Turning point for South Africa’s energy future


In the face of rising energy costs and energy constraints, in addition to tough economic times, it is imperative that we all pull together to reduce our energy consumption and look at ways of shifting towards a sustainable, low-carbon economy that  decreases our dependence on fossil fuels .

We should use the challenges we are facing as the impetus to drive the necessary change, in a similar vein to how several nations reacted after the global oil crisis in 1973. The International Handbook of Energy Security, written by Hugh Dyer and Maria Julia Trombetta and published in 2013, discusses how the crisis affected the global outlook on energy supply.

“The use of petroleum as a political ‘weapon’ during what came to be known as ‘the first oil crisis’ was a turning point in governments’ energy security planning and the objectives of energy security…” the book states.

In the wake of the crisis, many international governments, mostly in the US and Europe, developed projects and programmes aimed at promoting domestic energy independence. According to a Time article published in October 2013, the effects of such programmes are still felt today: “Thanks in part to new drilling technologies and far better energy efficiency — both inspired by the after-effects of the 1973 crisis — the U.S. is an energy superpower today”.

Encouragingly, we continue to see government improve regulations around energy management and data collection and look forward to the introduction of a formal energy efficiency strategy in the near future. These are necessary measures to help the country chart its energy trajectory in the long term while enabling companies to plan the sustainability of their own businesses and investment decisions for their future.

The NBI’s energy programme, in existence since the initial signing of the Energy Efficiency Accord between leading businesses and government in 2005, has been leading the charge with government for the last ten years. Now known as the Energy Efficiency Leadership Network (EELN), it was established as a body to proactively assist a number of progressive South African companies in implementing the key pillars of the National Energy Efficiency Strategy in partnership with government.

The NBI continues to play a management and secretariat role for the EELN and is supported by the Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee, which informs the strategy of the EELN’s activities and approaches to thematic areas relevant to energy efficiency.

The work of the EELN has recently been given special recognition by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to include as a proposed energy solution for business that the WBCSD will promote among all their global networks. This model of collective action and collaboration should be extended more broadly in the country across sizes of business and sectors.

The private sector has a major role to play in shifting the market to cleaner and more efficient and integrated energy solutions. Given the current energy constraints, it would be both useful and profitable for manufacturers to come up with more energy efficient appliances and equipment on an ongoing basis. Suppliers and logistics companies should also look to less-energy intensive modes of transporting products.

At the same time there is scope for the financial services sector to keep reviewing its role in supporting energy transitions by expanding its range of products and services to enable the energy transition while ensuring business continuity for the sake of their own investments.  

Of course, there also remains a need for manufacturers of renewable energies to create reliable and cost-effective products which provide alternative sources of electricity for our country. Importantly, there also needs to be a shift in perception in South Africa about how we commute: we need to utilise public transport and design areas which combine residential and commercial spatial zones in order to minimise the need to travel long distances on a daily basis.

There are already examples of innovative ways in which companies are encouraging employees to carpool or utilise public transport, such as monetary incentives in exchange for giving up personal parking spots.

By moving toward a low-carbon economy, not only are we increasing our energy independence, we are also helping to create a whole new sector with job opportunities, which in turn benefits the economy as a whole.

Valerie Geen


PULL QUOTE: There are already examples of innovative ways in which companies are encouraging employees to carpool or utilise public transport

A photovoltaic system of solar cells.
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Issue 39