Do you still remember load shedding? Those cold, dark nights without any TV or heaters? Having to leave the office 15 minutes before a scheduled ‘shed’ so that you don’t have to walk down 29 flights of stairs to get home? The crazy traffic because traffic lights were not working?
When South Africans’ electricity troubles were at their height in 2008, the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Buyelwa Sonjica, admitted that load shedding is a reality that we will have to live with until 2013. Be this as it may, it does not mean that we - citizens, government and other role players - should simply sit back and wait for next time we will be plunged into darkness – whether it is scheduled or not!
We all need to actively save energy … hence the Eskom energy-saving campaign.
While I certainly support the campaign, I recall the sentiments expressed by Sakhela Buhlungu from the Wits Sociology of Work Project (SOP), who, speaking at a Ditsela discussion forum last year, pointed out that efforts towards saving energy are all directed at individuals; with little or no focus on industry who are the heaviest consumers of electricity.
Why don’t we have a campaign that targets the business sector? It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that companies are heavy users of electricity, neither is it too difficult to imagine the positive impact of dedicated efforts by business to save energy!
If the government provides businesses with subsidised electricity in order to encourage them to invest in the country, the same companies should in turn participate in Eskom’s energy-saving campaign. It should be also compulsory for parastatals to participate in the campaign.
Whether or not government invests in increasing Eskom’s capacity to produce more electricity, the truth is that unless this is matched by a concerted energy saving drive – which targets both individuals and businesses - the national supply system will continue to operate under constrained conditions.
While I thoroughly commend Eskom for rolling out energy-saving globes to poor households, it is very disturbing that they have not been as dedicated to ensuring that companies also heed the call to start saving electricity.
If Eskom believes that the fluorescent bulbs that it rolls out to communities save more electricity, why is a parastatal, like Metrorail for example allowed to get away with still using 100 watts globes in its trains? Imagine my shock when I, on my way home from buying the energy-saving globes myself (the good citizen that I am), realise that the train I am travelling in is using the very globes that I am replacing! Why is Metrorail not phasing out its 100 watts globes in its trains and replacing them with energy-saving bulbs. Imagine the amount of electricity that could be saved?
And while I’m at it, I also think that government should make it compulsory for municipalities to embark on their own energy-saving campaigns. How many times have you travelled around your community and saw the lights on in daylight. How many street lights use energy saving globes in our municipalities? I personally have seen lights on in certain areas especially in the City of Johannesburg. How many times have you seen lights on in government offices? How many public servants work at night?
During the Ditsela discussion forum I mentioned previously, participants, who included academics, policy makers and trade unions, described load shedding as a ‘national crisis’ that needed urgent attention from all sectors of South African society. We need to take action now!
While I agree with National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) that the government should consider alternative energy sources in order to address the electricity crisis, I think we should start saving what we have while we invest in other energy sources.
We must find a way to name and shame government institutions, companies and others who do not make an effort to save electricity. Culprits should be made to pay a heavy price.
I do not relish a repeat of last year!
- Picture courtesy of the Anti-Privatisation Forum