10 things you may not know about your electricity | WWF South Africa

10 things you may not know about your electricity

Posted on 15 April 2016
Wind energy is one example of renewable energy.
© WWF / Carlos G. Vallecillo
We all know coal is really dirty – because of how it’s mined and processed, and its devastating impact on climate change. It’s also the bedrock of our electricity supply which has become more and more expensive.

We’ve grown accustomed to being left languishing in the dark or huddled around candles since load-shedding was first introduced in 2008. And this is something we’re reminded of every winter with rolling blackouts.

We might bemoan our sooty fate but seem to have accepted it because what other choice was there? Eskom supplies about 95% of our power demand – overwhelmingly coal-based.

So what should you know?
  1. We’re a solar-rich country. We have one of the highest solar resources in the world, getting over twice as much sunlight as Germany, where more than 15% of national electricity supply comes from renewable sources. Sun, wind and waves are free, we just need to capture their energy.
  2. We are coal-dependant. Nationally about 77% of our energy is generated from coal, largely to provide electricity.
  3. Our current energy sector is really bad for the environment. It is the biggest culprit of our country’s emissions – responsible for about 85% of the gases that cause climate change.
  4. The way we travel uses up nearly a third of our energy. Our transport sector uses 28% of final energy produced. Public transport would reduce this footprint but most of us prefer to drive solo.
  5. Cities are responsible for nearly half our greenhouse gases from electricity. Our cities use 44% of our electricity, according to the 2011 State of Energy in South African Cities Report.
  6. Our food takes a lot of energy to make. The food sector accounts for around 30% of the world’s total energy consumption and accounts for around 22% of total emissions.
  7. Our domestic usage has us in hot water. Electric geysers are usually the highest electricity consuming appliance in our homes accounting for about 30% to 40% of electricity used.
  8. Way more people are on the grid. In SA, access to electricity has increased from 34% in 1994 to 84% in 2011.
  9. Low income households bear the heaviest cost burden. SA households spend roughly 14% of their monthly income on energy needs. Some 43% of all households are classified as energy poor. Once we have renewable energy plants in place, it is possible for electricity prices to drop.
  10. There’s another way. WWF research has found that 95% of our power could be generated through renewable resources (water, wind, sun) by 2050 using technologies that already exist or are being developed.
So now you know the facts. Do you have the energy for a little more?

Let’s get excited about lots of innovative and tested solutions. We really don’t need any more coal-fired power plants. Eskom’s renewable energy procurement can be ramped up sharply and we can aid the sale of privately generated electricity back into the grid. To improve access and deployment of power, Eskom or municipalities could be investing in “smart” computerised metres and electricity grids, which can feed in or take out electricity between various sources and individual users. Electricity being generated from lots of different sites builds in fall-back options, so that when Eskom goes offline, we aren’t slave to the darkness.

We can take a sho’t left and build energy access and efficiency into the way we do things in the first place.
Wind energy is one example of renewable energy.
© WWF / Carlos G. Vallecillo Enlarge