As South Africa struggles with rising electricity costs and ongoing load shedding, many retailers are looking for ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce reliance on the national grid, says Stephen Heilbron, CEO of finance solutions provider Capital Connect.

While implementing solutions like solar power can be expensive, the return on investment in three to five years can be significant, he said.

Heilbron said higher energy costs and frequent power outages are a significant operational risk for retailers. Experts expect electricity prices to double in South Africa over the next five years, while Eskom’s medium risk scenario predicts 203 days of load shedding in the next 12 months.

While many big-box stores run on generators to keep operating during power outages, retailers should also look to sustainable alternatives, such as solar, as a cushion against load shedding and rising prices, Heilbron said.

“The time to act is now, when the world is going through a climate and energy crisis,” he added

Solar energy combined with a battery, can allow a retailer to continue operating during offload without expensive, noisy generators,” Heilbron said. “It also has the advantage of allowing the store to save money by reducing the use of municipal or Eskom electricity. It’s also a sustainable, environmentally friendly choice.”

Heilbron said retailers are also looking at other steps they can take to become more energy efficient. Something as simple as installing closed doors to open perishable refrigerators, or placing tape curtains between cold rooms and the rest of the shop, can make a big difference to the amount of electricity a food retailer uses in a month.

There are also opportunities save money on lighting through steps such as equipping the retail environment with LED lighting, which costs more upfront than incandescent or fluorescent lights, but lasts longer and uses much less energy over its lifetime.

“Another simple step retailers can take is this use motion detectors to trigger lighting in low-traffic areas such as bathrooms, storage areas and hallways,” Heilbron said. “Energy-efficient lighting reduces heat generated in the store, which can also help reduce air conditioning costs.”

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) this is another area where retailers can make quick gains in terms of energy efficiency. Modern HVAC systems with smart central controls and features such as heat recovery can enable a retailer to maintain temperatures that meet customer comfort and food safety requirements while ensuring efficiency.

“Although it can be expensive replace old refrigerators or air conditioners, the energy efficiency of refrigeration equipment has improved significantly over the years. Many retailers may find that switching to energy efficient equipment will save them money in the long run,” said Heilbron.

“Retailers can also benefit from harnessing the sun’s natural heating large windows and natural cooling from intelligent ventilation rather than depending solely on artificial climate control. Having a vision and making smart and sustainable choices shouldn’t be difficult.”

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