Energy Efficiency as the first fuel

Energy efficiency and conservation is the first fuel before we even start to look at other alternative energy sources/fuels for power generation, electrification and supply purposes.

Even before we get too hang up on the idea of providing more new generation capacity to increase access to energy services and improve electrification levels, especially in our rural communities, we need to satisfy ourselves that this new generation capacity will not simply be gobbled up by inefficient use and consumption. We need to be sure that ‘power hungry’ consumers are aware of energy efficiency and conservation before we release to them our next watt.

So, yes, indeed, we are faced with the great challenge of increasing access to energy services to all the people achievable over a certain predefined timescale. We are committed to providing energy access to previously energy-starved communities and reducing right through to complete elimination of energy poverty. We are also guaranteeing energy security to existing users of energy. This commitment to deliver on these promises demands that we identify the quickest wins at the lowest transaction cost.

Energy efficiency and conservation realises for us ‘negawatts’ of sufficient quantum to qualify as virtual power plants. A new build power plant costs several millions of US dollars for each MW. A virtual power plant constituted from the freed up/’unused’ energy generates ‘negawatts’ at a fraction (typically a third) of the new build per MW generation.

In times of generation deficits where demand outstrips supply and the likely load curtailment ensues (such as the times we are currently experiencing in the country), energy efficiency and conservation can as well balance out the demand-supply equation without a need for load curtailment or infamously known load shedding. It is when generation/supply cannot match up with demand/end-use when load curtailment options are in consideration that we could self-heal by reducing our demand to match the supply to not effect a curtailment. Load curtailment is a measure proactively deployed to avoid the catastrophic worst-case total blackout or partial brown out.

A simple explanation of what energy efficiency and conservation are is that when you change from your traditional 60W incandescent bulb to an 20W compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) or indeed from this same 20W CFL to a 9W Light Emitting Diode lamp (LED), that is an energy efficiency gain, granted the light output and quality of service through this transition remains the same or even improves.

When you now have this energy efficient lighting technology and so have now embraced energy efficiency, the act of switching off or not making use of this energy efficient technology when you don’t need it such as switching off the 20W CFL or the 9W LED when you are not in the room or when you do not need it because you have natural light sufficient to make you do your task; that then is energy conservation. You could still with an inefficient 60W incandescent conserve energy (energy conservation) by learning to switch it off when not needed or when away.

Other than energy cost savings, other benefits accrue from switching to more energy efficient technologies such as frequency of changing bulbs + accumulative energy cost (total cost of ownership), contained toxic substances, et cetera.

The estimated cost of keeping a 60W bulb on for 24 hours (inefficient technology with no conservation practice) at an average electric unit cost of K1.00 per unit (kWh) is almost K1.44 without even adding the excise duty & VAT). So, if the same light bulb is left on for one week (7 days), that is equivalent to wasting money to buy a loaf of bread at K10 per loaf as a weekly breakfast supply.

You could automate energy conservation measures such as switching off a light not needed or when away from it’s service by introducing light and/or occupancy/ vacancy sensors that only turn the light on when your presence is detected, or insufficient light levels are detected, or off when sufficient natural light is detected or your presence is not detected.

Both energy efficiency and energy conservation are energy management best practices that save us energy and corresponding costs. Energy Conservation is at the base of the energy pyramid.

So now the energy we do not use from this absolute reduction in demand from 60W to 20W of 40W (or from 20W to 9W of 11W) over the normal or usual operating/use time in hours (Wh) is the ‘negawatt’ generated and freed up for use elsewhere. This ‘negawatt’ arising from energy efficiency is a permanently freed and available resource granted there is no reverse action of moving back from the 9W LED to the 20W CFL to the 60W Incandescent bulb again.

Energy conservation becomes a habitual, albeit short-term ‘negawatt’ gain as and when a light not needed is switched off for whatever duration of time (Wh). In the short-term, even before you embark upon a transition into energy efficiency, you could still with the inefficient 60W incandescent start practicing energy conservation by switching this light bulb off whenever you don’t need it or leave if off when you go away. So, one could effectively conserve energy without first being energy efficient.

Because energy generation at source unless stored in some form of energy storage device, has to be used at load, we need to find where to take these ‘negawatts’ or unused energy; Therefore, the generated ‘negawatts’ must have an immediate use all the time. It has to be fed to the energy starved or energy poor or indeed provide enhanced energy security. Simply put, we can easily power up thousands of additional previously non-electrified homes or even new ‘job-creating’, ‘GDP-contributing’ production plants by simply generating those ‘negawatts’ freed up from energy efficient applications and conservation practices.

So, Energy Efficiency is our first fuel even before we start to look at other
alternatives and renewable energy sources. Utilising this ‘first fuel’ to
create additional capacity for electrification opportunities is very cardinal.

The author is an energy expert and sustainability practitioner with over 25 years of experience (Industrial Mining, Academia, Power Infrastructure/ESI, Electrical consultancy and Energy advisory & consultancy). Reproduction of this article in full or in part without written express permission from the author is forbidden. Send your comments to: kaputuc@gmail.com, WhatsApp: +260 965 387166.

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