Here’s what you’re getting wrong about the energy crisis in South Africa

You know that saying about pointing fingers and how many are pointing back at you?

In the August of 2011 SANS 10400 was amended to include Part-XA which deals with the energy use of buildings within the national building regulations. Under the new regulations property developers were encouraged to reduce the energy requirements for heating human occupied spaces.

Solar geysers and double-glazed window glass – especially on north-facing windows – were the first fledgling flaps to get ahead of the forthcoming energy shitstorm that was heralded in the dark days of 2007-era load shedding.

These regulations, though, were born at the end of the Mbeki age when  the former president formally apologised to Eskom for not investing in generation capacity. Things didn’t work out well after that ANC conference, but at least our Aids-denier-in-Chief used the remnants of his star power to shine a light on the immediate failures facing the national government.

Unfortunately, Medupi and Kusile were the projects chosen to transform South Africa’s electricity fortunes and the Zondo commission of enquiry has unearthed the depths of corruption within coal power.

The point is – and this was similar to Cape Town’s Day Zero water crisis – that we need to pull together to reduce our consumption first to be able to budget correctly for generation capacity. Those 2011 regulations were a massive step in the right direction to bring down energy use for domestic heating.

Funny thing is that I signed a bond to build a house in the October of 2011 and, when we finally moved in almost a year later, there was no solar geyser and I think we had to make some adjustments to the plan to be able to afford the mandated double-glazed windowpanes.

It seemed that builders and property developers wiped their collective arses with the regulations and chose to either pass the costs of compliance on to the consumer or feign ignorance while pocketing the cash when called to retrofit.

And our electricity demand has soared since then with air conditioners quickly leapfrogging solar geysers on the list of suburban must-haves.

But the blame of this utter non-compliance must lay squarely on the municipal building inspectors who sign off occupancy certificates to non-compliant houses. Part-XA was scrapped in 2021 with new regulations that give a more widely applicable definition to include informal settlements is currently being drafted.

Old town (planning) road

Building design is back to the wild west with private individuals wielding the power to add whatever was compliant in the 1980s when building regulations first came into effect.

The most common question I get asked nowadays when people are seeking off-grid advice is the cost to take their house from Eskom’s teat. My response is always: “When you add in a fridge and washing machine, it changes the equation.”

Metro FM Morning Flava – Going off grid with Lindsey Schutters

As it turns out, most people want to be able to maintain productivity during load shedding and stay entertained after work hours.

The former can be solved through careful consideration from your IT department and/or CTO. Why equip workers with a fleet of Dell Latitudes when a similarly priced Macbook Air or entry-level Macbook Pro has better battery endurance, lower power draw under load and more intelligent recharging?

Of course, your practical application varies with software compatibility for your business operations, but for most common tasks – email/MS Office – the Macbook Air is more than sufficient, even surpassing those workhorse Windows machines for performance in creative tasks.

Smarter product choices can eliminate a large portion of your current frustrations like getting a smartphone with better real-world battery endurance trumps a phone that charges super-fast.

The latter is trickier… Tech companies will have you buying ever more power-hungry devices like TVs with massive screens and powerful audio equipment. Game studios are chasing photo realistic graphics that demand faster computing components. And now this content is being delivered via streaming services that require always-on, high-speed data connections.

Given the boom and bust of crypto economies, there is also a lot of electricity going towards activity in the Web3 economy with diminishing returns.

On the electricity side we’re screwed for the short term because it takes time to build out the infrastructure that can save us from ourselves.

The pinch at the pump

And our fossil fuels aren’t getting any better, anytime soon.

The call for government to strip the taxes from the petrol price is usually led by some concern for the poorer South Africans and how the price of public transport will become more expensive.

To this point I was surprised that the R25 taxi trip our domestic worker takes is the same R25 in the afternoon and the morning, even though the morning trip is 5km longer. And that price has remained the same since the 2021 price increase.

Fuel levies and taxes are also a fixed cost that doesn’t rise in proportion to the fluctuations in the fuel price with the cost of oil being the main driver of that elasticity.

But still, suburban Mzansi is out there buying double cabs and SUVs that are dragging unused four-wheel drive components around like dead weight because these cars never leave paved roads.

These are the main complainers who fall into the rhetorical traps set by opportunistic politicians.

Bottom line:  

Our lifestyles and willingness to buy into the marketing make us complicit in the energy crisis. We are all to blame, just some of us make easier targets because they actually make decisions, kind of.

Make a noise about policies that need to change, but please do some investigating to see how it actually affects other people and not just how it forwards your own agendas. We’re in this together.

Follow me, it will be alright