Power utility Eskom, together with government, business and labour partners, launched a large-scale energy-saving campaign at the weekend, designed to mobilise South Africans to reduce their power consumption and in so doing reduce South Africa's carbon footprint.
Dubbed '49M', the initiative has direct reference to the savings role that can be played by the country's 49-million citizens in stimulating what is sometimes referred to as 'negawatts', or demand reduction. This power of the individual to switch off lights and appliances that are not in use is symbolised by a yellow ribbon tied around an index finger.
This power of individuals to switch off lights and electric appliances that are not in use is symbolised by a yellow ribbon tied around an index finger.
The five-year campaign comes as the power supply/demand balance is under severe stress, with Eskom estimating that, in the absence of savings, South Africa will face a shortfall of between 6 TWh and 9 TWh in 2011 and 2012 - 9 TWh represents the equivalent of Cape Town's yearly consumption, or the capacity of a 1 000-MW-plus power plant.
Pressure on the system is only expected to begin easing towards the final quarter of 2012, when the first unit at what will eventually be the 4 800-MW Medupi power station, in Limpopo, is scheduled to be synchronised to the grid.
The campaign was launched by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in Newton, Johannesburg, who is the initiative's official "champion", and it will seek to make power saving a "national culture".
It is primarily an awareness-creation instrument. But the partners have also committed themselves to pursuing joint solutions to the crisis so as to avoid a return to the economy-damaging era of rotational load shedding, which was last experienced between January and April 2008.
Eskom CEO Brian Dames said the movement would be built on "three P's", which translated to "save the power, save the planet and save your pocket".
South Africa has the highest individual consumption rates on the continent of 4 904 kWh/y a person, which was more than double the next highest of 1 470 kWh/y a person reported in Egypt. It was also far higher then the 144 kWh/y for every person in Nigeria, the continent's most populous country. South Africa generates 240-billion kWh/y.
Most of this consumption was derived from South Africa's power-intensive business sector, which, Dames reported, had already committed to supporting the 49M campaign.
If successfully deployed, government and Eskom believe 49M will also enable the country to postpone costly investments into new power stations. It is estimated that the country will need to double its current installed capacity of 42 000 MW over the next 20 years, with Eskom already committed to spending over R300-billion on the introduction of some 10 000 MW of new, mostly coal-fired capacity, before 2020.
Cabinet has also endorsed a new electricity plan, dubbed IRP2010, which outlines a vision for new renewable, nuclear, coal, hydro and gas investments between now and 2030, much of which will have to be developed by independent power producers. Renewable sources are meant to deliver 42%, or more than 17 000 MW, of that new generation capacity, nuclear 23% and coal 15%.