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South African commercial sector energy efficiency

The rising cost of electricity in South Africa and the increased demand on the grid are encouraging large commercial businesses to implement energy-efficient initiatives and technologies. Companies are becoming more aware that reducing energy usage will lower operating expenditure, improve profit margins, and enhance their brand image as well as competitive position in a country that is striving to become a carbon neutral economy.

Analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that peak demand savings went up from 22 MW in fiscal year (FY) 2012 to 141 MW in FY 2013. “The introduction of the National Energy Efficiency Strategy (NEES) by the South African government to achieve certain social, environmental and economic targets by 2015 is promoting energy efficiency and sustainable practices among businesses,” Frost & Sullivan head of energy and environment Cornelis van der Waal, says. “The NEES aims to improve energy efficiency by 15% in the commercial sector, which currently uses nearly 10% of the country’s energy.”

The commercial sector can begin by implementing simple measures such as monitoring lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) use, installing technologies like variable speed drives that have shorter payback periods, and using default energy-saving settings on computers. There is already a growing interest in the replacement of halogen light bulbs with more efficient light-emitting diodes.

Large commercial businesses in South Africa could further cut down on energy consumption by investing in efficient motors, water heating systems, proper building management, and regular maintenance. Conducting energy-saving audits will also help companies establish benchmarks and identify other areas in which they could save energy.

The lack of human capital with the skills to implement and maintain energy-efficient initiatives, however, prevents organisations from implementing energy management projects. The high capital cost of energy-efficient equipment too deters businesses. Finally, most commercial businesses still do not consider energy efficiency as a core function of their brand and operations.

“To ensure that energy efficiency becomes a culture in South Africa, large commercial businesses should invest in initiatives that positively influence the perception of energy consumers and encourage the adoption of sustainable practices,” Van der Waal says. “They could then implement projects that will optimise resources and be most profitable for their particular business.”

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