Cape Town’s most successful inner city business owners are heeding the call to conserve power in the city’s central business district.

Property developers, restaurateurs and merchants have given their backing to the Cape Town Central City Improvement District’s (CCID) “Switch on to Switching Off” campaign, which encourages every CBD stakeholder to stave off loadshedding by implementing a range of power-saving measures.

The campaign, launched late last year, takes the form of a step-by-step guide that recommends a variety of simple yet effective actions stakeholders who own or rent property, or who work, live, or visit the CBD, can take to save electricity.

These include energy audits to identify areas of high energy consumption; upgrading to LED lighting; optimising heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; promoting energy-saving behaviour; using energy-efficient office equipment; and installing renewable energy systems, among others.

Grant Elliott, chief operating officer at Thibault REIT and a member of the CCID board, believes there is a misconception that conserving energy comes at an additional expense.

“Generally speaking, energy conservation saves money in the long run. If money does need to be spent upfront, it will mostly create a return on the investment, especially if you consider where electricity prices are and are going to. Income returns in excess of bank interest rates are frequently achievable,” he says.

Elliott suggests some CBD business owners operate under the erroneous belief that the changes they implement must be wholesale and costly, but there is often “low-hanging fruit” that can be targeted and managed.

By understanding a building’s electrical systems and components through an energy audit, they may learn that they can save a considerable amount of power simply by flicking a switch.

“One may think that unplugging one mobile phone charger when not in use makes no difference but multiply that by a million [people] and it definitely does,” he adds.

“Every single person and business needs to play their part and, if you are a public company, you will be more than aware of the need for implementation and accurate reporting of ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) initiatives.”

Neil Swart, co-owner of the Harrington Street restaurants Belly of the Beast and Galjoen, is an example of the efforts being made to reduce power consumption in the inner city.

While he doesn’t have his own solar solution as yet, he is weighing up rent-to-own options. In the interim he has introduced induction stoves and a charcoal oven in his kitchens, both of which are far more energy efficient than electricity-powered cooking apparatus.

Swart is not alone in his endeavours.

Richard Harris, third-generation owner and CEO of leather wholesaler Woodheads, may not have to endure load-shedding thanks to his business being on the same grid as the District Six Clinic and City Hall, but he is still playing his part.

“We have converted to LED lighting and switch off all our electricity at night except for the critical circuits. Our air conditioners are all the inverter type, and we don’t have any hot water geysers on the premises,” he explains.

Chef-patron Liam Tomlin, whose restaurant portfolio includes Chefs Warehouse at The Bailey, The Brasserie at The Bailey, The Old Bailey Lounge Bar, and The Red Room, is on board with such initiatives.

The temperature fluctuations that come with power cuts can wreak havoc with fresh produce, and Tomlin has been forced to invest heavily in inverters, generators and solar at his restaurants. These are costs he must absorb, as adding them to customers’ bills would be highly damaging to his businesses.

“So, anybody who can do anything to make it better, I’m behind it 100%.”

Power heroes

The City of Cape Town recently launched its own “Power Heroes” initiative. Through the campaign, Cape Town becomes the first metro in the country to implement an electricity demand reduction programme. This will target 60MW in demand reduction, enough to protect against a full stage of load-shedding.

Participating customers can opt to have a smart device installed in their home or business free of charge by the City’s appointed service provider. This will enable non-essential loads like geysers, pool pumps or needless appliances in residential and commercial buildings to be switched off remotely. The voluntary programme will be rolled out in phases.