Geysers off

2008-05-12 00:00

Eskom’s decision to stop load shedding came as a great relief, although many people were puzzled as to how it was possible to determine that consumers were saving enough electricity when large sections of the grid had been switched off for hours on end. Possibly the news that the Msunduzi Municipality is planning other consumption- cutting strategies, such as the centralised switching off of domestic water heaters, is a hint that Eskom is actually far from satisfied with voluntary savings and that a lot more inconvenience is about to be imposed.

The central control of geysers is technologically possible, but its practical implementation will surely be challenging. The adaptation of the switching mechanism on each individual geyser will be a massive task, and the municipal authorities will not have forgotten the difficulties of gaining access to private premises for rates assessment purposes. Given the crime rate, householders are particularly sensitive about invasions of their space. They will certainly want assurance that they won’t have to pay for the new switches. Then, if the scheme is not implemented consistently, efficiently and fairly, there will be much unhappiness.

Unfortunately, between Eskom’s poor management and the government’s poor decision-making, unhappiness is likely to be the order of the day for years to come. However, if it is effective, centralised geyser switching is certainly preferable to complete outages, and the Msunduzi Municipality seemed able to manage its load-shedding schedule more capably than many other centres.

Other compulsory measures are being considered, but while the authorities ponder their options with sticks they should not ignore the value of carrots. If, for example, it makes sense to install solar heaters on all new buildings, could there not be an incentive for existing householders to do the same?

Consumers would be far more willing to conserve power voluntarily if they could believe that Eskom was being efficiently and consistently managed, communicating fully and honestly with the public, and — with the government’s participation — mixing encouragement with compulsion.

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