Energy efficiency and conservation is the first fuel before we even start to look at other alternative energy sources/ fuels for power generation.
Even before we get too hang up on the idea of providing more new generation capacity to increase access to energy services and improve electrification levels especially in our rural communities, we need to satisfy ourselves that this new generation capacity will not simply be gobbled up by inefficient use and consumption. We need to be sure that ‘power hungry’ consumers are aware of energy efficiency and conservation before we release to them our next watt!
So yes indeed we are faced with the great challenge of increasing access to energy services by all over a certain predefined timescale. We are committed to providing energy access to previously energy-starved communities. We are also guaranteeing energy security to existing users of energy. This commitment to deliver on these promises demands that we identify the quickest wins at the lowest transaction cost!
Energy efficiency and conservation realises for us ‘negawatts’ of sufficient quantum to qualify as virtual power plants. A new build power plant costs several millions of US dollars for each MW. A virtual power plant constituted from the freed up/ ‘unused’ energy generates ‘negawatts’ at a fraction (typically a third) of the new build per MW generation.
In times of generation deficits where demand outstrips supply and the likely load curtailment is to ensue, energy efficiency and conservation can as well balance out the demand- supply equation without a need for load curtailment or infamously known load shedding! It is when generation/ supply cannot match up with demand/ end-use, when load curtailment options are in consideration; therefore we could self-heal by reducing our demand to match the supply to not effect a curtailment! Load curtailment is a measure proactively deployed to avoid the catastrophic worst-case total blackout or partial brown out.
A simple explanation of what energy efficiency and conservation are is that when you change from your traditional 60W incandescent bulb to an 18W compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) or indeed from this same 18W CFL to a 6W Light Emitting Diode lamp (LED), that is an energy efficiency gain granted the light output and quality of service through this transition remains the same or even improves.
When you now have this energy efficient lighting technology and so have now embraced energy efficiency, the act of switching off or not making use of this energy efficient technology when you don’t need it such as switching off the 18W CFL or the 6W LED when you are not in the room or when you do not need it because you have natural light sufficient to make you do your task, that then is energy conservation. You could still with an inefficient 60W incandescent conserve energy (energy conservation) by learning to switch it off when not needed or when away.
The estimated cost of keeping a 60W bulb on for 24hours at an electric unit cost of K0.60 per unit (kWh) is about K0.86 (almost K1 with added fixed charges and taxes). So if the same light bulb is left on for 1 week (7 days), that is equivalent to wasting money to buy a loaf of bread at R7 per loaf as a weekly breakfast supply.
You could automate energy conservation measures such as switching off a light not needed or when away from it’s service by introducing light and/or occupancy sensors that only turn the light on when your presence is detected or insufficient light levels are detected or off when sufficient natural light is detected or your presence is not detected.
Both energy efficiency and energy conservation are energy management best practices that save us energy and corresponding costs. Energy Conservation is at the base of the energy pyramid.
So now the energy we do not use from this absolute reduction in demand from 60W to 18W of 42W over the normal or usual operating/ use time in hours (Wh) is the ‘negawatt’ generated and freed up for use elsewhere. This ‘negawatt’ arising from energy efficiency is a permanently freed and available resource granted there is no reverse action of moving back from the 18W CFL to the 60W Incandescent bulb again.
Energy conservation becomes a habitual albeit short-term ‘negawatt’ gain as and when a light not needed is switched off for whatever duration of time (Wh). In the short-term, even before you embark upon a transition into energy efficiency, you could still with the inefficient 60W incandescent start practicing energy conservation by switching this light bulb off whenever you don’t need it or leave if off when you go away. So one could effectively conserve energy without first being energy efficient.
Because energy generation at source unless stored in some form of energy storage device, has to be used at load, we need to find where to take these ‘negawatts’ or unused energy; Therefore the generated ‘negawatts’ must have an immediate use all the time. It has to be fed to the energy starved or energy poor or indeed provide enhanced energy security.
Simply put, we can easily power up thousands of additional previously non-electrified homes or even new ‘job-creating’, ‘GDP-contributing’ production plants by simply generating those ‘negawatts’ freed up from Energy efficient applications and conservation practices.
This is our first fuel even before we start to look at alternative and renewable energy sources.
By Chisakula Kaputu