I did a workshop this weekend at Podcamp SA to try and solve the South African power crisis. We had a group of about 40 intelligent and well connected individuals in a room and I thought that if we simply put our heads together we could realistically arrive at a solution.

And we did!

You see, to alleviate the power crisis, at least in the interim, all we need to do is use 10% less electricity. Why is this so difficult then?

Surely all of us are capable to switch our geysers off for a few hours a day and stop running our swimming pool pumps in the winter? And not keep our PCs running through the night nor have 2 plasma screens constantly on even though we’re not watching?

The problem seems to be that we simply don’t believe that saving 10% is going to make any difference. It’s a classic study of humanity: “Nobody else is doing the right thing, so why should I? In any case, even if I did save, I will still suffer blackouts because no one else is saving!”

Now, of course, we could individually ration households, and in that way reward people individually for saving. The problem is that this is technically more difficult, time consuming and costly.

But what if we incentivized individual neighbourhoods, instead of individual persons? Municipalities already do rolling blackouts, in which they switch off electricity to certain suburbs, but not to others!

The solution is simple: If a certain neighbourhood manages to save 10%, in a certain time period, then simply continue to provide electricity to that neighbourhood.

This will empower people at the community level and also create a spirit of healthy competition between neighbourhoods, but without any losers! Imagine dinner parties where friends boast about their neighbourhood not having suffered a blackout in months because they managed to save!

Neighbourhood Power Watches could be established to distribute flyers to raise awareness (and occasionally go knock on doors of folks running Christmas lights in June)

Jon Tullet suggested that we use SMS broadcasting to warn people in any particular area of impending power cuts. (An SMS broadcast is a message sent to all phones in a range of a particular cell tower, regardless of what network you are or what your number is). This will allow recipients to switch off appliances and instantaneously reduce consumption to avoid a power cut!

I have set up a website,, to be the centre of this campaign. (Do you get the double-meaning? Thanks to Simon for coming up with the name during a Blogger Community brainstorm session on Skype!)

So what can you do to help right now? Easy: If you’re a blogger, blog about it. If you’re a journalist, write about it. If you’re not a writer, talk about it. If you’re a politician, campaign about it!

Right now, right here, YOU can make a big difference in helping to bring South Africa back on track, to help save lives, jobs and 2% of GDP growth!

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