As the electricity crisis continues to grip South Africa, with loadshedding and outages affecting individuals and industry alike across the country, opportunities are opening up in a number of areas, including business development, job creation, improved energy efficiency, and more, says Barry Bredenkamp, General Manager, Energy Efficiency, with the SA National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI).
Bredenkamp, who is a panellist on the Africa Energy Indaba 2019’s panel discussion on ‘Lessons to learn relating to Energy Efficiency and developing an energy efficient economy: The Impact for African countries adopting energy efficiency and the linked business opportunity’, notes that in previous rolling blackouts, consumers had become far more energy efficient, both in behaviour and in the adoption of alternative energy sources, but as electricity supply stabilised, interest dwindled and old habits returned. “The present crisis is refocusing the country’s attention on the need to be more sustainable and more efficient.”
He highlights the “huge opportunities” for digitalisation and other disruptive technologies in the renewable energy sector, increasing installations, creating demand for new jobs and uplifting the local economy. “If we do, as we must, take the whole sustainable energy drive seriously, and incorporate Industry 4.0 technologies and upskill people, we will stimulate growth of a whole new industry and all that it represents.”
Corporates and small business need to take responsibility to affect change in sustainable energy, Bredenkamp says. “Creating awareness at every level of society is a priority, not only about electricity and energy, but about water and waste too – everything is integrated and resources are limited. Companies of varying sizes can also look at adopting policies such as ISO 50001, which supports organisations in all sectors to use energy more efficiently through the development of an energy management system. It helps people be aware of what they’re doing and identify opportunities to improve efficiencies and reduce waste.”
Bredenkamp is positive about the dramatic increase in the use of rooftop PV installations in buildings of all types – shopping malls, offices, municipalities, hotels and homes – and its incorporation into building designs. “There has also been an encouraging swing towards thermal passive design, where the orientation of the building, and features such as insulation, location, layout, window size and placement, and shading, are all taken into account at the design stage of the building, to reduce dependence on the national grid.”
These growth points notwithstanding, Bredenkamp says more focus needs to be given to R&D in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors, “which has experienced an unfortunate reduction in funding in recent years, because there have just been an overwhelming number of other pressing social areas demanding R&D spend.” Having said that, he adds that some South African universities and TVET colleges are recognising this need for Sustainable Energy R&D and are trying to do more with limited funds.
Bredenkamp emphasises the tremendous value of energy collaboration across Africa and the fact that the energy challenges that South Africa is facing are not unique to this country. Collaborations are of the utmost important and events such as the Africa Energy Indaba, which has been bringing industry stakeholders together for many years, encourage learning from each other. He says there has been a definite growth in the collaborative attitude towards improving energy efficiency among many African countries, with a number of initiatives being established, such as the Southern African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREE), in Namibia.
Looking ahead, Bredenkamp says the ideal energy solution for the African continent is a combination of energy carriers. “Gas must play a role, as must solar and wind, which we have in abundance in different areas in South Africa. We believe all three are the way forward for the continent and will avoid a situation where all energy eggs are in a single basket.”