Listen on the go

Episode 1 | At our latest In conversation event, titled, Sustainable living – Empowering solutions, Chris Yelland (energy expert), Prof Anthony Turton (water expert), Maya Fisher-French (award-winning financial journalist) and Pierre Lundberg (water expert) shared their thoughts on our current water and energy situation.

Listen to episode 2 and episode 3 to of our In conversation event, titled, Sustainable living – Empowering solutions.

Energy and water – where we stand now

panel image

Water expert, Prof Turton says that the National Water Source Strategy study indicated that SA had allocated 98% of all the water available nationally. In other words, there was only 2% of the water left for existing lawful uses. “The simple reality is that we don't actually have any water left to allocate and we have to start doing things better.”

He mentions that it is important to understand Green Drop, Blue Drop and the No Drop Report.
“In SA, because we have a fundamentally, water constrained economy, the engineering philosophy that has underpinned all the design has been an indirect reuse model. This means that all the water coming through the economy must be treated to a high standard. That's the Green Drop Report. Where it comes out of a pipe, at the end of the process, it goes back into the river and then it flows into a water treatment plant for making drinking water. That's the Blue Drop Report.”

He says that the last report showed that only 3% of our water coming out of the wastewater works is compliant, so 97% is non-compliant in some form or other.

“In addition, roughly 30% to 50% all the water we put into our pipes gets lost. This is a big number. The simple reality is that our infrastructure is old and tired and must be replaced. So, if we're going to be digging up our roads and putting in new pipes, then, let's put two pipes in. One for drinking quality water and the other for water that you can water your garden with. We need water of different quality, at different price, for different purposes, at different times, in different places. And this is where we're going to, that sort of, what I call a dual stream reticulation economy.”

Energy expert, Yelland starts by explaining that if you're looking at the state of electricity, you should look at Eskom and the state of municipalities, because, together, they form the electricity supply industry.

“Eskom is divided into generation, transmission and distribution and we don't have enough available generation capacity. We have enough capacity, but it's not always available, because of maintenance and breakdowns. Transmission is not performing too badly. The power is getting from the sources of generation, through the grid, to the various cities and places. But it's been underinvested for more than a decade.”

He adds that access to the grid, by new generation capacity, is becoming difficult. There are also constraints on the backbone of the grid and some of the areas need upgrading and investment.

“Eskom does distribution and it's not so different from the municipal distribution. About half of the power outages you probably experience, are not due to generation capacity constraints, not due to grid constraints, but are due to problems on the distribution network.”

Electricity theft is also overloading the system, cable theft is causing outages, there are steel theft, copper theft, an ageing infrastructure and poor maintenance.

“I just want to say, we do not have an energy crisis, we have management problems, financial problems, skills problems. A kind of a management crisis of getting the electricity from the point of generation to where it's needed.”

Why talk about water and energy in tandem?

Yelland states that electricity and water are intertwined. You need electricity to pump water from rivers and dams to a purification work. You need electricity to run the purification work. You need electricity to pump the water from the purification work to the reservoirs, all around the country.

“It's not too bad if you have stage one and two loadshedding, because there is water storage. When you have stage four or five and six, it's starting to show. And when you're having that four hour stretches a couple of times a day, you will have water shortages. There is a direct connection between water in your home, and electricity.”

Prof Turton says that every drop of water in Gauteng, is pumped over the Drakensberg Mountain, from the Tugela River, using surplus energy on the national grid. “That's what the Sterkfontein Pump Storage Scheme was designed for - to take the surplus energy, store it as a battery on top of the mountain. When they released on the other side, they recovered two thirds of the energy they'd invested in, to getting it up the mountain, in the first place.”

Investec Sustainable Solutions can help you with practical solutions and sustainability finance to make it easier to live, work and thrive in South Africa. For more information, please contact your Private Banker.
  • Are the plans good enough to get us out of this crisis?

    Yelland explains that we have a few plans in place but are also missing a few plans. “There's the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity. But it happens to be five years out of date. We were supposed to have an Integrated Energy Plan in 2008, and it's never been published. We do have the president's plan, we have the Presidential Climate Commission, we have the National Planning Commission, we have the South African Renewable Energy Master Plan, which has just been published for public comment. The point is, now we need to get past planning, into the execution phase.”

    In terms of water, Prof Turton says that there's all these master plans. But much like the energy plan, we have analysis paralysis and not much transition to action and implementation.

    “I'm a member of this SA Business Water Chamber - we've been engaging with the presidency for a couple of years on this matter now. We keep on telling them that this is important, but it's not come to the top of the agenda, where it must be. From an engineering perspective, for every rand you spend in creating water as an economic enabler, if you've got a conservative multiplier of three, so we need about a trillion rand, so that's R3 trillion.”

    Now we're talking serious money, but it's doable. And in fact, we must ask, what is the cost of doing nothing?”
  • Get an energy back-up plan – reduce reliance on the grid

    With energy, Yelland continues by saying that South Africans are now taking steps to supplement our energy needs, while remaining on the grid. The grid is an important enabler and connects people, households and factories and enables a level of efficiency that cannot be achieved in standalone off-grid solutions. We have a grid tied system or a hybrid system.

    “I believe that people who install battery and rooftop solar PV are part of the solution and not part of the problem. The more people that install rooftop, battery and storage, the better for everyone. It's a win-win situation. You're going to have increased security of supply, you might even save some money. Eskom is going to benefit, because you're reducing the burden that they, currently, are unable to meet. Lastly, all those people that are not installing rooftop, they're going to benefit because they're going to have reduced loadshedding.” From a water perspective, Prof Turton says that the first thing is to just start improving the efficiencies and then we're going to start moving forward.

    “We need to have proper allocation of resources. We need to have qualified, competent people implementing sustainable and well thought through plans, and we're going to be smiling, happy people.”

  • Recovering, recapturing and reusing water

    Prof Turton states that SA has 48 billion cubic metres of water, but we will need about 63 billion cubic metres by about 2030, if we want to create full employment.

    “We must start investing into recycling, recovering, recapturing and reusing water. All our coastal cities are fundamentally water constrained. Why? Because the water is being used upstream, inland, and what's left, the coastal cities get. But you're surrounded by oceans. And I’m extremely bullish on seawater desalination.”

    According to Prof Turton, the global benchmark number for seawater desalination, is 35 US cents per cubic meter. In SA, from a river, the average price is around about R10 to R12 a cubic meter. “So we are not far from that point either. I'm talking 200 megalitres a day, one quarter of the baseload for the City of Cape Town, that's what we need. And that's going to become increasingly investable. There's a whole lot of good news stories around that.”

  • Start with an energy efficient home

    Financial expert, Maya Fisher-French, states that while we are worrying about our water and energy security on a personal level, we need to understand that we are dealing with limited resources globally. Anything that we consume, is going to have an impact on the environment, so we need to be as efficient as possible. 

    “When we bring it into our home, and especially if you're looking at putting in solar systems, you need to make your house as energy efficient as possible, before you put in a system. The more energy efficient, the smaller the system you need, which saves you money.

    “We need to start looking at ourselves, as consumers, and saying, how do we be more efficient, and use the resources we have, more efficiently?
    For her the starting point is an energy efficient home. “Install a gas stove because you can’t power your electric oven with an inverter. Then install LED lighting and a solar geyser. Also, put the bucket back in the shower and use that water to flush the toilet. Wash your clothes in cold water and use phosphate-free detergents. Eat brown sugar, it takes a huge amount of energy to produce white sugar.

  • Solar installation solutions and costs

    Yelland says that with solar PV and battery storage, it's quite simple and affordable. It is a battery, inverter and solar PV.

    It's going to cost you R60 000 to R75 000 for a fair size system. Obviously, it depends on the size of your house, etc. The battery is modular, so you can expand these as you may see fit. Your inverter is not easy to expand, because it's not modular.

    “But if you want to save money, the next step is to invest in solar PV. You can start and expand it in a modular way. And I think most people will be spending probably one R150 000 to R200 000, depending on the size of your house, and how big your family is etc.”

  • Water back-up solutions – water tanks, boreholes and rainwater

    Water expert, Pierre Lundberg says that the Constitution states that it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure we have access to good water. Water security is two things, accessibility of, and quality of water.

    “So, typically, what we're looking at, is backup systems on a municipal feed. You have your water on a bypass going into a tank and then from the tank, with a variable speed drive pump, through a filtration system that goes into the house. You may not store water in a tank and leave it there. It is illegal.” Understand the by-laws, so you are clear on what you may and may not do.

    If you are getting a borehole, he stresses that it’s important to understand the process. In Cape Town, you must apply for permission and it must be registered.

    “When you start considering a borehole and before you put the infrastructure in, understand the treatment and maintenance cost. When you do drill for the borehole, and the water comes, understand what the yield is. The yield and the recharge are going to define what do you need on the surface to be able to meet your demand.”

    The next option is domestic rainwater harvesting. “Rainwater is not potable water - it must be treated. Understand it's corrosivity - typical rainwater in SA is around 5.6 pH and this is going to eat your piping. Then it doesn't matter what filtration system you have, you're going to start ingesting metal. You also have birds and rats on the roof that creates bacteria that goes into the water. The tanks are standing in the sun and they heat up and then cool down. That's the best breeding ground for different types of diseases, including Legionnaires disease”.

    The next option is greywater harvesting. It’s a good option if you have economies of scale, e.g. buildings. “But when you start going to small greywater harvesting, remember, you must take water from your showers and washing machine. You cannot take it from the toilet. You cannot take it from the sink where you're washing plates with fat, grease and oils. You can use greywater for irrigation and you'll recirculate it into your house for toilet use.”

    Then there’s blended solutions. People are blending municipal, borehole, greywater and rainwater to find a solution that works for them.

    Prof Turton says that economies of scale matter. “Firstly, the cost per unit of water consumed, processed or stored, is better if you can share that cost. And the second thing is expertise, because you must understand certain fundamental things related to chemistry and physics and maybe biology.

    But the simple reality is that, at a national level, I don't see the ship being turned around easily, maybe the next decade, if we're lucky. I think you're going to start seeing your entrepreneurial type of people coming forward to provide those solutions, to outsource the liability, if you like, from your trustees or the directors, whatever.”

  • Buy or rent a solar solution or sell power back into the grid?

    Fisher-French comments that in terms of the rental systems, there's a debate. People are saying yes, because then they can upgrade the technologies. But it's expensive to rent. You're not going to get the energy saving to cover that cost, so be realistic about that.

    “If you buy a system of R150 000 and either you're financing it at prime, or you're taking money that you would have invested somewhere else, that's an opportunity cost. So if you’re paying it off over 15 years, that's about R1 700 a month. But, you’re not yet getting R1 700 a month from electricity saving. However, as electricity prices are rising and interest rates go down, the system will pay for itself over time.”

    But another big question is around selling into the grid. Fisher-French says to put a smart meter in is going going to cost you R12 000. You're only getting back R1.25 per kilowatt hour. You would have to have a big installation for that to start making sense.

    “I have a different view. I think that if you can afford to put a system in your house, what I would rather do, is get a smart meter for free and for those three or four hours where my solar system produces excess power, the municipality can have my excess energy to help subsidise other people's electrical needs.”

  • Hazards of solar and water solutions

    For Fisher-French, it is important to ensure you have insurance and a Certificate of Compliance if you are putting in a solar system. “If you don't and it burns down your house, you're not covered.
    The other reason is building insurance - make sure that you're fully insured, because the building cost of replacing your building has gone up.”

    Yelland mentions that you're making your house more complicated and there is the potential for things going wrong. “If you switch off your inverter, you think you're safe to climb on the roof and clean your panels. If the sun is shining, there's voltage on the panels. That voltage can be lethal. So this idea of a safety feature to have zero DC voltage on the roof, when you need zero voltage on the roof, that is a safety feature that, in some countries, has become mandatory. In SA it is not mandatory.”

    On the PV panels, he says there's a lot of connections and they're all interconnected. If you have a loose connection, you can get DC arcing. DC arcing is like a welding torch on your roof. It's a really high temperature. It's very hard to extinguish a DC arc and it can cause a fire.

    On the inverter, be careful not to install the inverter in a cupboard - you need ventilation. “It gets hot. Most of your systems will be lithium ion batteries. If a cell inside your battery pack goes into thermal runaway, then cells next to it get hot and also go into thermal runaway and there’s a fire. Lithium fires are very difficult to put out. A normal fire extinguisher doesn't work. And if you spray it with water, you're making it worse. You need special chemicals to put out a lithium fire.”

    Prof Turton reminds us that water is a life giving resource, so anything that can creep and crawl and fly and swim, will eventually find its way in your water. And there's a famous thing called a rat-tailed maggot, associated with bad, nasty sewage water. But remember that your tanks can give rise to mosquitoes, and importantly, remember the drowning risk.

    “Remember that with any change to any system, there's always some unintended consequences.” 

    Lundberg says that if you are going the borehole route, to remember that the borehole water changes during summer and winter. “At least test your water, minimum, once a year, to see whether the treatment train that you have in place is still appropriate. And remember, it is not the installers accountability to come and make those changes.

    And when you go corporate, when you start providing water and you become a service provider, you're going to get the demand to test the water at least once a month to ensure that the water is good.”

  • Incentives for individuals and business

    For Yelland it is the incentivisation of rooftop solar PV and battery storage. Eskom is introducing a new tariff called the Home Flex Tariff, where the price they pay for energy into the grid, is the same, in rands, as the price that you buy electricity from Eskom. There are some conditions attached to it.

    “You've heard about the tax incentives for rooftop solar PV. I think the domestic incentive is also weak. It's R15 000 rebate, maximum, on the cost of solar PV panels only. But the business incentive is good. You can write off 125% of the full cost of your system, inverters, batteries, the whole lot, installation, materials, in one year. That's a big incentive for business.”

  • Electricity from our neighbours

    Yelland states that SA imports a lot of electricity from Mozambique, and so it's wrong to suggest that we export power to Mozambique. We do export power to our neighbours, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. It's quite small in the scheme of things.

    “The point is that we live in a regional economy. What's good for our neighbours, is good for us. What's good for us, is good for our neighbours. There's electricity trading that takes place in the power pool. When there is a surplus in SA of energy, we trade our surplus to our neighbours. So the trading of electricity is an important balancing mechanism between supply and demand. We make money from it.”

Frequently asked questions

Sustainability: Energy

  • What solar system do I need for my house?

    Developing the optimum solar solution depends on your home’s consumption profile, solar potential and budget. Seek sound advice from a reputable supplier so you can make informed decisions about your solar investment to ensure it meets your requirements, both now and in the future.

  • Are solar geysers worth it?

    Depending on design and location, a solar geyser can reduce your water heating costs by 70% to 90% so is definitely worth considering.
    Traditional electric geysers are one of the most energy-intensive appliances in the home, consuming up to 50% the average monthly electricity bill.

  • Can I go off-grid with solar panels?

    While it is technically possible to go completely off-grid with solar panels provided you have adequate surface area, this is not the most cost-effective option. Instead, you should develop an energy mix including solar, gas and bulk mains to ensure a reliable, diversified power supply for your household.

  • How long do solar panels last?

    Most solar panels have a rated lifespan of between 25 and 30 years. They may still continue to produce power after this period, but less efficiently.

  • Is solar worth it in South Africa?

    Blessed with an abundance of solar resources – some 2 500 sun hours per year – South Africa offers excellent value for investments in household solar. By reducing grid consumption, solar systems have an average payback period of seven and a half years.

Sustainability: Water

  • Is borehole water safe to drink?

    Borehole water usually needs to be treated before it is safe to drink. Untreated borehole water can contain higher levels of dissolved minerals like iron and manganese that need to be removed in order to meet SANS 241 standards of potable water. Micro-biologicals need to be treated.

  • What are the parameters of drinking water quality?

    Parameters used to measure drinking water quality include pH, temperature, electrical conductivity, turbidity, ORP (oxidation reduction potential), TDS (total dissolved solids) and Micro-biologicals (E.coli, Coliforms, Total Heterotrophic Count).

  • What are the benefits of rainwater harvesting?

    Collected rainwater can be used for irrigation around your garden, or to flush toilets in your home, replacing or reducing overall demand on municipal bulk water. Harvested rainwater is not suitable as a potable water source without treatment and filtration.

  • Are water purification systems worth it?

    A home water purification system significantly lowers the levels of chlorine, minerals and sediment in your bulk water feed. These filtration systems are also cost-effective. A small point of use system can cost 25 c per litre compared to buying water at R1.20 to R1.50 per litre. 

  • How much is borehole drilling in South Africa?

    Drilling a borehole typically costs between R150 000 to R250 000 in total (including testing filtration and treatment). You should also expect to pay between R400 to R1 800 per month to maintain the system, depending on how it is configured.

Sustainability: Panel Discussion

  • What are sustainable homes?

    Sustainable homes are designed to prioritise environmental responsibility by promoting greater energy efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction, and relying more on renewable resources.

  • When will you be able to sell electricity back to the grid in South Africa?

    The ability to sell excess electricity back to the grid is already offered in the City of Cape Town at R1 per kilowatt hour. At a national level, the Home Flex Tariff, where users will be able to sell electricity at the same rate as it is purchased, is currently before the regulator.

  • What is Blue Drop and Green Drop?

    Blue Drop and Green Drop are two separate audit frameworks developed to measure the performance and standards compliance of South Africa’s water and wastewater treatment plants, overseen by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).

Investec Sustainable Solutions can help you with practical solutions and sustainability finance to make it easier to live, work and thrive in South Africa. For more information, please contact your Private Banker.


Get Focus insights straight to your inbox


Please complete all required fields before sending.

Thank you

We look forward to sharing out of the ordinary insights with you

Sorry there seems to be a technical issue