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Energy plays a central role in the functioning of cities and yet South African cities are very new to current global energy debates. South Africa has ratified the Kyoto Protocol & is one of the developing world’s heaviest carbon emitters: this means that, while we are not yet obligated, South African cities should become part of leading the way in reducing carbon emissions. Driven by issues of climate change & inspired by cost savings & better service delivery, other cities around the world are making pioneering & cutting edge interventions to address their energy issues in an integrated way. This is having far reaching implications for these cities in terms of social development, environmental sustainability, service delivery, citizen involvement and resource efficiency.

A major component of urban poverty is energy poverty. About 25% of a poor household’s income is spent exclusively on acquiring the necessary energy to sustain life. This is a hidden cost exacerbated by poor access, and by the energy sources that people can access often being unsafe, unhealthy and expensive. While electrification is important, on its own it does not necessarily address all the energy service needs of poor households. A more integrated approach to energy is required – one which is driven by an understanding of demand and not just supply issues. For example, people need warm houses in winter and hot water – the response to this could be energy efficient housing interventions (e.g. ceilings) and solar water heaters as part of a job creation program rather than a costly, inefficient and unsustainable energy supply response.

Many energy efficiency interventions in local authority functions can pay for themselves over a period of time, and then start releasing money (savings) towards achieving other development objectives. Interventions in public buildings are one example. Just converting to energy efficient light bulbs in Cape Towns' Civic Centre can save R1,3mil per year. In the Parow Administrative building (Cape Town) it was found that 30% of the electricity bill could be saved with primarily user behaviour change. Through the introduction of more efficient pumping technology and scheduling in water supply systems and more efficient aeration systems in wastewater treatment works electricity and money can also be saved. Transport in Cape Town accounts for more than half of the cities total energy consumption, so interventions promoting a more efficient public transport system also hold great potential for improving living standards and saving energy.

A City Energy Strategy is a plan that aims to institutionalise sustainable energy approaches and practices at the local level, within a framework that has a clear vision and direction. It will co-ordinate ad hoc energy projects and activities, and will help to integrate energy objectives into relevant functions and programs. It can improve service delivery and quality of life, save money & reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


A City or Local Authority Strategy process diagram