Electricity bills can be full of surprises, and not the kind that calls for champagne. In South Africa we often hear of consumers complaining about bills that skyrocketed by thousands of rands.
Is there light at the end of this expensive tunnel? Preferably ones that aren’t powered by electricity?
Why are our electricity bills so high?
South Africa’s lockdown caused high electricity bills in 2020, with some reaching over R20 000. What happened here is that during lockdown meter readings could not be done.
Electricity bills were calculated based on average usage during the months before lockdown. This led to consumers receiving fairly low bills for April and May.
In June, however, there were higher bills to make up for any shortfalls during the previous months. This was not the only time South Africans received exorbitant electricity bills.
Faulty electricity and water bills are unfortunately a common occurrence. In 2015 a Gauteng man was informed that he owes an outstanding amount of R1,2 million, for example.
What can you do if you suspect your bill is wrong? Firstly, check that the meter number on your bill corresponds with the one on your meter.
When contacting your municipality to query your bill, take down the name of the person who assists you as well as a reference number.
Lastly, make a habit of photographing your meter and its reading monthly. This can act as proof that your bill is not within normal range.
If you are unhappy with the assistance you received, lawforall.co.za recommends you take the following steps to dispute your electricity bill:
- In a formal letter to the manager of your municipality, clearly describe the problem, and provide sufficient evidence.
- Include in your letter the fact that you know it would be illegal for the municipality to switch off your electricity until the dispute is settled.
- Address your letter to the municipality manager and deliver it in person. Get a signed proof of receipt.
- Send email backups to the manager as well as the municipality’s finance department.
The municipality now has to do an investigation and report back with your correct account information.
If you are still not happy, you can take it further and approach the National Energy Regulator of SA.
Grossly underachieving municipalities are something we can’t control, but what about our own habits? What is behind electricity bills that are correct, but still too high?
10 reasons why your electricity bill is high
Sometimes we are unknowingly guilty of increasing our own electricity bills. Check out this list, some of them might surprise you:
Do you leave appliances plugged in while not in use? Most of us do, but this could cost you. Many appliances today are designed not to fully switch off, but only go on standby. This ensures that the appliance switches on quickly when you need it. We do, after all, live in a time when everything needs to happen as fast as possible.
Watch out for these types of appliances:
Chargers will often feel warm to the touch even when not charging something. This is a tell-tale sign that they are using electricity.
Also, refrain from charging devices for longer than is needed. It might be convenient to charge something overnight, but better planning can save you money.
The same goes for AC adapters that are plugged in when not in use.
Devices with clocks, such as microwaves, use electricity to keep that clock running even while no one is warming up their lunch.
Interestingly, even devices with remote controls, such as the television, use electricity to stay prepared to respond to the remote’s signal.
Did you spoil yourself with the new Xbox Series X? Then odds are that you are using more electricity.
It’s only natural that we want to use new ‘toys’ more often, leading to a nasty surprise when you open that email with the electricity bill.
Similarly, if more people join your household for whatever reason, keep it in the back of your mind that your electricity usage will increase.
These two factors are quite logical, but easy to forget, especially when confronted by a larger-than-expected amount to pay.
If you have an air conditioner in your home or business, you are almost guaranteed an elevated electricity bill as these are costly to run.
A quick tip is to ensure that the maintenance of your aircon stays up to date, as it will use less electricity and last longer when cared for.
The Department of Energy states that inverter air conditioners are more energy efficient than non-inverter aircons.
They also keep the temperature of the room at a more consistent level than a non-inverter aircon.
An inverter aircon might be a bigger investment at the time of purchase, but in time you will save.
We are well aware in South Africa that cold weather increases the chances of load shedding coming around.
Despite living in Africa, we use tons of electricity to warm ourselves up. It doesn’t get that cold, but we were simply not made for days that are devoid of sun.
The normal, run-of-the-mill heater is cheaper to purchase than an air-conditioner, but it still consumes a large amount of electricity.
If you do crank up the heat, double check that your house is sufficiently insulated to keep the warm air from escaping, as that will lead to your heaters having to work harder.
And don’t forget the windows you left open yesterday when it was still sunny.
If you are desperate to save on your electricity bill, consider other ways to keep warm: blankets and a few extra layers of clothing.
Your geyser contributes a substantial amount to your electricity bill, and you can reduce this cost by managing the amount of warm water you use.
Think twice every time you open the hot tap – could you have used the cold one instead?
It’s also worth your time to check occasionally that your geyser is in perfect working condition.
You don’t want it to lose heat (and this having to produce more) due to faulty insulation.
How old is your fridge? They generally stand around using electricity 24 hours a day, without us really noticing.
Prevent them from using too much by checking that the doors still seal properly. This prevents the cool air from escaping and your fridge having to work harder.
Try to invest in a new fridge when yours is getting too old. It might still be working fine, but newer models tend to be more energy-efficient. The same goes for other appliances.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many of us keep standalone freezers for extra freezing space. These are full-time electricity consumers.
If your electricity bill is a shocker straight after a holiday season, think back to the things you did that you don’t normally do.
Those Christmas lights that left the whole neighbourhood in awe could very well be back to haunt you.
A very simply energy-saving habit is to switch off lights if no one is using the room in question.
If you want to save even more, or if you are severely terrified of the dark, replace your bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs.
They might be a tad more expensive than traditional bulbs, but you can shop around for a price that suits your budget.
These bulbs not only use over 50% less electricity, but they have a longer lifespan than normal bulbs.
Another plan is to look at using lamps, instead of ceiling lights that use more electricity.
The more often you run appliances, the more electricity you will obviously use.
If you are one of those people who use the dishwasher to just clean a few plates and glasses at a time, you might want to have a stern talk with yourself. You are wasting electricity.
Simply wait until the dishwasher is full before running it. Same with the washing machine.
Planning your outfits in advance is not a girly thing to do, it’s ensuring you have what you need.
This prevents you having to wash that one shirt that you absolutely have to wear tomorrow on its own. Doing a full load every time allows you to use your machine less.
Ditch the tumble dryer too. We have plenty of sun that can dry your clothes in no time.
The arrival of covid-19 brought on drastic lifestyle changes, and many of us are working from home now.
It goes without saying that you will use more electricity – you are using a computer, making coffee, perhaps listening to music while you work… the list goes on.
If you have taken the above factors into account and you are still battling to identify the cause of your shocking electricity bill, you could consider hiring an electrician.
They can help you figure out if some kind of fault is leading to the unwelcome bills you have been receiving.
Wave electricity bills goodbye
Electricity plays an undeniable role in our lives, hence the increasing frustration we experience when Eskom announces yet another bout of load shedding.
But while adding comfort to our lives, it comes with various problems. Rates keep going up, which is a ridiculous problem to have if you don’t even always know when you will have electricity.
The pollution factor is a serious one to keep in mind, even if it feels like it doesn’t yet influence you directly. Power plants are a massive contributor to Earth’s destruction.
When power plants burn biomass the air gets polluted with sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
The burning of fossil fuels pumps carbon dioxide into the air. This is a greenhouse gas that causes an increase in the Earth’s temperature. Besides, we risk running out of fossil fuels
That leaves us in the position of wanting to get rid of electricity, but not wanting to go back to a primitive lifestyle. Fortunately we live in modern times and have options.
One of these is renewable energy. Solar panels are here to stay and are continually improving.
Many people instantly write off the idea of solar panels because they think it’s too expensive. This might not be the case. Start doing some research, what you find might surprise you.
An important thing to realise is that you can go solar in a manner that suits your budget. Yes, solar panels and their installation can be pricey.
The good news is that you don’t have to switch your whole house or business to being solar-powered at the same time.
Look at the devices and appliances that elevate your electricity bill, and start by converting them to solar power. Now you can gradually continue to add to it as it works for you.
Solar power brings you a host of benefits as it takes you off the grid, protecting you from Eskom’s little surprises.
In time they pay for themselves, are environmentally friendly and keep you safe from rising electricity costs.
In a world that is constantly developing, chance is inevitable. Humans are notoriously resistant to change, but don’t let change scare you in terms of alternative power sources.
Working with a reputable company to acquire your solar panels ensures that you don’t have much to lose. It’s certainly less threatening than paying for something that you can’t always have.