De Waal says that there is a direct link between economic growth and an adequate energy supply which means that corporate South Africa must move collectively towards implementing feasible solutions to ensure continued foreign investment and national growth. “There is already considerable interest and foreign investment into South Africa’s energy efficiency, as proved by the Private Sector Energy Efficiency programme (PSEE) which falls under the National Business Initiative (NBI) umbrella that has R150m worth of foreign funding available for development of energy efficiency awareness and projects.”

Alternative energy sources must be utilised strategically to minimise cost during a blackout, says de Waal. “Renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind, can facilitate processes in the event of a blackout.”

However, he says, the nature of renewable energy is irregular as it depends heavily on external sources and storage technology is still very expensive in SA. “Typically renewable sources do not form the base-load, but are specified according to the site, which means it hardly ever supplies 100% of power on site. This means that even in energy efficient buildings, a portion of the energy will come from Eskom, which leaves the site exposed in the event of a blackout. It is thus imperative to work with an energy partner that can customise your solution to meet specific needs at the most affordable cost.”

He says another popular solution in the event of a blackout is generators, but these are a costly energy source at approximately R5 per kWh in comparison to R1.10 per kWh from Eskom. “When selecting a generator it is important to use a reputable supplier who will take responsibility for the maintenance of the generator and ensure that the maximum demand for the site will be sufficiently serviced.

Often, the most efficient solution will combine renewable and backup (generator) energy solutions and incorporate these into a business’s existing infrastructure, says de Waal. This methodology minimises the risk of business interruption at the most affordable cost.

“In order to reduce reliance on Eskom for energy requirements, business owners should ask a reliable energy efficiency partner to conduct an energy audit to ensure that energy processes and solutions can be implemented for optimal efficiency. This is particularly important for businesses that rely heavily on electricity for key processes such as manufacture, agriculture and mining,” concludes de Waal.

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