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Chalk, talk, and energy efficiency: Saving electricity at South African schools through staff training and smart meter data visualisation




South African schools are finding electricity costly in terms of money that could be spent on the primary purpose of educating children, but they tend not to be proactive about these costs. Managing the monthly bills is a huge task: the usage numbers on the bill are incomprehensible, the time-of-use tariff structure is bewilderingly complex, and the person who deals with payments is usually an overburdened teacher. This paper describes a controlled behavioural experiment carried out at five schools in Stellenbosch. We provided highly visualised and intuitive daily, weekly and monthly reports to three of the schools, the other two acting as controls. The reports were shared with teachers, principals and the governing body to encourage accountability. Usage was shown as a colour-coded energy and financial component per hour and per tariff class. Using the difference-in-differences method, we found financial savings of 11% and 14% at two of the schools and 13% at the third school, where staff were also trained on the tariff structure before reporting started. These results suggest that sharing high-frequency, digestible information could help South African schools reduce their energy bills; a saving that has particular relevance given the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.


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2019-05-30 — Updated on 2019-05-30