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Electricity: bright ideas on how to save

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We all need to focus on how to start using energy more efficiently as this is good both for the planet and our poor beleaguered wallets

With new electricity rates
set to kick in on July 1,
and with the prospect of
more load-shedding always on the
horizon, now is a perfect time for
consumers to improve their knowledge of how electricity costs work,
and how to save energy and money.

“The price of municipal electricity is about to increase by 13%
to 16%, and consumers are going
to be hit hard,” says Citiq Prepaid
managing director Michael Franze.
“Understanding how electricity tariffs work is the first step towards
taking charge of your spending.
“Unfortunately, the exact details
of how any particular electricity bill
is calculated can be so complex
it’s difficult for even experts to
Franze says the long-term solution is for Eskom, municipalities
and the National Energy Regulator
to design simpler consumer tariffs.
But in the meantime, there are
three basic pieces of information
that can help consumers to make
sense of their electricity bills.
Franze breaks it down for us:

1 Your charges will vary depending
on where you live.
If you get your
power directly from Eskom, for
example, you will be charged
according to a different system
than if you get your electricity from
a municipality.
And each municipality has its own system. In Cape
Town people with homes valued at
over R1 million pay a basic home
user charge that covers the cost
of keeping them connected, no
matter how much power they use;
some municipalities like Ekurhuleni have different tariff systems
depending on how much a household uses in a month; and different municipalities charge different
rates for a unit of electricity.
So it’s
important to check what your own
municipal system is.

2 It’s helpful to understand the
incline block tariff (IBT) system.

“Basically, this means that the more
electricity you buy in a month, the
more you pay. In the case of prepaid customers, it has nothing to
do with how much you actually use
– the cost is purely based on how
much you buy.
This means that
electricity is one of the rare cases
where it’s really not a good idea to
buy in bulk. Rather buy from week
to week, or buy just enough at the
beginning of each month to keep
you going. It’s cheaper to top up
with a few units at the end of each
month than to buy enough to last
you for two months.”

3 Consumers should understand
exactly what they’re getting when
they buy a unit of electricity.
terms can be confusing, but when
you break it down it’s actually
quite simple,” says Franze.
amount of power any appliance
uses, also called its power rating, is
measured in watts (W), and this is
always marked on the packaging or
somewhere on the appliance. So an
energy-saving lightbulb might use
20W and an iron would be around
1 000W or 1 kiloWatt (kW), for
A unit of energy, which
is measured in kiloWatt hours
(kWh), is just the amount you
need to run a 1kW appliance like
an iron for one hour. So your
unit will last a long time if you’re
using appliances with a low power
rating, or get used up really fast if
you’re using more power-hungry
A good general rule is
that the more heat an appliance
generates, the more power it uses.”
Franze says this means there are
two ways to save electricity: 
appliances with a lower power rating. If you leave a 100W traditional light bulb on for a whole
week, which is 168 hours, you’ll
use nearly 17 units of electricity.
If a unit costs 150c, then it works
out to about R25.50 to keep that
one light bulb burning for a week.
If you change to a 4W LED energy
saver bulb, you’ll use just over 0.6
units in the same week, and spend
about 1c a saving of R24.”
The second way to save is to use
each appliance for fewer hours.
“Fridges, freezers and alarm systems are the only things in most
houses that need to be on all the
time,” says Franze.
“With everything else, the less you use the
more you’ll save. Switching things
like TVs and DVD players off at the
wall when you’re not using them is
one of the easiest ways to save.
“Once you’ve switched off
appliances that stay in standby
mode, look at the things which
use most power: stoves, ovens, geysers, kettles, irons and heaters. For
example, even the most efficient
wall panel heater uses 400W an
hour, which is nearly R2.50 a day
if you use it for four hours.
A two-bar infra-red heater will cost twice
as much. Drawing the curtains to
keep the heat in, and putting on
a jersey instead of turning on the
heater, could potentially save hundreds of rands a year.”
In the same way, says Franze,
consumers should find ways to use
ovens and stoves more efficiently.
“A wonder box for cooking grains,
rice, potatoes, beans and other
dishes that need slow cooking saves
on electricity. There are many
other ways to save electricity, and
we should all start becoming more
familiar with them. For our wallets
and for the planet, we need to start
using energy more efficiently.” 

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