[OPINION] Rethinking energy usage in South Africa | Infrastructure news

South Africans are all too aware of the ongoing electricity supply issues facing the country. The deteriorating electrical generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure is cause for significant concern.

By Frikkie Malan, head of sustainability at Remote Metering Solutions

Adding to this are the ongoing climate-related discussions around the long-term viability of the energy sector. It should therefore hardly come as a surprise that businesses and building owners are scrutinising whether their precious kWh units are going to waste.

On the one hand, decision-makers need to be aware of the financial impact of poor energy management. Costs can quickly spiral out of control if electricity is ‘abused’ and not used efficiently. And on the other, the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) in South Africa in December 2020 means property owners who are not seen to be energy efficient could be faced with reputational and financial consequences as cost-conscious and environmentally responsible tenants are likely to opt for energy-efficient buildings as opposed to those with poor EPC ratings.

Sustainability matters

South Africa is coming under intensifying pressure to not only stabilise its electricity supply, but also alleviate its reliance on fossil fuel-based energy generation. It is especially coal that is the culprit as it remains the primary source of energy that powers our economy.

While sustainability is increasingly on the agenda of most organisations, especially the long-term environmental impact, the transition to a sustainable energy mix it is not easy. Costs, rapidly evolving technologies, and a lack of knowledge on how to plan and implement transition are significant inhibitors that present obstacles to businesses and property owners trying to be more energy-efficient.

Building owners may have no choice in the matter. In recent years, South African electricity prices have increased by approximately 200%. Unfortunately, this trend is predicted to continue for the next several years.

Organisations and property owners must therefore find more effective ways to become energy efficient and decrease reliance on unreliable electrical infrastructure that still depends mostly on fossil fuels to generate electricity.

The value of EPCs

This is where EPCs can be the game-changer. Not complying with regulations to obtain an EPC by the end of the year will have significant legal consequences. Those property owners found to fall foul of the law could be fined up to R5-million, be sentenced to imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

Energy performance certification should not be seen as a grudge compliance. Rather, and EPC assists property owners in identifying new opportunities.

Undertaking the certification process will put the spotlight on ways to improve the energy efficiency performance of a building. Most buildings present numerous opportunities for reduction in its energy footprint, without the need to sacrifice the comfort, working conditions, or safety of the building’s occupants.

The challenge is not so much to identify these opportunities, but rather to develop energy-efficient plans (at the portfolio level) that strike the correct balance between financial return on investment and environmental impact. Bold action is required to drive down the energy consumption of a portfolio of buildings by 20% to 30%.

EPCs are already showing that this must be possible – if one building in a portfolio can achieve an A rating and another building achieves a D rating (or even lower) rating, the right questions start getting asked. Why is the one building so good while the other building is so ‘bad’? What can we do to get all our buildings to at least a B or even an A rating? Once these questions start being answered, results are almost a given.

So, EPCs should serve as a driver to help property owners take a considered approach to the energy management of a building, and that is the real value of an EPC.

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