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  • Off-grid living is easier than you think.

    Many people aspire to becoming totally self-sufficient and living off-grid but feel that it is impossible due to the technology involved and the financial implications, but we are here to tell you that going off the grid is easier than you think, if you put the time in.

    Like anything desirable, achieving aspirations take time and dedication. Due to the fact that we have more than 15 years of experience, we have listed our top tips on how to go to make a smooth transition to going off-grid.

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  • Load Shedding - Don't be left in the dark

    Load Shedding - Don't be left in the dark again.

    Is Load Shedding back? Are we forever waiting for another run of stage 1, 2 and 3bs? Whenever there is a power cut, many of us wait with bated breath for the dreaded announcement. For some South Africans, load shedding has never stopped. After another scare a few weeks ago, we at Sustainable.co.za have decided to write a guide on how to prepare yourself for power cuts. From small cost effective solutions, to larger, long term applications, we have ensured that we have it all.

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  • Nuclear vs Renewable Energy

    We were suddenly given a ray of hope amid the current political gloom when the Western Cape High Court declared the Nuclear Procurement process unlawful. Launched in October 2015 by Earthlife Africa (ELA) and Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), their case contends that the government is violating the constitution by concluding deals without first debating it in Parliament (read more about the Nuclear Deal). While this will hamper the Nuclear Program, there is still a long fight ahead and all gains made in the interim will stand testament to the value of renewable energy.

    Every step taken towards renewable energy diminishes the argument for Nuclear Energy. Rooftop solar has the potential to put Eskom under a lot of financial strain, leaving no option but to opt for the proven cheaper and safer renewable energy. Every kWh supplied by these alternative sources prevents the release of about 1kg CO² per unit of electricity. As the industry develops and allocates more funds to research and development it will become even more competitive.

    Russian Roulette

    No discussion on Nuclear and Renewable Energy is complete without taking full account of the risks posed by nuclear power. Only November last year was the final structure moved into place at Chernobyl to contain the nuclear waste, replacing the aging concrete structure that was erected in the weeks following the explosion. The biggest ever movable man-made structure is finally in place 30 years after the disaster.


    The catastrophic events following the Fukushima disaster on 11 March 2011 should be a reminder to us that contingency plans are not adequate when dealing with fission reactions. The power plant automatically switched off when the earthquake occurred which means the cooling of the reactors had to be powered externally by 13 diesel generators, only they were flooded by the tsunami causing hydrogen build-up in the reactors and their eventual explosion. The severity of the radioactive leaks into the atmosphere and the ocean will only become evident over time. Even so 116 children in the area have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer since the disaster, 20 – 50 times higher than the national average.

    The disposal of radioactive waste is considered a minor problem and mostly ignored by nuclear proponents, hence the absence of a permanent disposal plan for the high level waste i.e. spent fuel kept at Koeberg which is growing by 30 tons every year. In addition, 500 steel drums and 100 concrete drums of low to medium level nuclear waste from Koeberg gets buried every year at the Vaalputs Disposal Facility, 100 km south of Kimberley, and this from only two 900 MW reactors compared to 9600 MW planned for Thyspunt. A further cause for concern is the proposed fracking in the area which can lead to earth tremors, a factor almost certainly not considered when the 10 000 hectares was acquired in 1983.

    As if this is not enough problems for the Northern Cape, a local subsidiary of an Australian company, Peninsula Energy, has acquired 750 000 hectares of uranium exploration concessions in the Karoo. The hazards of Uranium mining are well known and pose a much greater threat to the region than commonly acknowledged. Half a million tons of waste rock and 100 000 tonnes of toxic waste tailings will need to be extracted to yield 25 tonnes of Uranium, enough to supply a reactor for one year.

     

     

    Sustainable Energy

    The abundance of solar and wind energy in South Africa are well documented. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) estimates that rooftop solar installation alone can provide 136TWh and the EIA areas can provide a further 420TWh when the aggregate demand currently stands at 225TWh. Critics of renewable energy point out that electricity demand peak in the evening due to increased domestic use and would thus need conventional ‘base load power’. Fortunately, wind power can take up the slack when the sun sets.

    Let’s look at the facts before shunning this as hippie conjecture. In theory, if we allocate 0.1km² for every MW wind generation capacity, our nation’s 1.3 million km² surface area can generate 38 000 TWh wind power per year. This is based on a load factor of 0.36 when in Germany in 2015 working on a load factor of 0.2, wind power amounted to 77TWh (at 44GW capacity), about a third of our annual demand.

    Since the first of four REIPPPP bid windows in November 2011, the cost of Solar Power has dropped from R3.65/kWh to R0.62/kWh and Wind power dropped from R1.51 to R0.62/kWh, whereas the cost of coal power currently stands at R1.3/kWh and Nuclear R1.17 - R1.30/kWh. Sadly the bidding has been stalled by Eskom since November 2015 and 37 Independent Power Producers (IPPs) are left waiting to invest over R50 Billion in the country.

    Clearly there are vested interests in the fossil fuel industry that view renewable energy as a threat to its profits. Acting Eskom CEO, Matshela Koko, claims he is prepared to sign the IPP bids at the current tariff, but this may be up to the new CEO stepping into office in June.

  • Don't be in the Dark this Earth Hour

    Every year people switch off their lights for an hour as a collective gesture towards the protection of the environment. Unless you have a streak of Nyctophilia chances are that you would, like most people, prefer to avoid stubbing your toe against the kitchen table leg. If you are a shoe-wearing environmentalist, you'd probably prefer to avoid falling down the stairs when your shoes fail to warn you of the impending drop. Either way, some form of eco-friendly lighting might not be such a bad idea. Yes, we seize every opportunity to promote our wonderful products, see the full range of solar lights here.

    On the 25th of March at 8:30pm local time, people across 24 time zones will be coming together to make a noise in the interest of our only terrestrial home. There’s still a lot of sceptics out there, not to mention national leaders who choose to ignore the realities faced by future generations. Sadly, our society’s myopic policy-making is slow to catch on to the real dangers, but governments and corporates are at last starting to shift their stance on this issue that can no longer be ignored. China is finally enforcing stricter carbon cutting measures on a city-level and its notorious law enforcement isn’t accepting lame excuses; no more “the dog ate my emissions certificate” for Chinese factory owners. Freight ships entering Chinese harbours now have to switch off their diesel engins and take on power lines from the port authorities.

    We have all heard arguments that the earth has been through warmer periods before and that the current warming is due to natural cycles i.e. change in orbit over 100 millennia, the latter has off course been disproven. Increasing levels of CO2 and Methane are the leading cause of present climate change, the far-reaching consequences of which are already becoming apparent in ways far more disastrous than with natural warming. These changes are often far removed from our everyday lives yet thousands of children are dying the world over from pneumonia directly linked to hazardous air quality, but the urgency of environmental policies are still being questioned?

    This year we are privileged to be working with WWF and Green Peace to lobby for the renewable sector, an industry that continually has to justify itself and overcome bureaucratic hurdles. Moreover, the 4th Annual Eco Film Festival will be taking place around Earth Hour, as a co-sponsor, the Sustainable team is looking forward to take part in this event. Whether you are at a festival, sitting at a family dinner table or camping in the bush with stars overhead, join millions of people in a mass demonstration to affect change.

    What can I do other than jumping up and down and banging on Parliament’s door?

     

  • Off The Grid Restaurant: El Burro

    El Burro LogoMore and more businesses around South Africa are no longer prepared to be at the mercy of Eskom’s irregular power supply. Dozens of businesses, including restaurants, are now finding alternative electricity sources so that they can continue to trade unaffected by blackouts. While many businesses plan their meetings, appointments and tasks around the load shedding schedules, they are often changed at the last minute leaving businesses in the dark – literally. Sustainable.co.za spoke to Cape Town restaurant El Burro (known for their divine authentic Mexican food) about how they keep the cuisine cooking when Eskom strikes.

    1.     What made El Burro decide to control their your own power source during load shedding?

    Essentially we decided to protect our business. We found that we were most often scheduled into the 8pm to 10pm slots, and in that window you can do 70% of your entire day’s trade. If the situation became dire and we were to lose about five or six nights a month, that could put us out of business. We have a high staff count and rent is not cheap in the area etc. So to trade as normal, when Eskom is down, became essential to us.

    2.     What power sources do you use?

    We bought a 3phase petrol powered 10kva generator that allows us to run our extraction, lights, and crucial equipment. It powers roughly 60% of normal usage, but allows us to function at 98% trade.

    3.     What challenges did you face when moving from general power to off the grid?

    As always, capital. In an ideal world we would love to go off the grid permanently. However, to meet the usage of all our equipment it would entail an investment out of our reach. Thus, we identified the quickest and cheapest solution, and had it installed compliantly.

    4.     What are the positive effects of using this kind of power resource on the business?

    The advantage of petrol is that it is easily accessible and reasonably affordable to run. We managed to find a balance in the size of the unit between affordability to run (ie low consumption) and functionality.

    5.     What are the negative effects of using this kind of power resource on the business? 

    For us personally we would prefer a “greener” solution. Ultimately that is the only negative, that a petrol powered generator is not sustainable enough.

    6.     How important is it for El Burro to be energy efficient?

    We do feel that it is essential in the long run.  Again, the only thing stopping us is the capital required to go fully green.

    7.     How do you currently save energy and recycle?

    At the moment we have policies we can control within our financial means, like sorting and having waste recycled, power save where we can and moving over to energy efficient lighting. All cardboard, tin and glass is sorted and recycled. About 60% of lighting has been changed to LED with the rest to follow. The next big steps will be to implement heat pumps instead of geysers, and looking into, at least, moving lighting and small appliances over to solar. We’ll have to see if and when this will be viable to us.

    8.     Would you recommend others try to get off the grid?

    As a business, yes of course. You won’t believe the extra trade we get when every other restaurant is dark and we are up and running. They few places who have backup power do well during load shedding. From a personal perspective, the same. However, we have a long way to go in the country before alternative energy is affordable to the average person.

    Find El Burro at 81 Main Road, Green Point, Cape Town. Or call them on 021 433 2364.

    For Businesses Wanting to Get Off the Grid During Load Shedding:

    Switching to alternative energy is an investment. It’s important to calculate how much turn over a business is losing when the power is off. Incorporating the loss into the cost of an alternative electricity source system is the best way to consider what the reality is of keeping the lights on during load shedding times.

    Sustainable.co.za has a number of power saving options, from on-the-table solar lights to big off the grid systems. We asked resident expert Zeke Murphy about options for businesses. Zeke recommends the following:

    The 24kwh is great for the average home and business. It would power the lights, PCs, and TVs in the home or small business. Considering El Burro is a restaurant, it would not be able to consistently power electric ovens but if restaurants use gas, the 24kwh solar power kit is sufficient to run the businesses, ovens and stoves excluded.

    The 9kwh solar power kit would be able to run the tills and essential lights in the restaurant.

    Consider, if you can afford a vehicle for your business, are you able to afford a permanent alternative power source? If you have any further questions, feel free to call 0861 661 326.

  • Grid-Tied Systems for Low Consumption and Low Costs

    Home solar power

    If you’re looking for an alternative energy solution that will be kind to your budget as well as the environment, a grid-tied solar power kit could be just what you need for your home or office. But how do these solar energy systems work, and what makes them so affordable?

    What is a Grid-Tied System?

    As we’ve mentioned in the past, a grid-tied solar power system is one that is designed not to replace the Eskom grid, but to work in conjunction with the grid, supplementing the power supply and offsetting the cost thereof. The system uses a grid-interactive solar inverter that feeds alternating current (AC) into the grid. This means that any excess power can be sent to the transmission grid, and standard power from the grid can be used to make up for any power shortfalls.

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  • Eskom and NERSA Offer Renewable Energy Incentives to Consumers

    Renewable energy has become a legal commodity thanks to Eskom and NERSA (National Energy Regulator of South Africa). South Africa’s electricity distributor and regulator are offering separate supplementary tiers to the country’s independent power producer programme that is currently underway. These nation-wide projects have been adopted in order to avoid a repeat of the load shedding initiatives that occurred in 2008.

    Renewable Energy Solutions Courtesy of Eskom and NERSA:

    Embedded Generations within Municipal Boundaries

    As of the 22nd of September 2011, NERSA approved the directive of municipalities to maintain a database of all small-scale (<100kW) embedded generation within their areas. The idea behind this is to bypass licensing problems introduced by allowing individuals to connect their solar panels to electricity grids, thereby reducing their electricity bills (find out more here).

     

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  • Eskom Proposes Five Year Tariff Increase Plan: How Will This Affect Households?

    eskomEskom has initiated the application for the third multi-year price determination (MYPD 3) with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), which will determine nationwide electricity prices for the period starting 1st April 2013. The current MYDP 2 for the period April 2011 end March 2013 denotes a massive increase of 25% per annum; fortunately the electricity increase was reduced by 25% to 16% in 2012, approved by Nersa. The proposed MYPD 3, which will span a period of five years as opposed to three, has put forward an electricity tariff increase of 16% per annum. This rate is far above inflation and will continue to make electricity an unaffordable necessity for many South Africans. With all these figures in the pipeline, how will these electricity hikes affect our household energy bills?

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  • Beat the Eskom Electricity Hike Blues

    It’s that time again, the time for the dreaded price increase for Eskom electricity. This means us South African will have to dig deeper into our pockets to keep the lights burning. The latest hike is effective as of July 1st and will hit consumers hard. However there is no use complaining about the increase in Eskom rates because it will happen again, annually, until 2014. There is an estimated 25% hike in electricity which will differ from city to city. Continue reading

  • Green Scorpions Inspect SA Businesses

    The Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI), more commonly known as the Green Scorpions, are determined to enforce environmental compliance laws in businesses throughout South Africa. A 6-month campaign of inspections has been launched with the aim of insuring that business owners in offices to rent Johannesburg to Cape Town are following the correct environmental procedures.

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