Electricity hike means more jobs?

Last week Eskom asked the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) for a 16% electricity increase for the next 5 years and another 20% increase for the 5 years that follow. No one should be surprised by this request as the public has had to deal with consistent increases over the last 5 years. What is scary though is the fact that this request is for 10 consecutive years of huge increases. Chatting to industry experts and leaders this week the reaction has varied from distrust to devastation with only a few realising the opportunities presented. One industry that is hurting more than most is the manufacturing industry which has had a tough time over the last few years with a lack of any protection from cheap Chinese imports. Specific industries have been singled out by the government for rougher treatment than others and the clothing industry in particular must feel like these latest increases have rung the bell of the 12th round and their 600 pound gorilla opponent (China) has just taken steroids.

While the country struggles to digest the impact of having their electricity bills quadruple over the next 10 years let’s try and look on the bright side. This move will undoubtedly result in a scramble towards energy efficiency and renewable energy skills and consultancies. Clearly, any company with an electricity bill North of R50, 000 per month that has not yet embarked on an energy management plan will feel like the gun has gone off and they are trailing far behind. Let’s predict that in the coming years every facilities manger will have energy efficiency and energy management skills. Lets also predict that renewable energy is about to explode on the scene in a way never seen before in this country. Suddenly renewable energy costs are not that high when considering Eskom’s new requests and we might have the perfect storm to create the next generation of highly skilled energy professionals.

If I had a kid that was interested in going to university I would probably tell them to stop and rethink their plans. I would tell them about the vast green pastures of energy efficiency and renewable energy jobs that lie just over the horizon and tell them to look for short courses that together can help them to become qualified to conduct energy assessments and to assess and implement renewable energy. I would wax lyrical about the opportunities that present themselves and how gaining skills in this fast growing industry will allow them to travel abroad and earn hard currency.

Yes, a new dawn is up us and yes it’s going to be tough for the companies that are still hugely dependant on Eskom. Companies that wait for the axe will lose while those that up skill their people and investigate all renewable energy opportunities will find ways not only to survive but in the process to create incredible differentiators. A while back a CEO of a food processing company said to me “how will my company survive when our electricity is more than 15% of my operating costs”? My answer then as it is now was simple, teach your company to be the most efficient in its industry and then teach it how to supply its own power and you will free yourself of the externalities created by Eskom. You can only do this with highly skilled and motivated people who understand energy management. To those out there looking for a high growth career or looking to up skill in their existing position I say – Cape Diem, Seize the Day.

Terra Firma Academy runs a 3 day Introduction to Energy Efficiency course which is aimed at individuals who want to understand energy efficiency and advise businesses on how to measure and reduce energy consumption immediately.