The energy saving industry has entered a new stage, leaving behind the traditional approach of retrofitting buildings and factories. The industry has moved from this traditional approach towards a  multi-disciplinary one which is aimed at reducing energy usage and costs. This is done through interactions between a multitude of professionals ranging from architects to electrical engineers which is now becoming an industry norm.

So says, Tlepe Mpe, GM of Zamori Engineering, who points out that energy saving in South Africa has progressed beyond retrofitting to the point where new build projects- primarily for major corporations are required to have built in energy savings measures. The energy saving focus has therefore become more sophisticated with a variety of technologies being specified for applications.

The demand for projects of this nature to be effectively undertaken is that a holistic approach is taken to construction. Professionals need to work together to ensure that all aspects of a building, especially energy consumption, are dealt with and incorporated so that maximum cost and energy saving benefits are derived.

“Gone are the days when energy efficiency meant retrofitting office blocks with energy efficient lighting, replacing electric motors or reducing the cost of water heating at hotels or hostels on mines. Involvement from professionals is now required so that installations, which may vary from solar to heat-exchangers, uninterruptable power services, generator installations or, the incorporation of a number of various technologies, are tackled and completed as part of individual projects to ensure that goals are achieved within defined budgets.”

“Amortisation of costs for projects is still a major consideration. Broader cooperation between representatives of different disciplines could be instrumental in reducing the period required for reaching energy project break-even points.  A few short years ago amortisation periods of up to 20 years were not uncommon, but new technologies and co-operation could significantly reduce this payback period, boosting the industry and increasing the number of projects reaching the market.”

One of the major areas of concern to all involved in the energy business is up-front finance. With projects routinely requiring the input of skills and assets and payment by the contractor, and returns contingent on customers achieving savings targets, obtaining finance for capital intensive energy projects has long been a challenge.

But, points out Berrie de Jager, Head of Natural Resources at Standard Bank Commercial and Business Banking, changing business imperatives are leading to changes in finance models.

“For Standard Bank, which has financed major projects and is a leader in installing green technologies within its own property portfolio, the accent has had to move away from traditional approaches. To finance assets, owned by an Energy Services Company on third parties’ premises and then to wait for savings to materialise before the Energy Services Company can repay it, runs contrary to traditional banking practice.

“Assisting companies like Zamori so that they can develop and execute medium to long-term corporate strategies for power generation and energy management has therefore required a fresh approach to finance. For these projects we tend to focus on the productive value of the interventions rather than it’s tangible value.

“This has had to accommodate a reality in which the historical consumption patterns of energy users are considered, tracked and measured from where interventions can be implemented. This ultimately leads to well managed savings which translates into an improved return on investment.

“The bank, through a deeper understanding of the power sector, is in a strong position to support deserving companies that need capital upfront and for whom payment is months or years ahead.”

With measurement and monitoring being key to all facets of a project, , Zamori has invested into a sophisticated ‘operations control room’ on site at its Pretoria head office.

The realtime process enables staff to monitor every installation around the country, the type of technologies involved and to optimise energy savings. From their desks, controllers have the capability to adjust, close or open facilities so that HVAC installations operate optimally.

The weather, the major determinant of conditions in each building and the use of installations, is considered before any adjustments are made.

For clients, whether from the public or private sector, effective energy management has progressed from the realm of a ‘nice to have’ to a necessity. Driving the change into the future, says Mpe, will be the increasing costs of energy and the imposition of carbon emission taxes.

“These trends cannot be dismissed as just a phase that will disappear in time. The clearest indication of this is the financial reporting requirements of listed companies that now demand disclosure on energy use, steps taken to reduce use and efforts taken to reduce the carbon footprint of corporations.”

“Over the years these requirements have become more onerous, so more corporations are considering their energy savings options. For the energy industry in South Africa, the future is bright. By adopting a shared approach to projects, all could benefit,” concludes Mpe.