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1,381 views Jun 01, 2016
Sustainable living begins with efficiency

Human beings have a tendency of misusing resources when they are available in abundance but is it a culture?

Have you ever had something and you ended up misusing it just because you knew you had it in plenty? Let me go deeper and ask, have you ever mistreated someone just because you thought they would never leave? It is unfortunately human nature to do so. Just look around and see the way people utilize resources. Look at how some leader’s abuse funds to how some companies mistreat interns/entry level employees by overworking while underpaying them. Let’s hit close to home and look at our daily habits. Every human has that one habit of misusing something just because they have it in abundance, be it adding an extra tea spoon of sugar just because you can afford to buy another packet, impulse buying accessories just because you can afford them or leaving the water tap running while you brush your teeth. Is it beginning to make sense and have you ever wondered why?

Well for the better part of my youth, I didn’t bother to ask myself why. Resources were willingly and readily provided by my parents, whom I really appreciate and respect for doing so. This attitude however changed when I cleared my high school. In my culture, once you went through your rights of passage, you were expected to fend for yourself. Luckily shelter and food were provided but other expenses, such as leisure activities, be it going out with my palls to buying airtime, I had to sort myself. This meant that the little I made from my small hustle had to be utilized efficiently because I didn’t know when I would get my next pay. Being young, all out to have fun and fact that I was born and raised in the city of Nairobi, Kenya where without money one cannot “survive” meant that I had to come up with innovative ways to make money. It became a case of necessity being the mother of all invention.

Fast forward to university and post university: I consider myself blessed to have done my industrial attachments, internships and gained some work experience as an engineer in multinational FCMG industries where I saw the impact of efficiency first hand on a personal, company and economic level. On a personal level, efficiency was important in terms of proper time management. On a company level, I happen to have been involved in some projects that improved on both energy and systems efficiency, subsequently seeing the company’s operation costs reduce by a significant percentage resulting to higher profit margins. On an economic level, well, it is obvious to state that the higher the profit margin, the higher the plough back which led to increased employment opportunities due to the expansion of the industry and higher direct tax paid to the government.

So this brings me to the question, could our poor emphasis on efficient use of resources be one of the many reasons why Africa is still lagging behind in terms of clean energy access?

I believe that this is definitely one of the reasons. Look at it from this point of view – Kenya, my homeland, has a Vision 2022 to increase electricity generation to over 5,000MW mostly from renewables. So as to achieve this target, the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum comes up with a budget annually. In this budget we find allocations in expanding both the electricity generation and distribution infrastructure. Well that’s awesome because it is evident that there is a strong correlation between clean energy access i.e. electricity and better quality of life. But here is the issue - currently, it is approximated that the loss of energy through waste and inefficiency ranges between 10%-30% of primary energy input across all the sectors in the country. If we consider that there is currently a total installed capacity of 2,295 MW, it would mean that 230MW-690MW is lost due to inefficiency across the distribution and utilization system. This is sad because if Kenya was more energy efficient, we would save on the capital intensive electricity generation infrastructure required to generate a similar capacity and divert the capital to more wanting sectors like the health sector. It will be even sadder if Kenya continues with this inefficiency trend while working towards the 5000MW target.

Just to add insult to injury, according to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Kenya’s industrial sector has an energy saving potential of US$ 20 Million annually. This means that the US$ 20M is literally going down the drain. I’m sure if Kenya were to attain proper efficiencies, such kind of money could be enough to set up a new processing industry every year and create thousands of jobs directly and indirectly.

So how can we promote this culture of using energy efficiently so as to improve on sustainability?

Well, there are many ways to tackle this bad habit of inefficiency. One can take a zoomed out system approach and figure out why this inefficiency culture exists. For my argument, I choose to take a human use (demand side management) approach because I believe that in any system, a change in human behavior is the basic foundation for any logical change. In other words, if I may use computer science terms, humans are the ones who control whether it will be ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ or ‘Gold In, Gold Out’.

Step one is change from within. There is a saying I once read that if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Well look at energy efficiency as an opportunity to conserve the scarce resource so that one more person can have the opportunity to be connected to the National Grid. If you are more money minded like I am, take this as an opportunity to reduce on your utilities bills.

Second step is to pass this habit of efficiency to the people around you by being an efficiency ambassador. You can throw in a few sensitization posters and meetings but the most effective way that has been proven to work, is through action. Actions speak louder than words. Through simple actions such as shutting off a dripping tap, switching off a light on a well-lit day while in the company of people or even offering to car pool to and from work with colleagues, you will make them realize that they are wasteful and that it’s their personal responsibility to ensure that resources are used efficiently. Sooner or later, through such continuous efforts the habit of conservation and efficiency will rub off on them.

Third step is to incorporate energy efficiency technologies in your day to day operations. This is a way of handling the old dogs who cannot be taught new tricks. There are those around you who will, either willingly or unwillingly, not take up this energy efficiency habit. One will therefore have to find a way to conserve and efficiently use the energy either way. Approaches that can be used for such cases include installation of LED lighting, use of photocell sensors to turn on lights only when it is dark, motion and occupancy sensors to put on lights only when someone is in the room and push taps to dispense water for a specified time interval. If you are in a work place setting, encourage the management to adapt the building to be more energy efficient by taking advantage of natural resources for ventilation and lighting, solar lighting and heating. In an industrial setting, encourage the use of more efficient boilers, premium efficiency motors, and use of common means of transportation i.e. Staff bus instead of personal cars. This will definitely involve some high initial costs but the payback will be worth it due to savings made.

Consequent steps will involve continuous improvement. Just like my secondary school teacher once told me, always ensure you are better than your previous assignment. Make sure you don’t give up and keep pushing to ensure energy efficiency around you is realized. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Be bold enough to make the world a better place by embracing efficiency as a first step in ensuring sustainable living.