green your electricity

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Submitted by sproutingforth on Wed, 2008-02-13 12:07.

On the tip of every South African’s tongue is the question: what can we do? The electricity from our only supplier isn’t meeting our demands.

Grumbling about the error of Eskom’s ways is all very well, but waiting for "them" to come up with a solution, well... we could be left in the dark.

South Africa’s electricity comes almost exclusively from coal (read: massive contribution to Green House Gases, nasty to the environment, unsustainable in the long run). Over 90% of electricity is generated near the coalfields of Mpumalanga, around 5% from Koeberg’s Nuclear Power Station, and the remainder is from hydro electric / pumped storage and gas turbines which only operate at peak load times. There are plans to build a further two 4800 MW coal-fired power stations in Limpopo and Mpumalanga before 2015 [engineeringnews], and construct nuclear plants along the coastline to add about 20 000 MW of atomic energy capacity by 2025 (more about nuclear here).

If you consider that coal mining puts fresh water at risk [IOL] and is contributing at a rapid rate to climate change, South Africa needs to urgently pursue a mix of renewable energies, energy efficiency measures and tax incentives to deal with its energy crisis. Eskom is doing very little about renewable energy, other than paying lip service. So far all they’re investing in is an intended "massive" solar power plant and wind farm, just big enough to power one little town [urban sprout]. Still, it is a start.

Solar panel technology made headlines about two years ago with an announcement of a scientific breakthrough by South African Professor Vivian Alberts, whose efficient and cheap alloy (as opposed to costly silicon) solar panel technology was licensed by a German consortium. It looks like manufacturing is about to begin in Germany, and there is talk of a manufacturing facility to be built in SA. Apparently an announcement is imminent.

These solar panels would make it possible for homes to become completely energy self-sufficient; they’re able to generate enough energy to run all our appliances and the panels will be up to 50% cheaper than the silicon based panels. At the moment it is still incredibly expensive to go off grid and power one’s home using solar power, but we'll be watching this space eagerly.

If you're impatient to wait for the new panels to become available, some savings could be achieved by doing it yourself. Take a look at:
Discover Solar Energy
DIY Network - Solar Solutions

Solar water heaters are one way of cutting back dramatically on one’s use of electricity, and the government is about to roll out a subsidisation programme. They're planning on a subsidy of between 20 and 30 percent, which is paid to the supplier of the system, which will bring down the purchase cost. The subsidy percentage depends on the electricity saving the system can make. Currently only two suppliers are approved (Eskom has to comply with legal oversight ensuring SABS compliance, and an electrical Certificate of Compliance needs to be issued). But there are another 19 (or did I hear 90?) suppliers in the pipeline. The two available models apparently cost R12 000 and R20 000, and because energy saving is in the range of 12% to 16% percent the subsidies amount to R2 000 and R3 000 respectively. [this info based on what Andrew Etzinger, Eskom spokesperson said on SAfm 12 Feb]

What we can do to lessen our impact on the grid, the environment and save money at the same time:

Do an energy audit
Just how much energy do you use and what is using it? An average medium to high income household uses between 800 to 1200 kWh per month (for 3.5 people!) The split based on application is roughly: water heating 25%, lighting 15%, space heating or cooling 15%, standby mode 15%, cooking 10%, refrigeration 10%, other 10%. If you are very detail oriented you may want to analyse and tweak each appliance, but you can also make some very quick savings by starting with the biggest consumers of electricity.

The Smart Living Handbook outlines a step-by-step audit of household appliances and your estimated carbon emissions on page 47-49 [download the Smart Living Handbook]

The basics: easy and cheap to do
If you haven’t already...
switch off your geyser during the day when the grid is taxed most, and turn it on again last thing at night (or get a geyser timer - around R300 + R500 installation and save the fuss)
reduce the temperature on the geyser – optimal settings are 50 degrees in summer and 60 degrees in winter
• wrap your geyser in a blanket and insulate the water pipes leading out of the geyser
• replace all your light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs [read green your lighting]
turn off all lights & appliances when you’re not using them, including your computer
• don’t have appliances on standby or in sleep mode (this still draws a surprising amount of current)
• try and run appliances either at night or early morning (off peak times)
• turn off the air conditioning and use natural ventilation or ceiling fans
insulate your home [see green your heating & cooling]
• use a gas heater in winter
boil water in a kettle rather than on the stove – it uses 50% less electricity (only use the amount of water needed)
• cook on gas or make your own hot box [soilforlife] Order your hotbox here.

Longer payback, but worth considering:

• install solar water heating to use the sun's thermal energy (insolation) to heat your water. Find suppliers here. Interesting thread here. Eskom's SWH page here.

• install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce and store your own electricity. Find suppliers here.

• invest in a wind turbine Small, home-sized wind turbines are pricey but they can take a chunk out of your energy use and they provide green energy. [sustainableprojects]

• install a biodigestor and produce your own gas for cooking, or if you farm with animals, enough biogas to produce your own electricity []

Look out for:

green power from a renewable-source electricity power producers These are power utilities that generate or buy renewable energy (wind, solar, biogas) and then re-sell it. The Darling Wind farm, for instance, has signed a 20-year purchase agreement with the City of Cape Town and consumers will be the first to benefit. Look at paying about 25c/kWh unit, above the normal cost of electricity though. [engineering news]

A company like GreenXEnergy and Amatola Green Power market and sell green electricity certificates, known as TRECs (Tradable Renewable Certificates), RECs, green tags or green certificates. TRECs represent units of certified green electricity (mostly from the sugar industry in SA). At the moment, most of these company’s clients are corporates, but individuals can buy TRECs from GreenXEnergy as well.

feed-in tariffs Neither government nor Eskom appear to have committed to any feedback tariff , but it is only time before generating electricity and feeding back into the grid becomes a reality. There are small companies and individuals doing interesting energy-related projects and generating renewable energy that is presently being lost because there is no framework for feedback. A feed-in tariff will regulate the price that suppliers can expect to receive for their renewable energy.

Germany was able to reduce the cost of wind-generated electricity by 60% over just 12 years - achieved by applying a feed-in tariff, which stimulated enormous advances in wind turbine technology. [thegreenconnection]

( categories: )

Not just government

Dear Urban Sprout

There are things we as citizens of this country can do.

We need to be given the opportunity to add solar and wind power to our houses and also to feed the national grid with excess electricity.


Need some incentive

Hi David. Yep agreed. Eskom's subsidy program for Solar Water Heater's goes some way to making this a little more affordable. Hopefully Mr Manuel's Budget Speech provides some incentive to go even further. A feed-in tariff that pays more than what Eskom charges will be a motivator for the public to add to the grid.

Energy Audit/Ratings

I think that its a great idea to get some independent person to do an energy audit and then subsequently give an energy rating to the building. It could be used by home buyers to compare potential homes they want to purchase. This would mean that people will to improve their energy ratings so their house will have more of a resale value.

solar power

I suggest that we put pressure on our banks to 'subsidize' the installation of solar heating to bonded households by offereing to refinance our bonds with the amount quoted for an installation of a solar system. By quote. No financing charges.

Lets face it it is big business who carries the most risk during power outages. It is big business that should shoulder most of the responsibility. And for once the man in the street should not be made to pay, again.

big business to subsidise solar water heating

Sounds like a good idea, Jacci. I read that it's only 1 million solar water heaters that will be subsidised in the rollout by government - sounds like a lot but it isn't in the greater scheme of things. They're pretty expensive to install - anything from R10k to R20k - and very few are actually SABS approved. If banks helped in the way that you suggest, to take on the load, it would definitely improve their rather tarnished 'green' image. I don't think they're too worried about blackouts. I read somewhere that one of the big banks has spent an absolute fortune on generators!

With the country's

With the country's electricity crisis, is it not ironic that the existing wind farms are hardly ever operational. Wonder who control these farms and what is the reason for them mostly being switched off (near Klipheuwel, also on the R27 to Langebaan & on the N7 towards Malmesbury)

Saving electricity, water and money

Saving electricity, water and money

The average householder will probably face an increase of more than 40% from 1 July 08. But there is a sure way that households can save much on there electricity costs. By replacing its traditional showerhead with a new high efficiency showerhead a family of four, showering for a total of 20 minutes per day, can save about R100 per month in water and electricity costs. And this modern showerhead (using laminar flow technology, not aeration/turbulence technology) will pay for itself within about 10 weeks. Thereafter it will recover the currently expected electricity price increases. Why does Eskom not promote these cost-effective devices in support of the other high priced / low yield solutions (e.g. solar water heaters, gas stoves, geyser blankets) they are offering to householders through their DSM programmes?
Contact if more information is required.

Solar Water Heaters

I wonder how serious we are as a country to reduce our electrical requirement. The so called subsidy is once again very one sided, and does not accomodate the do it yourself person who is capable of installing and making there own solar panel. I made my own solar panel, and installed it about 3 years ago. It cost R2000.00 and has saved me close on R4000.00 so far. My average consumption for a family of 4 is 470 KW a month. With a special differential sensor and pump, I get water heating when ever the sun shines or it is warm.
Another option on energy reduction, is to use the heat from your roof space and pump the warm air into your living area. I made and installed such a unit, it warms the areas up by as much as 6 degrees. It draws 8 watts an hour, and pumps only when the air in the roof is at a particular temperature. I got rid of my gas heater as this thing works so well.

Warm air in roof

How do you go about pumping hot air out of your roof into your house?



Heat from roof space

Would it be possible to provide technical/commercial detail on equipment and fittings required to extract hot air from roof space? It sounds like an excellent idea, very much needed in most households during winter.