Need to reduce electricity use overlooked in efforts to mitigate water challenges

3rd May 2024 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

A crucial missing element in current water management strategies is reducing electricity consumption, says CBI-electric: low voltage engineering executive Dr Andrew Dickson.

Discussing Johannesburg’s current water crisis, which raises urgent concerns about the city’s and South Africa’s long-term water security, he says that saving or reducing the use of electricity – which leads to a reduction in loadshedding – could be another key to mitigating the water challenges faced.

His comments followed the recent release of the City of Johannesburg’s water security strategy by mayor Kabelo Gwamanda.

While the document tackles issues such as increasing the water mix and enhancing water conservation and demand initiatives, Dickson believes that saving electricity should be included in the strategy.

“Electricity disruptions are hampering the city’s water supply,” he says, explaining that the disruptions prevent water being pumped from reservoirs to the towers, and damage already decaying infrastructure.

In some cases, this leads to power surges upon restoration, further jeopardising the system’s stability.

Previously, Johannesburg Water, through the City of Johannesburg, urged residents to keep tabs on power utility Eskom’s loadshedding schedule and ensure they have water to last the duration of the outage, as water supply is often affected, particularly during loadshedding periods of more than four hours.

Further, electricity disruptions also impact on water treatment, storage and management, Dickson continues, referring to the results of the Department of Water and Sanitation’s Green, Blue and No Drop reports, which were published in December.

The reports found that 46% of the country’s drinking water systems did not meet microbiological standards and that 67.6% of wastewater treatment plants failed to adequately process sewage and other waste.

“To mitigate this, we must reduce electricity consumption to reduce loadshedding,” emphasises Dickson.

He outlines steps that the public and private sectors could consider to achieve this, including conducting regular energy audits to identify areas for saving electricity.

“Invest in energy-efficient technologies like LED lighting, heat pumps and variable speed drives for appliances. Heat pumps, for example, are three times more energy-efficient than conventional geysers, and variable speed drives slow down motor speeds on a wide range of equipment from fans and lifts to ventilation systems and freezer rooms,” he explains.

Further recommendations include embracing renewable energy, which reduces strain on the grid and uses a fraction of the water used by coal plants to produce electricity, and participating in load management initiatives by Eskom, which encourage industries to reduce peak hour electricity use by clipping or shifting peak loads.

Industries are required to manage this without contravening health and safety requirements to achieve demand reduction.