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How to reduce your electricity bill 

Small changes can have a big impact.

The annual double-digit increases in the price of electricity in recent years have sent household energy bills skyrocketing. But there are a number of simple changes that households can make to reduce their electricity consumption and therefore their electricity bills. Even more material ones are possible for homeowners (those not renting).

The graph below shows changes made in a 166m2 three-bedroom sectional title unit and their impact over time. The unit has three family members. Over a period of three years, the owner has reduced electricity consumption from over 600 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month to  approximately 350kWh. All laundry is in cold water (and has always been), lights are switched off when rooms are not occupied, and cooking is done on a gas hob (and electric oven).

Source: Unit owner

The graph below shows changes made in a similar-sized, three-bedroom sectional title unit (168m2). Until mid 2018, the unit had three family members. A new owner with two family members took occupation in August. Even here, the owners have over a period of two years halved their electricity consumption to under 250kWh per month. Laundry is also in cold water, lights are switched off when rooms are not occupied, garden lighting is solar, and cooking is on a gas hob (and electric oven).

A further material change was made in late 2018 when the geyser temperature was adjusted downwards and the timer cut from two four-hour blocks daily to just one (mornings). Water is heated ad-hoc if required outside of those times. Also, the winter heating with air-conditioners did not repeat this year. Gas was used.

Source: Unit owner

Implementing even some of the changes made by these owners as well as others suggested by an energy expert will see consumption drop.

Light bulbs

In the above homes, all incandescent bulbs – mainly candle bulbs in chandeliers and bedside lights – were initially changed to compact fluorescents (CFL) in the first year. In the past 12 to 18 months, however,  they changed to LED bulbs as these became more affordable, at around R20 per bulb.

Payback on LED bulbs for lights that operate for approximately five hours per day is typically four to six months.

Building a habit of switching off lights when a room is not occupied will also reduce consumption.

It is worth taking a look at down lights too as many are still 40 to 45 watt bulbs. They can be replaced with 3W LED bulbs, which are now available.

In complexes, common area lighting is often overlooked. At the above complex, just by changing floodlights from halogen to LED, and other lights to CFL and thereafter LED, has seen electricity consumption halve from around 2 000kWh per month to around 1 000kWh.

Geyser

Geysers typically account for 40-60% of the electricity consumed in a home. Simply changing the temperature of from 80°C to 55°C will see a saving of 50-100kWh per month. The benefits of installing a geyser timer can be material, but much will depend on a household’s individual circumstances. Where there is a clear benefit, however, is in switching off the geyser at the mains if you are away for two or more days at a time.

The simple insulation of a geyser with a blanket will also yield a drop in electricity consumption.

Heat pump      

Fitting a geyser with a heat pump can save 60% of the geyser electricity consumption. This means that, at a price of an estimate R16 000 installed, the payback would be between four and six years under current electricity tariffs. With estimated price increases in the next few years, the payback period will likely be three to four years. One downside, though: heat pumps are noisy.

Solar geyser

At a similar price to heat pumps (R16 000 to R20 000), paybacks will be around the same (four years). Solar geysers are silent and work well, but can be more expensive than heat pumps and is not always suitable (when there isn’t enough sunlight, for example).

Washing

Washing laundry in cold water costs nothing and the savings can be quite substantial, although this will vary from machine to machine. Some appliance makers estimate that 75-90% of all the energy used by a washing machine goes to warming up the water.

Fridge/freezer

Changing from a chest freezer and an inefficient old fridge to a new, energy efficient fridge/freezer combo can save 150kWh per month. In one of the households above, the saving was 100-150kWh per month. At the cost of R7 000 for a new appliance, the payback is approximately three years.

Gas cooking and heating

These calculations are more difficult to do, as patterns will vary from household to household. 

A 9kg gas cylinder, at just over R200, will power a stove for three to six months, depending on how often it is used. This equates to R30-R60 per month for stove-top cooking.

Electric bar/fan/oil heaters should be avoided at all costs.

The installation of a solar system to augment or replace grid supply is an obvious option. There is the added benefit of avoiding the impact of any load-shedding or power outages. Here, however, there is no cookie-cutter solution. Each installation has to be correctly sized for the particular house and its typical electricity consumption pattern.

It is worth doing this exercise and figuring out whether the investment makes sense. Some households are seeing payback in approximately three years, while for others (particularly those who rushed to solar before prices really dropped) the payback period is longer.

Hilton Tarrant works at YFM. He can still be contacted at hilton@moneyweb.co.za

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Good advice in civilised honest country ,but a waste of effort and time in this cesspool .
when majority of the country steal or simply refuse to pay for electricity this corrupt government will simply find another means for the haves to pay for the havenots – that is how they stay in power and keep drinking from the pigtrough

Thanks Hilton – a good article

Maybe but not realistic. Any huge savings effort may save a few R’s per month which will not make any real difference except to inconvenience the user greatly. Lets be realistic-saving R50/R100 per month is not going to help.We are caught in the vice of ANC Eskom corruption and non payment and until that changes all saving efforts are in vain.

Here’s one. How about getting wet in the shower THEN turning it off while you soap up. then turn back on to rinse? Dr. Debt

Some good advice, but one correction: a solar PV system does not normally give any loadshed benefit. If it does, it will certainly not have a payback period. Backup is a risk / comfort decision, not an economical one. Batteries are damned expensive and the inverter charger system too. Any backup system costs at LEAST R4/kWh. But like mastercard said – priceless

From personal experience reducing the temperature of the geyser and switching it on about an hour before evening shower gave the biggest saving, after that came the replacing of the old filament type bulbs. Reversible cycle aircons are highly efficient and I am certain that using them for heating is still cheaper than using gas. LPG has an energy density of 50MJ/kg, 1MJ=0.277kwh, so a 9kg gas bottle has the energy content of about 125kwh of electricity which is the equivalent R1.6 per kwh. The biggest disadvantage of using gas for cooking is that it runs out at the most inconvenient time. Years ago the house we lived in had gas stove (it came with the house we did not buy it) and a large gas cylinder in a purpose built enclosure outside the kitchen. We run out of gas while preparing the Christmas meal for a large party. I have refused to use gas since then. Of course one can have a spare but storing it can be a problem, most certainly you can not keep them indoors, not even in the garage. In most European cities there is piped gas and the energy cost of it is about half or even less than the cost of electricity.

Good calcs so still cheaper to cook on gas than COJ more than R2 per kWh.
I love cooking on gas as its instant heat – no hearing up of the plate first.
Although I did run out whilst cooking – had to connect up my bottle from my gas heater

I grew up with piped gas I also liked the instant heat. One disadvantage compared to electricity is that simmering at even at the lowest setting gas can burn food unlike electricity. People often put a thick steel plate between the flame and pot if they want to simmer. My brother and sister-in-law moved recently to a new place and after nearly 60 years she could not use gas for cooking because EU regulations do not allow gas cooker in an open plan kitchen. They got an induction stove and according to her it is even better than gas because the temperature control is much better and it also provides instant heat. All her life she used gas oven and she claims the electric version is so much better that she would never go back to the gas one.

We keep a smaller cylinder as the back up for the stove. 9kg and use it when the 19kg runs out. We reorder and switch over to the big one. the 9kg lasts us about 9 months.

Thanks. Do you by any chance give cooking lessons? My last two 19kg cylinders lasted little more than 3 months each and I’m hoping I’m not being scammed by the sellers.

chrism, something must be wrong. We cook everyday and a 9kg cylinder lasts us on average 5 – 6 months. That is gas stove-top only with an electrical oven.

Correction 19kg lasts us 9 months.

You can have two cylinders connected with a two-way changeover valve. Then, when one cylinder becomes empty you (keep calm and) flip the switch and carry on cooking.

Extremely simple and easy, like if one light goes out, turn on another.

Useful info, thanks. LPG gas price is guaranteed to rise in step with electricity prices. A gas plus is that one will be able to cook whenever Eskom conks.

ESKOM keep requesting exorbitant tariff increases forcing people to save more and find alternatives solutions. It’s like a lose lose situation for EKSDOM. Solar is becoming more attractive by the day:-)

I thought we as S’Africans are supposed to HELP Eskom by using more of their product??
Eskom is utter USELESS…as they want us to…USE LESS 😉

But load-shedding tells us, Eskom cannot supply enough product to earn income (despite being a monopoly)

(Btw, I LOVE my geyser-heatpump! Capital mostly recouped since 2013)

“Dont make heat. Just transfer it!” 🙂

Thanks Hilton
Great article – I and many others have had issues with water heat pumps – not just the noise – but every year or two one has to have maintenance – always R1 to R 2 000 including callouts etc – maybe just the wrong brand.

I am going the gas route for the shower – 2 people in the house – it would be great if you or any reader has the calculations what gas would be used for the above -ie just 2 people & showering

Hi Robot- Been using gas geysers now for many years. Just my wife and I and for showering. We live in hot climate and have to shower twice a day. 19kg gas for 16 liter pm geyser lasts mostly about 2 months in winter and sometimes 3 in summer. Roundabout R300 ( bit less) for gas so about R150 pm.+ 2x batteries at R20 pm. At 43C setting. About 8kg gas pm depending on length of shower and temp.About R5 per day for 4 showers and my shaving.Will have to change your mindset to short showers.

In Hungary we had a gas geyser which was the instant-on type, with very small water storage (maybe 5 litres). As I remember the biggest problem was that it was very hard to have a stable water temperature. This was 50 years ago, I hope today’s models are better. About a year ago in Germany we used Airbnb and rented a small flat with similar water heater with a slightly bigger water storage. The temperature control simply switched the flame on and off every few seconds while using it. The water temperature was stable when it worked but half the time the pilot flame went out while using it and it was very inconvenient to restart it while I was soaking wet and shampoo dripping into my eyes. The instructions were quite complex, to start up switch the gas switch on, switch the control to position 4, press a button which started an electric spark lighting the pilot flame. Check the pilot flame, then switch to position 2, check that the pilot flame is still on, etc. The owner of the flat claimed it never had the same problem before.

If you got the world’s longest extension cord and plugged it into Soweto you will have free electricity!!

Pointless trying to save on electricity. Municipalities rely on electricity income to pay fixed costs. Reduce consumption and they simply add an additional fixed fee. Cape Town has what is called an Electricity Home Usage Charge. If everyone saves, they’ll just up this charge. Same with water.

Backup system using inverters and batteries need not be expensive. I procured and installed a dual system for lights and entertainment systems (2 x 500 W) with batteries with batteries (2 x 104 Ah), for R5000. This gives enough for eight hours of blackout (aka load shedding) outage.

Computers have own batteries for 8 hours. Small 7 Ah battery for the fibre-wifi router.

This is all on manual changeover, takes me three minutes. If you want auto-changeover, this would be three to five times more expensive.

Heating and cooking is all on gas. Fridges, geyser can wait until power is restored. Geyser has double insulating blanket. Beer stays cold.

What more could one want? Just to connect to free township power, maybe.

An acquaintance runs house lights on 12 volt bulbs with a system consisting of PV panels, a charger, and two car batteries.

Dear Navigator,
Where can I get the inverters and batteries so that I can power the lights etc. Also interestd in the 7Ah battery for the router.
Would appreciate your help.
Thank you,

Get off the grid and help destroy one of the greatest monuments to corruption and racism this country has seen, Eskom.

Some time ago in an article, Bloomberg I think, it was mentioned that in 1994 Eskom was rated as one to the best utility suppliers internationally.

Witbooi the ANC has broken all the records when it comes to destroying a country.

We, the 4% that pay tax and keep them in the looting game are the worlds best, having endured this for the last 25 years and we are still here. Maybe the stupidest but certainly the most resilient tax payers ever..

Scientific analysis apart, I always found switching off stuff to be quite effective. And if that switching stuff off bothers you, work harder, earn more and use it anyway.Efficiently of course.

Some of the Suggestions are good, but some are totally impractical for the cash strapped consumer. Cannot afford a solar geyser, or new fridge or a new gas oven. What we have done, however, has brought considerable savings and hopefully recovery of costs.
I now have a 4 plate hob which cost me R1400.00 and it works well. I have also installed a 20 litre (water flow) geyser. Cost of the geyser was R3900.00 My electrity consumption is now about R300 and the gas about R500. This requires some frugality but I am happy with the results and the many power failures in Kempton Park have not affected us that much. We can eat, have a hot shower or bath, we charge our phones when we have electricity and use candles, torches for lighting. The only thing we do not have is TV, but with the fare from DSTV it is not sad loss.Miss Netflix though.There at two people in the house.

It really does not matter how much you reduce your usage, as you do this all that happens is your levies increase. On average levies are 40% of my electricity bill. When was this implemented when Eskom and municipal earnings dropped due to load shedding. Government will always find a way to take more from the legally connected citizens.

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