From the expert: How to save energy and money this winter

As a professional electrical engineer I so often find myself frustrated with articles that give advice on how to save energy. Three important pieces of information that will make a difference are always left out, and even big players like Eskom miss the pot most of the time. The questions always looming after reading these articles are:

  • Which of these energy / cost saving initiatives will yield the most savings for the cheapest price or least effort?
  • What is an easy way to understand which type of appliances uses more energy than others?
  • Why is there such hype around peak demand?

In this article I am going to lay it out straight and simple. What can everyone practically do at an affordable price to make a real difference in saving energy ? Remember, saving energy will not only help limit load-shedding but also save you, the consumer a lot of money (especially considering the proposed massive electricity hikes).

Why is there such hype around peak demand?

Well, think about it in the terms of a reservoir feeding the taps in a thousand homes. There might be enough water in the reservoir to supply each house, but if every tap in every house will be turned on at the same time, the pipes from the reservoir might not be able to supply that demand, it cannot handle the high flow demanded. However, if the houses turn the taps on more spaced out through the day, the demand will be more balanced.

Similarly, Eskom has enough generation capacity to supply the whole country outside the peak demands. So if we can decrease our usage during peak times, thus flattening and balancing out the energy usage of the country throughout the day, then Eskom won’t need to load-shed. How do I do this? Well, let your high energy usage appliances (stoves, swimming pool pump, geysers, etc.) run outside the peak times. In effect, that is what load shedding is doing, it forces a decrease in peak usage so that everyone’s geysers, pumps, etc can be supplied electricity everyday – just not at the same time at peak time.

What appliances use more energy than others?

It can get confusing, especially when articles publish long lists with kilowatt ratings and all the other technicalities. Here is a simple way to break it down for all equipment in general. There are three categories.

Type of appliances Energy Usage Examples
Heating appliances Very high! Stoves, geysers, heaters, incandescent lights etc.
Appliances with pumps Medium to High Pool pump, fridge, aircon, etc.
Electronic appliances Low to Medium Computers, TV, LED lights, etc.

Which of these energy / cost saving initiatives will yield the most savings for the cheapest price or least effort?

To answer that question, tackle the table mentioned above from highest usage appliances to least. Here is the list, in order of the biggest game changers.

Thus to really save power, replace heating appliances with gas or solar alternatives. Solar alternative investments will pay themselves off with savings, <for more info, contact QDM>. However, if you do not have the capital for this right now, then effectively reduce the usage of the heating appliances. How is this done?

  1. Ensure your geyser’s thermostat is set to an ideal temperature; this is normally around 55 – 60 °C.
  2. Take quick showers instead of baths. Use water saving shower heads.
  3. Put a blanket around the geyser and insulate the first few meters of warm water pipe from the geyser. You do not require the hellish expensive insulations for these. Just take the undervelt of an old carpet and wrap that tightly around your geyser and warm water pipes a few times. You can use either duct tape or reflective aircon tape to wrap the undervelt tightly. It is not the prettiest setup, but does a superior job at a fraction of the cost!
  4. Change incandescent lights to LED types. Shop around, some affordable LED options are available and it will pay for itself in a short time with energy savings.
  5. Insulate your house. Open curtains and windows in the day to allow heat in, close them at night to keep the cold air out. Insulation makes a massive difference, but I highly suggest going for the 135mm, wherever you live in the country, but especially Port Elizabeth. For many reasons, Eco-Insulation is the best product.
  6. Minimise the use of heaters, rely more on blankets, warm water bottles and clothes.

Minimise the usage of appliances with electric pumps. How is that done?

  1. Don’t leave the fridge and freezer doors open for extended periods, keep the cold air inside.
  2. Buy a timer for your pool pump and play around to get the minimum hours needed. Make sure these hours are well outside peak times! In general, you should make a real effort to use high energy usage appliances outside peak times.
  3. Don’t keep aircons running unnecessarily. Also keep them in the 18 – 22 °C ranges. If you still get cold, put on a jersey. If you still get hot, put on a t-shirt.

Electronic appliances.

  1. Switch off the lights. It costs you nothing, but saves you big time if you accumulate the wasted hours over a month. Create a habit for yourself and your family to switch off a light when leaving a room.
  2. Use standby mode & sleep mode for your computers and laptops. Don’t let your screen stay on all night with no one using the computer.

By simply focussing on these 11 simple steps and making a real effort with them, you will see a big difference in your electricity bill at the end of each month. Plus, you will be helping to create a more sustainable future for all.