Pensioners in SA are using smart technology to reduce their electricity bills

Being a pensioner in South Africa is hard. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane Independent Newspapers.

Being a pensioner in South Africa is hard. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane Independent Newspapers.

Published Feb 22, 2024


By Mark Allewell

IN SOUTH Africa, there are an estimated 5.3 million people aged 60 or older, representing just over 9.2% of the overall South African population. These figures offer a sizeable estimate from Stats SA, and indicate that population ageing is taking place in our country, increasing steadily over the past five years.

The increase in the proportion of older persons in the population, or population ageing, offers a significant testament to one of the big social changes of the 21st century. The increase in the ageing index confirms that our elderly population has been increasing steadily over time, a phenomenon that is evident in most countries across the rest of the globe as well.

The ageing index refers to the number of people aged 60 years or older per 100 individuals younger than 15 years in age. The ageing index in South Africa recently increased from 30 in 2017 to 33 in 2022 – confirming that population ageing is taking place in our country with a number of social and environmental implications. Housing, healthcare, and transportation for the elderly in South Africa will require national government’s critical attention in the coming years, as an increasing number of older people will impact how we deliver services and meet the specific needs of this population group.

Understanding this increase in the number of elderly people will be paramount if our government aims to develop appropriate policies, systems and solutions that work for those who no longer do. Finding meaningful ways to address the cost of living crisis and the way in which it affects our pensioners must remain a top priority.

According to BankServAfrica, our pension system has about 1 million people out of an estimated 5.3 million over the age of 60 receiving private pensions. The government's old age grants, for which pensioners receive less than R6 510 per month, only covers 3.566 million people. BankServAfrica believes that the overlap between the two groups could mean that as many as 200 000 pension-age people are receiving no income at all. While they could not verify this estimate, other reports suggest that up to 4% of old age pensioners had to engage in survival-oriented business activities in 2023.

So what does this tell us? Being a pensioner in South Africa is hard.

That being said, South African pensioners have the same resilient, can-do attitude as the rest of our population, and they are turning to smart technological solutions to secure significant cost savings on their monthly electricity bills while simultaneously decreasing costly water damage claims from their insurers.

A recent survey conducted by analysts at a local communications agency revealed that pensioners were saving up to 40% on their monthly electricity bills by using smart technology in their homes. Most of these devices can be linked to apps on their phones, which provide them with instantaneous notifications and immediate control over their household appliances.

Of these smart tech solutions, there are three devices which stand out for pensioners in South Africa today.

The first would be smart smoke detectors. Once installed, they have the ability to not only detect smoke but also analyse the type of smoke produced during an electrical fire. (This is a growing concern with Eskom and load shedding, as some appliances are very sensitive to power surges when the electricity comes back on.)

With smart smoke detectors, pensioners can mitigate any risks associated with a fire in their household by receiving instantaneous updates to their phones to react timeously, before their entire home is engulfed in flames.

Next we have smart geyser devices, which play an essential role for those pensioners looking to secure cost savings on their monthly electricity bill.

Danie, 67, a pensioner based in Tshwane, says he would recommend that pensioners install smart home devices to save money. In the survey, he confirmed that a smart geyser device lets you schedule your geyser’s heating cycle, so that it only draws energy to heat water once or twice a day.

He also uses the smart technology to manage the risk of his geyser bursting, which in previous years resulted in extensive damage to the infrastructure and belongings in his home after his entire ceiling collapsed. It was an exceptionally overwhelming ordeal that cost him significantly.

Now he tracks any geyser issues on his smart geyser app, which sends him a notification as soon as a leak is detected, before any damage is done.

Smart plugs offer the next frontier for pensioners looking to save their income on a monthly basis as well. Smart plugs can measure the power, current and voltage running through any outlet during the day.

Pensioners can use these devices to programme and automate their electrical switches to turn on five to 10 minutes after the power has returned following their load shedding schedule. Appliances are often damaged or electrically fried from the surge in power that occurs when your power returns. This can cost pensioners dearly, as they do not have the disposable income to spend thousands of rand in replacing their household appliances.

With electricity prices set to rise again in April 2024, the government should prioritise its spending in a manner that protects the most vulnerable members of our society from the rising costs of living in our country.

We, as South Africans who care for the pensioners among us, would be well advised to encourage the Department of Public Enterprises and Energy to subsidise smart technological solutions for all South Africans, but most importantly, for our pensioners.

Smart tech solutions can be leveraged by the elderly in our country to decrease the risk of damage to their homes, improve energy efficiency, and secure significant cost savings too.

Allewell is the CEO at Sensor Networks.