Doing my bit to avoid load shedding in South Africa – The #3Switch Electricity Saving Challenge

Imagine you are driving down the road. Some idiot overtakes you in the next lane, you can see that maintenance has not been done on his 1980s sports car, and unbeknown to you, the mechanic who was meant to repair the brakes and service the engine took short cuts, pocketing the difference. The driver appears drunk at the wheel.

The car begins to swerve uncontrollably between lanes. The danger is there for all to see.

You have a few options:

  • Drive as normal or
  • Speed up and overtake when you can or
  • Slow down, give some space and do your bit to avoid an accident.

This is perhaps a weak analogy with the current energy crisis in South Africa, but the parallels are there.

When the Cape Town water crisis hit, there were a lot of successful campaigns to reduce usage. Together, we were able to avoid catastrophe. Now I’m wondering, where are the campaigns to reduce electricity usage?

Sure in time, more energy can be produced. We also know that performing essential neglected maintenance could increase the efficiency of the coal power stations from the high teens to the high 20%s or even low 30%s.

For various reasons we don’t seem feel the same ownership as we felt with the water crisis, perhaps it is because of the extent of looting and state capture, perhaps it’s because of the scale (A country versus a city).

A drive around Sandton at night shows that we certainly aren’t taking any ownership ourselves. The lights are on. To be fair, this is a very small part of the problem in the scheme of things, but like the no plastic straws movement, it is meant to create awareness and facilitate intentional thinking.

It is easy to say, we didn’t cause the crisis. But it does impact us, as South Africans. At worst we can save some money and reduce our environmental impact. At best we contribute to the rehabilitation of the South African economy.

Knowing that I managed to reduce my fuel consumption 10%-15%, just by accelerating a little less aggressively, while not really taking any longer. I decided to think through how I could reduce my electricity usage by 10%-15%. If we all do this, we could downgrade each load shedding event to one tier lower. A big win.

Given that residential electricity represents about 20% of overall consumption. If we all did this, it would perhaps only give us a 2%-3% direct impact. But it’s not just that. It is also about triggering greater awareness, the reduction could be enough to not red-line our production, to stave off one more level of load shedding, one more emergency maintenance event could be avoided. Besides the majority of that 20% is in the mornings and evenings, so it is all at the same time.

Before looking at what I did, let’s look at how tariffs and network demand are generally impacted by.

  • Usage – How much we use.
  • Maximum demand – How much we use at the very peak. This is perhaps more important than usage for a national grid, as this is how much capacity the network needs.
  • Time of usage – When we use it.

Municipalities don’t generally measure maximum demand and time of use in the residential space, as they require smarter meters than are currently installed or smarter systems (such as Terra Firma’s Copper Energy Management System) , which comes at a capital cost which municipalities don’t have to invest.

This currently means that me smoothing out my usage doesn’t necessarily save me any money. As I am not incentivised to smooth out my usage and we have a bit of a prisoners dilemma. But I know I need to think beyond myself. I can contribute to saving the economy and reduce my impact on climate change (particularly given that peak periods generally use the dirtiest power).

From the Eskom website, I found that the peak demand periods are generally from 7am-10am and then 6pm-8pm on Weekdays. Which is basically driven by residential usage.

We also know that some household appliances have more impact than others.

From Business Tech

With this knowledge, I took a walk around the house and a few things immediately stood out.

My Pool Timer

I had set my pool time for between 8am – 4pm. This was two hours of peak. I easily changed it to 10am-6pm. The same number of hours, but this will help reduce my contribution to peak demand by 4kWh-5kWh.

Geyser

The geyser can represent about 25%-40% of a household electricity bill.

I already had a timer to reduce this, but I had set my geyser timer to be on from 5am-9am and 5pm-9pm. This was almost exactly in line with peak demand. I switched this to 4am-6am, 12pm-2pm (there are people at home during the day) and 4pm-6pm.

This perhaps could save 10%-15% of electricity usage (6hrs instead of 8hrs, but maintaining heat is less energy than heating) and more importantly it shifts it completely out of peak demand periods. This should reduce peak demand by 18kWh-21kWh, or perhaps even more, as it’s an old house with two geysers. Plus I could see a ~5%+ reduction in my energy bill.

TV Monitor

I have a Samsung Monitor and Xiaomi Android TV box, when not in use, I was leaving it in standby mode. A rule of thumb for appliances in standby use about 5% of the energy they would when fully on.

As I watch about 2hrs a night, that means that about 33% of it’s energy consumption happens in the other 22hrs and switching it off at the wall could save this. It is actually likely to be a higher saving, as the Android TV box standby mode is likely higher than the 5% rule of thumb.

The added benefit is that it doesn’t cut out when the power goes off or reboot (not into standby) mode when the power comes back on. Having that happen while trying to sleep is very disruptive.


As simple as that, no real adjustments or impact on me and the household, but I am able to reduce demand, save money and do my bit to avoid the debilitating effects of Load Shedding.

My challenge for you – #3Switch – What 3 ways can you find to reduce your impact?

Some ideas:

  • Unplug devices when charged.
  • Shutdown your computer and switch off your monitor when done for the day (at work too please).
  • Increase the temperature of your fridge.
  • Lower the temperature of your geyser.
  • Wear appropriate clothing.
  • Only boil what you need.
  • Use timers on key energy users.
  • Switch to energy efficiency lights. 25%-80% less energy. Of course switching lights off saves 100%.
  • Lower the temperature of your washing – 40 -> 30 degrees saves 40%, 40 -> 20 degrees saves 66%.
  • Use a tumble dryer less or not at all.

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