By Sinazo Mkoko
As of 1 July 2022, South Africans and businesses at large are digging deeper into their pockets for electricity. This comes after the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) approved the electricity tariff increase.
In a media statement released in March this year, NERSA stated: “The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) confirmed that at its meeting held on 9 March 2022, the Energy Regulator made a determination on Eskom’s Retail Tariff and Structural Adjustment (ERTSA) application and approved an average tariff increase of 9.61% for Eskom’s standard tariff customers and an increase of 8.61% for municipalities. The increase for Eskom’s standard tariff customers will be effective from 1 April 2022 and for municipalities from 1 July 2022.”
As a result, many South Africans are looking for ways to save electricity and the little money they may have as other problems are piling up on the side (hikes in petrol prices, food prices and repo rates). However, it’s not all gloom and doom and if one looks harder, there are ways to deal with some problems. Public Sector Leaders spoke to the former CEO at Saving Energy, Craig Berman, about ways in which you can save electricity in your household.
Geyser: Switch it on or off? Do geyser timers and blankets work?
Berman says the geyser is the single largest consumer of electricity for the average home and having installed thousands of timers and blankets over the last 12 years, he confidently states that they work, however, there are some secrets to maximising their efficiency.
- Set the timer to come on 60 – 90 minutes before you need hot water in winter and 45 – 60 minutes in summer. This is because the geyser will lose less heat in summer than in winter and will require less electricity to reach the set temperature.
- Use a ‘maintenance’ setting to improve efficiency. While most people set their timers to come on before the hot water is needed during the morning and evening, having the timer come on for about 45 minutes in the afternoon around 1pm/2pm will maintain the temperature and when the geyser does come on, it will use less power.
- Get a geyser blanket – but get a proper insulation certified blanket with an R rating of 1.25 or better – don’t buy cheap blankets that won’t give you the insulation you need, as this is simply a waste of money. They are very effective at preventing the geyser losing heat especially overnight and during winter, the blanket alone could save you 10% or more on your electricity costs and this would improve to around 20 – 25% with a timer set properly.
- Don’t switch your geyser breaker off as eventually it will fail and require replacing. They are not designed to be switched off and on every day, they are designed to trip when the geyser has a short, like a faulty element – plus, if you forget to switch it back on, you will have to take a cold shower.
First implemented in 2010, Incline Block Tariffs (IBT) are designed to reward low usage with low cost. According to Berman, the more power you use, the more you pay per kWh. For residential customers, the first block has a ceiling of 600 kWh per month and if you are careful and manage your power properly, there would be no reason for an average family to exceed this. However, he adds that, in most cases, lighting, heating, cooking and water heating chew a lot of power and for prepaid clients, they will find themselves moving to higher blocks throughout the month. “The IBT works on how much electricity you use, not how much you buy and it’s about the price per kWh in each block. For consumers to take advantage of the lowest block tariff, they need to consume less than 600 kWh in a calendar cycle and there are some ways to do this successfully,” said Berman.
- Make sure your lighting is LED, every watt you save counts and these days with the efficiency in both cost and consumption, LED lighting can reduce your electrical consumption (Tip: only use warm white LED light indoors as cool white will emit too much blue light and this spectrum of light is not healthy for people, animals or plants. Use warm white or daylight white.)
- Try to use gas heaters or other non-electrical heating units, but be careful with flammable materials such as paraffin and never leave those heaters burning overnight or where children can access them unsupervised.
- Get an energy efficient fridge that is ‘A’ rated and uses minimal power – this label will be on the front of the fridge. Modern fridges are often rated at 1 kw or less usage per day and while it may be an expense, the medium and long term results will be less energy usage.
- Change your mindset. Berman says the biggest barrier to efficient energy usage and strategies with consumers is that they do not have a medium-to-long term mindset, they want instant results and while this can be done with devices like geyser timers, the energy saving strategy is one that takes longer and requires more investment in products such as solar geysers and heat pumps which will save more electricity, but have a much longer ROI.
Considering going off-the grid? Is it worth it?
Berman says if one can afford it, then yes, it is worth it to go off grid. “However, you need to ensure that you use a properly accredited and competent installer as there are many ‘fly-by-nighters’ out there that take money and supply poor quality components and sub-standard installations with wiring not suited to the capacity loads and cheap components that either fail after a short time, don’t have guarantees/warranties and finding the installer when the system breaks down is impossible,” he says.
He adds that accredited installers will offer warranties as well as supply good quality components. “Remember, this is a long term investment plus it adds value to your property as buyers in the near future will be willing to pay higher prices for homes that are energy efficient.”
More ways to save electricity (and money) in our households:
- Turn your standby power off. When appliances like TV’s and amplifiers use standby power, over time, this consumption adds up. So rather switch them off. This has another benefit too as it will protect your sensitive electronics from surges after loadshedding once the power is restored.
- Invest in a solar geyser whether a retrofit or new system as this will drastically reduce your monthly consumption and the same for a heat pump. It would use half the power of an electrical geyser to generate the same level of heated water and expect an ROI of between three and five years.
- Switch off or discard underfloor heating systems unless they are part of a heat pump solution. Electrically powered underfloor heating uses a lot of power and you won’t stay in the lower tariff block if this is used.