Rolling out energy efficiency to municipalities in South Africa

Submitted by: Margaret McKenzie, Friday, August 31, 2012

<p>eThekwini Municipality staff installing LEDs in traffic lights (Image supplied by eThekwini Municipality Energy Office)</p>

eThekwini Municipality staff installing LEDs in traffic lights (Image supplied by eThekwini Municipality Energy Office)

Municipalities consume substantial amounts of energy both in their own offices and in the process of delivering services.   As a result in 2009, in response to the power crisis, the Department of Energy (DoE) through funding from the Division of Revenue Act initiated the Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management Programme for Municipalities (EEDSM). 

Initially “our main focus area was on public lighting however now it includes traffic signals, buildings, waste water treatment and water purification plants” says Xolile Mabusela the director of Energy Efficiency at DoE.

The three main intervention areas pursued by municipalities in the first three years of the programme were the replacement of inefficient lighting technologies with efficient ones in traffic lights, street lighting and municipal buildings.

Traffic lights

Most municipalities previously used incandescent bulbs for their traffic lights.  Through EEDSM funding a number of municipalities, such as City of Cape Town and Polokwane have replaced close to 100% of incandescent bulbs with LEDs (light emitting diodes).  One of the beneficiaries of the programme, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, has now installed LEDs in over 12,000 individual lights.  Since LEDs provide concentrated light they are particularly well suited to traffic lights explains Tyronne Ferndale from Nelson Mandela Bay. While LED traffic lights are more expensive than incandescent lights they use less than a fifth of the energy. An added benefit to municipalities is that LEDs have a much longer life span than incandescent bulbs reducing traffic light maintenance costs.  

Street lighting

Street lights in South Africa have traditionally been of the incandescent and mercury vapour type fittings. Through the EEDSM programme a number of municipalities have started to roll out the replacement of these fittings with more efficient alternatives.  Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality used EEDSM funding to upgrade 8000 street lights in the Mdantsane community by replacing the 125 Watt mercury vapour fittings with 50 Watt high pressure sodium fittings. Jean Smit from Buffalo City reports that while LEDs would have been an even more efficient choice they were not selected at the time because of their high cost in comparison to other alternatives. Buffalo City complemented their street light replacement programme by installing metres on each street light circuit. Smit says that the metres are now read on a monthly basis so that the city is able to measure the actual savings achieved through the programme.   “For audit purposes within the institution and as per National Treasury requirements” says Smit “[municipalities should] keep a good record of what you remove and what and where you install the new equipment.  At Buffalo City Metropolitan we have gone as far as getting GPS co-ordinates for each replacement.”


Municipalities in South Africa generally have an extensive portfolio of buildings.  The EEDSM programme has been used by a number of municipalities to phase out inefficient building lights.  Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality is a large municipality that owns more than 400 buildings.  Tshilidzi Thenga, Director for Energy Services at Ekurhuleni explains that building lighting was one of the interventions that his municipality targeted because it was identified as a low cost intervention that could deliver a lot of savings.  In particular the municipality replaced less efficient light fittings with T5 fluorescent lamps. Thenga says that LEDs were not used because they are still a bit too expensive to consider for a large scale replacement programme.  However he notes there is now an opportunity for municipalities to fund LEDs through the ESKOM standard offer program.  Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality also installed occupancy sensors throughout its buildings to ensure that lights are automatically turned off in offices and meeting rooms when they are not in use.


Up until the end of the 2012 financial year the programme has delivered over 53 Million kWh in savings says Megan Euston-Brown from the City Energy Support Unit of Sustainable Energy Africa (CESU-SEA), one of the EEDSM programme partners.    A major benefit of a large scale energy efficiency programme is that it is less costly than building new electricity generation capacity explains Euston-Brown.  For instance under the EEDSM programme each MW saved is costing about R17 Million versus between R25 to R30 Million for each MW of new coal generation capacity says Euston-Brown.   With regards to the specific intervention areas Euston-Brown estimates that:

1. Street lighting interventions have cost on average 50c for each kWh per annum saved, calculated over a ten year period.

2. Building lighting interventions have cost between 14c and 38c for each kWh per annum saved, calculated over a ten year period.

3. Traffic lighting interventions have cost on average 23c for each kWh per annum saved, calculated over a ten year period.

Euston-Brown observes that in contrast Eskom new generation costs in the region of R1.50 – R2.00 per Kwh generated while current Eskom generation costs around 50c – 60c per Kwh.

Euston-Brown also notes that there are indications that the programme has contributed to some local job creation.  For one company “it resulted in the extension of manufacturing by 25%. The company manufactures most components of their lights locally and [the] stimulated demand has resulted in a competitive edge and the development of export production.”


The DoE is planning to continue the programme for the foreseeable future.  In the next financial year Mabusela explains that the DoE will be requesting municipalities to submit business plans for energy efficiency interventions.  The DoE will evaluate the business plans to identify interventions that will deliver the most savings.  The financial capacity of municipalities will also be considered in the selection process. 

For municipalities that are starting to implement energy efficiency interventions for the first time Mabusela recommends that they should “first understand their electricity consumption, do an energy audit and develop a baseline”.  Once this is in place he recommends that municipalities develop an Energy Management Plan that sets out energy efficiency targets.    The DoE in partnership with the German Technical Corporation (GTZ) will soon be launching the SA German Energy Programme that will provide coaching support to municipalities to prepare energy audits and business plans.

Advice to other implementers

Implementers from interviewed municipalities provided this advice for others:

"My approach was to first go for those interventions that are low cost.   Lighting is the first and lowest cost intervention you should target" says Thenga from Ekurhuleni.

“Make sure you have your plans in place. It is critical you put in metering to do readings. You need a system in place to gather the energy use data you need.  As we all know this can be done mathematically but the true readings … will help in picking up other factors that affect the consumption” says Smit from Buffalo City.

“There are now lots of options available for lighting.  First check the technology works and produces the results you need.  Then undertake a lifecycle calculation that takes into account length of life, maintenance, energy savings and capital costs” says Ferndale of Nelson Mandela Bay.  


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Margaret McKenzie