• Switched on

    Across the continent, energy-efficient technology is allowing businesses to use their electricity wisely.

    Switched on

    As you head west out of the South African city of Port Elizabeth, travelling down Cape Road past Parsons Vlei, you’ll drive past a new housing development called Fourleaf Estate. It’s not much to look at now – phase I housing estates seldom are – but it’s worth remembering the name. In May, Fourleaf Estate was named Africa’s greenest residential development by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), which awarded it the first Final EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) certification.

    In a media release marking the occasion, development manager Pieter du Toit said: ‘Although not easy, our philosophy around sustainable development is simple. If we want to offer buyers an affordable investment, we should develop in ways that will save them costs.’

    A quick look at the numbers backs up that claim. Compared to the base case used in the EDGE online application, the Fourleaf Estate will, according to that media release, be 29% more energy efficient, 25% more water efficient and will boast a 43% reduction in embodied energy, resulting in utility bill savings of around R1 280 per unit, if operated the way intended.

    It’s an approach to energy efficiency that we’re not used to seeing. There’s a common perception that ‘green’ living is an indulgence, and that you can’t save the planet and save money at the same time. Developments such as Fourleaf Estate and Cape Town’s groundbreaking Hotel Verde – which in 2015 became the first hotel ever to achieve double LEED platinum green-building certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC) – are proof that you can do both.

    However, South Africa’s culture of saving energy is still at what former Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson described as a ‘rudimentary phase’. Speaking at the 2016 African Utility Week in Cape Town, Joemat-Pettersson said that it was an ‘uncomfortable truth that South Africa is among the least energy-efficient countries in the world. When there is load-shedding, South Africans look for more energy, rather than saving energy’.

    During that week-long event, the Department of Energy unveiled an energy-efficient label for domestic appliances in a bid to promote energy savings in South Africa. In a move that only became enforceable this year, the label would be attached to all appliances that meet the minimum energy-performance standards, giving consumers a choice when they buy appliances such as air conditioners, washing machines, electric ovens, refrigerators, electric geysers, audio and video equipment, dishwashers and electric lamps.

    ‘Energy efficiency is the cheapest and most abundant way to reduce capital investments in new power supply, increase grid and service reliability, and expand access to electricity in Africa,’ Jenny Corry Smith, senior associate of policy and analysis, and Matt Jordan, director of market development at global energy-efficiency non-profit CLASP, wrote in an opinion piece published by ESI Africa. ‘However, to date, African policy and energy sector leaders haven’t even come close to fully exploiting energy efficiency’s extraordinary potential to meet the continent’s rising power demand and population growth. Ambitious and sustained energy efficiency efforts can, and should, be a keystone of Africa’s electrification plans.’

    Smith and Jordan pointed to the example of Ghana, where – to address rolling blackouts – the national government established Africa’s first appliance energy-efficiency standards and labelling programme in 2000. CLASP researchers found that ‘consumers and businesses have benefited enormously from these policies’, with the room air conditioner standard alone saving US$64 million in reduced energy bills each year.

    According to Eric Kumi Antwi-Agyei, project co-ordinator at Ghana’s Energy Commission, the country’s Refrigerator Energy Efficiency programme (which was launched in 2012) has resulted in an annual energy saving of 34 550 MWh.

    CLASP claims that, based on their pre-liminary analysis, ‘over 108 terawatt hours of electricity – nearly 18% of Africa’s total consumption in 2014 as indicated in the Enerdata Global Energy Statistics Yearbook – would be saved in 2030 if governments and markets across Africa transitioned to more efficient lighting, refrigerators, air conditioners and motors’.

    Speaking at the 2017 African Utility Week (#AUW2017) this past May, Manfred Braune, chief technical officer at the GBCSA, said that while there has been a lot of focus on other industries, buildings present a significant opportunity for energy efficiency – and for related cost savings. ‘If you think about buildings globally, they’re responsible for 40% end-use energy, and you can translate that directly into carbon emissions,’ he said. ‘In South Africa, for example, the factor is between 1 and 1.2, translated from kilowatt-hours to kilograms of CO2, so buildings are hugely responsible for both carbon emissions and the energy consumption that’s linked to that.’

    A month later, global energy management and automation firm Schneider Electric launched EcoStruxure Power, a digital architecture for energy management in buildings. This forms part of the firm’s existing EcoStruxure architecture, an open and interoperable system architecture for building, grid, industry and data centre customers.

    ‘EcoStruxure Power responds to a paradigm shift in the power industry as the energy world is going through more decentralisation, decarbonisation, digitisation and a stronger use of electricity,’ Philippe Delorme, Schneider Electric’s executive vice-president of building and IT business, said at the launch. ‘We are leveraging advances in internet of things [IoT], mobility, sensing, cloud, analytics and cybersecurity technologies into a set of connected tools for the power-management industry. By acting on data in real time from any number of IoT-enabled sources, our customers can improve operational and energy efficiency and bring their operations directly into the future.’

    The global shift towards IoT technologies is changing the landscape of energy efficiency. Casey Talon, principal research analyst at Navigant Research, recently wrote in Forbes that, while large building owners have been investing in intelligent building technologies, leveraging data-driven solutions to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, small and medium building owners struggle to maintain profits with more traditional approaches. ‘Most of these smaller buildings lack the technology to generate the kind of data that ties energy consumption to operational and bottom-line performance. As a result, there is a lost opportunity for these business owners,’ Talon wrote. ‘The IoT concept, however, is changing the conversation around building management and delivering impressive results.’

    Braune, during his address to #AUW2017, said that the GBCSA had achieved 200 certified green buildings in 2016. In terms of reductions in CO2 emissions annually, he said, that equates to 84 000 cars being off the road every year. Braune highlighted the example of the Department of Environmental Affairs building in Tshwane, which has a six-star GBCSA rating. The building saves about 3 million kg of COevery year, and is 60% to 70% more efficient than the South African standard for energy efficiency. It also has a 25-year performance contract on operations and management of the building, which Braune described as being ‘a green lease on steroids’ for 25 years.

    ‘There are penalties if, for example, the building’s energy performance goes below or above a certain level, penalties that the private operator has to then cover because of failing to stick to that level of performance,’ he said.

    However, it’s not only in buildings and offices that new energy-efficient technology is allowing businesses to make the best of their electricity usage. In the mining sector, modern high-efficiency motors are helping to cut energy bills. According to Edson Cristofolini, African business development executive at electric motor manufacturer Zest WEG Group, almost two-thirds of the power consumed by the mining sector is associated with electric motors – making this equipment a good place to start when looking to improve efficiencies.

    Much like outdated office air conditioners or the lights left on in a large building, mining motors can either be a source of electrical efficiency, or a long-term waste of resources.

    ‘Where an old 55 kW motor is operating 24 hours a day and seven days a week, we estimate that a mine can save over 20 MW a year by replacing it with a new WEG Top Premium Efficiency IE3 motor,’ Cristofolini said in a recent statement. These savings add up when considering how many motors are operational on a large mine. Offices and office equipment remain the low-hanging fruit as businesses aim to reduce their electricity usage. After all, as Joemat-Pettersson said, the focus should be less on looking for more energy, and more on saving.

    By Mark van Dijk
    Images: Gallo/Getty Images