Use energy efficiently

    MONDAY, 5 JULY 2010 
    A call to use energy more efficiently 
    South Africa is not going to satisfy its growing electricity demands by
    constantly increasing supply, the traditional response in the past. The
    quickest, most cost-effective response is to increase energy efficiency,
    because much of our electricity goes to waste. The government has taken
    energy efficiency seriously, and this newsletter looks at how the
    Department of Public Works is retrofitting thousands of buildings to
    increase efficiency. We also look in detail at one good example of a
    ‘green’public building, the new Central Energy Fund building. 
    An energy retrofit to thousands of buildings 
    GOVERNMENT is the biggest property landlord in the country, with some
    108 000 buildings under its custodianship, ranging from the Houses of
    Parliament to courts, prisons, office blocks and housing estates. The
    combined energy bills run into the tens of millions each month. 
    When the electricity crisis struck in early 2008, the Cabinet announced
    that it would lead by example, directing the Department of Public Works
    (DPW) to fast- track energy efficiency policies in government-owned
    In fact the department had already formed an Energy Efficiency task
    team, and in February 2008 had formulated an Energy Code of Conduct for
    all 108 000 public buildings under its custodianship. Energy audits on
    public buildings go back more than ten years. 
    An example of energy efficiency in public buildings came later that same
    year, when the Treasury allocated R20 million to DPW to upgrade lighting
    to new low-energy standards in almost 2 000 government buildings in
    Pretoria. The biggest buildings, mainly office blocks, were chosen,
    because those were the ones where the savings would be largest.
    Completed in March 2009, the project saves almost R5 million in
    electricity bills each year. A year later, a further 1 200 buildings –
    including the Union Buildings – had their lighting upgraded, with an
    expected annual saving of 1,747Gw/h in electricity, and an annual saving
    of over R6 billion in electricity fees. Among the upgraded buildings
    were the homes of ministers. 
    Driving these initiatives has been the Department of Energy, which has
    set a national target to reduce energy consumption by 12% over the next
    five years. The target for public sector and commercial buildings has
    been set at 12%, and residential buildings at 10%. 
    Retrofitting of old buildings, constructed in an era when no-one paid
    much attention to energy use, can yield substantial savings: it has been
    calculated that energy efficiency can be improved by 70%, piped water
    use can be cut by 80% and discharges to sewers by 70%. The costs of
    retrofitting can be paid back over a few years thanks to savings on
    utility bills. 
    According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),
    the built environment in South Africa uses a surprisingly large
    percentage of our resources: 40% of our energy is used to power
    buildings; 17% of our fresh water, 25% of our timber and 40% of other
    materials. That’s why in April this year, Minister of Public Works Geoff
    Doidge told a building conference that his department would engage with
    the construction industry to create a green built environment, which
    would in turn create green jobs and contribute to a green economy. 
    Although South Africa lags behind many countries, significant steps have
    been taken in the past two years. In 2008, a Green Building Council of
    South Africa was formed, a non-profit organisation that brings together
    government and the private sector, the construction industry and
    property developers, architects and engineers, to work together towards
    establishing sustainable building standards. 
    The council’s most important achievement has been to issue a Green Star
    SA rating system, based on an Australian model. Buildings can be awarded
    up to six stars in different categories – office blocks are graded
    differently to shopping malls – according to how they perform against a
    lengthy list of criteria that measure everything from light fittings to
    bathroom taps to windows, building materials, roof insulation, use of
    the land, quality of the internal air, and more. The DPW aims to set a
    date by which all new public buildings will need to achieve a minimum of
    four stars from the Green Star system. It will also submit a memorandum
    to Cabinet calling for compulsory Green Star compliance for all new
    buildings in the country, both public and private sector. 
    To help the construction industry understand the many technical issues
    involved, a Green Building Handbook was published in 2009, largely
    researched, edited and produced by the CSIR. The CSIR has also produced
    a tool for developers called the Sustainable Building Assessment Tool,
    that can measure the potential environmental performance of construction
    projects while they are still in the planning stages. 
    In South Africa, sustainable building practices include social and
    economic criteria as well as environmental factors. This is extremely
    important to the DPW, for whom a major mandate is job creation. “The
    transformation to green provides emerging economies with opportunities
    to develop green products, green industry and green jobs,” says Minister
    How going green saved CEF money 
    THE Central Energy Fund (CEF) recently moved into new premises, which
    provide a good example of how a public building can be retrofitted to
    green guidelines. They also demonstrate why going green can actually
    save money. 
    The state-owned CEF manages the government’s interests in a wide range
    of subsidiaries in the oil, gas, minerals and energy sectors. One of its
    mandates is renewable energy development. The company recently outgrew
    its rented offices in Rosebank, Johannesburg, moving to a building off
    Grayston Road, one of the busiest streets in Sandton. 
    The four storey building had already been designed, but CEF decided to
    ‘lead by example’ and have it retrofitted as a model of energy efficient
    construction. There was more to this than altruism. CEF saved up to nine
    percent on the initial cost of the building, and expects a return on the
    investment in four years, thanks to savings on energy costs. Remarkably,
    CEF were not the only ones to benefit – the developers saved so much
    money they were able to construct a second, similar building alongside,
    and have become enthusiastic converts to sustainable construction. 
    Here are examples of how energy efficient features were incorporated
    into the building: 
    Like most modern buildings, CEF House has plenty of large glass windows.
    These make use of double glazing – an outer and inner pane of glass with
    a gap between them – to reduce heat loss and gain. The inner pane is
    made of a substance known as Low-emissivity, or Low-E glass, which has a
    thin metallic coating that bounces back thermal radiation and prevents
    heat from creeping through the glass. The bottoms of outside doors are
    fitted with “door sweeps”that prevent draughts blowing in. 
    To reduce heat flows from the parking basement to the ground floor,
    insulation panels made of compressed vermiculite were stapled to the
    basement ceiling. Vermiculite, a clay-like mineral, is found in
    abundance in South Africa, and is highly regarded for both its
    insulation and fireproofing qualities. Loose-fill vermiculite was packed
    into the cavity in the external brick walls to provide additional
    insulation. A 50mm insulation layer was also installed under the roof
    Lighting is one of the biggest consumers of electricity, particularly in
    offices where lights are often permanently switched on. CEF House
    installed a new system from Philips, never previously used outside
    Europe, called ActiLume. The lights look much like conventional
    fluorescent tube fittings, but their consumption, of 5-7 watts per
    square metre, is a fraction of the industry norm of around 30 watts. The
    most notable feature of ActiLume is its use of motion sensors which
    switch the lights off entirely when no-one is in the room, and light
    sensors that dim the tubes when enough daylight is coming in through the
    windows. Philips claims that in Europe these systems have reduced energy
    consumption by up to 75%. 
    Another innovative technology is the lift, bought from a Finnish company
    called Kone, which has pioneered a mechanism that uses magnetic motors
    rather than hydraulics, resulting in a lighter lift cage that is said to
    use 80% less electricity. The Kone system is also able to confine all
    the mechanical parts to the hoistway at the top of the lift shaft,
    unlike conventional lifts which require a special, space-consuming
    machine room. 
    Two solar water heaters, each with 200 litre capacity, take care of all
    the hot water needs in bathrooms and kitchens. Sensors in basins and
    urinals cut out the chances of taps being left on, resulting in more
    efficient water use. 
    Of course more is needed than simply a green building. People have to
    change their habits too. Video conferencing has been installed at CEF
    House and at subsidiaries like PetroSA in Cape Town, refineries in
    Mossel Bay, and at international offices, thus reducing the need for air
    travel. And as an experiment, 30 of the staff are having their private
    transport habits monitored, to encourage wider awareness of sustainable
    transport options like lift clubs and public transport. 
    More interventions are being planned, including the recycling of all
    waste, including glass, plastic, tin and used cooking oil, the addition
    of thin-film solar cell panels to the roof and a mini wind turbine to
    the front facade. 
    THE Department of Energy has published a revised set of policies to
    encourage electricity efficiency, and has invited public comment. The
    updated rules (Policy to Support Energy Efficiency and Demand Side
    Management) are to be found on the website of the National Energy
    Regulator, NERSA. The new policies are based “on lessons learnt from the
    implementation of the current rules,” says NERSA. 
    Electricity efficiency has two sides: supply, in the form of Eskom or
    alternative forms of power; and demand, meaning the consumers. Since
    much of our electricity is simply wasted, reducing demand is an
    essential component – indeed, efficient use of electricity could reduce
    demand by up to 30%. 
    The policy document aims to set a regulatory framework, set efficiency
    targets and provide for tariff-based incentives to stimulate energy
    efficiency. The public are invited to comment before 20 July 2010,
    writing to Mr Tebogo Majatladi at eedsmru