Energising corporate SA

Jason Huang, Outreach Engineering’s Director
Jason Huang HR.JPG

Following Eskom’s recent announcement that load-shedding for 2015 should be over after the completion of Medupi Unit 6, many are celebrating and looking forward to a summer of uninterrupted power supply. But it is a fact that South Africa has a long way to go before it is out of the red.

Besides the residential load, South Africa’s corporate and manufacturing environment places tremendous stress on the power grid. To lighten the load on the power supply, companies are now being urged to embrace energy efficiency as a standard form of good practice.

But why exactly should energy efficiency be a strategic priority for corporate South Africa? Outreach Engineering’s Director, Jason Huang, says with Eskom struggling to generate enough electricity to meet the country’s energy needs and power costs steadily climbing, corporate South Africa has both the incentive and responsibility to embrace energy management as a strategic imperative.

The director of the youth-led, one-of-a-kind engineering not for profit organisation with a unique approach to improving the quality public healthcare problems in South Africa by addressing the infrastructural shortfalls in public hospitals, says,  “Not only can businesses save money by using energy more efficiently, they can also play their part in reducing the strain on the electricity grid.”

“Addressing the shortfall in power generation capacity will take many years, which means that mandatory load shedding will be part of our lives for a while. That means we, as a nation, need to try and make as efficient use of the available power as we can, with the business sector having an especially important role to play,” he says.

Huang says that stage one load shedding sheds 1 000 megawatts. That means load shedding could be averted if one million households/businesses each reduce their consumption by 1 000W. A substantial portion of this reduction in energy consumption can be achieved by switching to energy efficient light bulbs and switching off geysers, he adds.

Companies should be looking at reducing energy consumption, not only to help lessen the blow of load shedding, but also because energy prices are climbing with Eskom seeking high tariff increases from the regulator.

How should businesses begin to engage in meaningful and quantifiable energy management initiatives? Huang suggests:

  • Business decision-makers must make energy management an operational priority and seek expertise to drive and implement better energy management policies;
  • They measure and verify energy management initiatives to ensure these are quantifiable. (This may also allow the business to tap into tax incentives);
  • Companies should transition into green procurement practices to sustain their energy management policies; and
  • Businesses should help drive awareness programmes for employees, customers and other stakeholders.

“If enough businesses take these actions, we will see a domino effect that helps reduce pressure on the grid and make for a greener South Africa at the same time,” Huang says. “This could also create new jobs by creating a demand for skills to drive energy management initiatives.”

When asked about the biggest energy waters in business, Huang says it varies depending on the type of business. He says in office buildings for example, lighting and climate control (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) are the big culprits for energy wastage. There are also many other minor factors such as leaving computers and printers on overnight. These minor factors add up very quickly according to him.

“Corporate South Africa accounts for a major portion of the country’s electricity consumption and it is important that they use electricity responsibly. Let’s take for example stage one load shedding, which sheds 1 000 megawatts. That means stage one load shedding could be averted if one million households/businesses each reduce their consumption by 1 000W, which is a lot less intimidating. Bear in mind that there are a lot more than one million households/businesses in South Africa, and also that businesses will generally have a larger impact than households,” he says.

According to Huang, companies that are more energy efficient benefit in a number ways:

  • Reduced electricity consumption directly results in reduced electricity costs.
  • The rising electricity costs increases the impact of reducing electricity consumption.
  • The reduced energy requirements mean that backup power solutions and renewable energy options become a lot more affordable.
  • As large energy consumers, energy efficient companies can demonstrate to the public that they are using energy efficiently and responsibly.

“Corporates in South Africa are generally large energy consumers and their energy efficiency initiatives have the potential to produce large energy savings. If large energy consumers set an example and demonstrate energy efficiency awareness and practices, smaller energy consumers will follow suit. However, if large energy consumers overlook energy efficiency, it could discourage smaller energy consumers.

“An important step is employee training and raising energy efficiency awareness. Corporate South Africa provides jobs, products and services to millions of South Africans. Their extensive reach allows this awareness to filter down to communities and has an enormous impact,” he says.

On the topic of green procurement practices and what it entails, Huang says a green procurement policy should take into account the environmental impact of every product and service the company buys - from the manufacturing and transportation of the goods, through to the usage of the product or service, and lastly the disposal.

He says it should begin with the principle of using less by reducing unnecessary purchases of goods. Truly green products should be made with as few hazardous or toxic materials and as little energy as possible, minimise the carbon footprint of their usages, and be designed for easy recycling according to him.

“In line with the goal of energy management policies to make as efficient use of energy as possible, green procurement practices therefore minimise the energy required to produce the goods, the energy consumption of the goods and the energy required to dispose of the goods,” he says.

Huang reminds us that aside from the financial benefits for businesses, energy efficiency is environmentally friendly as well. “If businesses choose to directly reduce their electricity consumption, they are ultimately reducing their carbon footprint. Adopting green procurement practices also reduce the businesses’ overall impact on the environment,” he says.

He says a good energy management policy should:

  • Provide an energy manager with the authority to be involved in high-level business decision making;
  • Set realistic and achievable goals and set up a process to measure and verify progress; and
  • Ensure that the energy management team is appropriately trained and that staff understand the need for energy management.

Talking to Opportunity about some of the successes they are having with regard to current projects, Huang says, “Our current project is the Heal Baragwanath project, which takes place at the main operating theatre complex of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto. The project addresses a number of issues at the facility, starting with its backup power system. The work will help the hospital to keep operating throughout power outages as well as improve the quality of care it offers its many disadvantaged patients.”

In terms of what government can do to step in, Huang says the enforcing of energy efficiency is unlikely. He does however say what government is already doing is providing incentives to encourage energy efficiency in the form of the Section 12L Energy Efficiency Tax Incentive and different tariff structures which offer reduced electricity charges during off-peak hours.


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