How retailers in South Africa are looking to escape Eskom’s electricity grid – with electricity costs likely to double within five years


As South Africa struggles with rising power costs and ongoing load shedding, many retailers are looking for ways to become more energy efficient and reduce their reliance on the national grid, notes Steven Heilbron, CEO of financing solutions provider, Capital Connect.

While implementing solutions like solar can be expensive, the return on investment can be significant in three to five years, he said.

Heilbron said higher electricity costs and frequent power outages pose a significant operational risk to retailers. Experts expect electricity prices in South Africa to double over the next five years, while Eskom’s medium-risk scenario predicts 203 days of power outages over the next 12 months.

While many larger stores use generators to keep going through power outages, retailers should also look to sustainable alternatives such as solar energy as a buffer against tax shedding and rising prices, Heilbron said.

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“The time to act is now, as the world is gripped by a climate and energy crisis,” he added.

Solar energy, combined with battery storage, can enable a retailer to continue load shedding without expensive, noisy generators,” said Heilbron. “In addition, it has the advantage that a store can save money by reducing the use of municipal or Eskom electricity. It is also a sustainable, environmentally friendly choice.”

Heilbron said retailers are also looking at other steps they can take to become more energy efficient. Something as simple as installing closed doors to open perishable refrigerators or placing strip curtains between cold rooms and the rest of the store can make a huge difference in the amount of power a food retailer consumes in a month.

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There are also opportunities to save money on lighting through steps such as equipping the retail environment with LED lighting, which is more expensive up front than incandescent or fluorescent lamps, but lasts longer and consumes much less energy over its lifetime.

“Another simple step retailers can take is to: use motion detectors to activate lighting in low-traffic areas such as bathrooms, warehouses and passageways,” says Heilbron. “Energy efficient lighting has the side effect of reducing the heat generated in a store, which can also help lower air conditioning costs.”

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) is another area where retailers can achieve quick wins in energy efficiency. Modern HVAC systems with smart, central controls and features such as heat recovery can enable a retailer to get the right temperature for customer comfort and food safety, while ensuring efficiency.

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“Although it can be expensive to replace old refrigerators or air conditioning units, the energy efficiency of refrigeration technology has improved significantly over the years. Many retailers will find that upgrading to energy efficient equipment will save them money in the long run,” said Heilbron.

“Retailers can also benefit from using the sun’s natural heating through large windows and natural cooling smart ventilation instead of relying solely on artificial climate control. Having a vision and making smart and sustainable choices does not have to be complicated.”

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