Proactive electricity conservation and efficiency measures will not constrain economic development. Through policy implementation, the government can create an enabling environment to make it easier for the rest of society to do what it needs to, in order to shift to smarter energy use.
These are a few things government could do to create an enabling environment:
- New building regulations require more stringent energy efficiency and conservation measures, building on SANS 10400-XA: Energy Usage in Buildings. In the European Union, the Nearly-Zero-Energy Building Standard by 2020 is mandatory. Policy makers could require the same standards for South Africa.
- Provide incentives for energy improvements to existing buildings, for instance through including solar water heating and/or heat pumps, and insulation.
- Provide the infrastructure to bring natural gas to homes for cooking and heating.
- Cut red-tape and enable citizens, communities and enterprises to become suppliers in the electricity market. This needs proper incentives and policies that pay competitive rates for feeding energy into the grid.
- Set and implement ambitious recycling targets, since this reduces energy consumption significantly in aluminium, steel, glass, plastics and paper production.
The SMART Planning report shows that the mining industry of South Africa could contribute much more to national energy saving efforts than its existing target of 15%. Similarly, heavy industries could definitely achieve their current 15% energy saving target by 2015. Improved energy intensity beyond that to a level of 20% savings is achievable by using best available technologies. To achieve targets up to 40-50% would require higher capital investment in process and system changes, but these options are possible and feasible.
The wasteful electricity supply grid
The current centralised grid system, which ships electricity mostly from large power stations in Mpumalanga and Gauteng, to the rest of the country, is enormously wasteful. Over 90% of energy that is extracted from the ground is wasted at some point along the path before final point of use. An electricity grid of the future would be decentralised, with independent power suppliers feeding electricity into a state-maintained grid infrastructure.