Articles Posted in the Renewable energy category

Is this the dawning of the age of alternatives?

April 1, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

wind-turbines The renewable energy feed-in tariffs announced by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) yesterday appear to have been well received by industry players.

The tariff guidelines set the price renewable energy suppliers will be paid for  a unit of electricity and they need to be high enough to encourage investment in the industry. Until recently, renewable energy had to compete with South Africa’s incredibly cheap (but very dirty) electricity from coal. There were no incentives for renewable energy investors. So it’s not surprising that, at present, South Africa has only one operating wind farm which produces 5MW of electricity.

But in 2004 South Africa set a renewable energy target of 10,000GWh by 2013 and to meet this target it needs to kickstart the industry and get things moving quickly. The tarrifs announced yesterday are perhaps a sign of a commitment to increase the role of renewables in the energy mix. They are a significant improvement on those in the consultation paper released by Nersa in December, which had been criticised for being too low to encourage investment.

Under Nersa’s new tariff guidelines, developers will receive R1,25/kWh for wind (up 65c/kWh), 90c/kWh for landfill gas (up from 43c), 94c/kWh for small hydro (up from 73c) and R2,10/kWh for concentrated solar power (up from 65c).

To give you something to compare this to: on my January electricity bill, I was charged about 40c/kWh. But Eskom’s prices will increase and a levy on electricity generated from non-renewable sources is likely to come into effect sometime this year.

The power purchase agreement with suppliers will last for 20 years and the tariffs will be reviewed every year for five years and every three years after that. Eskom, the state energy utility, will act as the renewable energy power purchasing agency.

Don’t rush out to buy solar panels to generate electricity on your roof, though. The new tariffs don’t mean that ordinary households will soon be able to generate electricity from rooftop photovoltaics and get reimbursed for feeding it back into the grid. Nersa’s feed-in tariffs exclude photovoltaic panels and biomass generation. The regulator’s focus appears to be on utility-scale generation.

Consumers will most likely have to bear the increased cost of renewable energy – but at least we can look forward to some alternatives to coal and nuclear in the future.

Earth Hour was fun, let’s do it more often

March 31, 2009
Posted in Lifestyle

Tapei 101 building, via

I decided to measure my household’s contribution to Earth Hour on Saturday to get an idea of what switching off my lights for an hour could potentially mean for the planet. (I have an energy monitor called The Owl.) Turns out that my household consumption dropped by 250 watts. In South Africa, this means that 24kg less carbon dioxide was pumped into the air because of me. (In SA, 0.978kg of CO2 are emitted for every 1 kWh of electricity).

To be honest, we did go a bit further than switching off the lights. We also switched off two PCs and the television. We lit some candles inside the house and sat on the back steps looking at the stars, enjoying a very peaceful evening – and a family conversation! It’s amazing what can happen when there’s no TV.

In fact, it was so nice that we’ve decided to do it more often.

My 250W saving is apparently the equivalent of planting 0.1 trees. So if I switched off my lights for an hour once a month for a year, it would be the equivalent of planting a tree.

Apparently more than 1,000 cities took part in Earth Hour. Click here for an amazing collection of Earth Hour “before and during” pics from around the world.

State electricity utility Eskom says that South Africans “contributed 400MW of electricity savings to Earth Hour”. That’s 10 percent of the output of a whole power station – Witbank’s Kendal power station, for example,  produces around 4,100MW.

It’s also a saving of 400 tons of carbon dioxide, 224 tons of coal and some 576 kilolitres of water, says Dr Steve Lennon, Eskom’s MD for corporate services and its “climate change champion”.

“The 400MW translates to about 4 million 100W bulbs or 6,7 million 60W bulbs switched off on Saturday. This shows a concerted effort by approximately 1 million households,” he said.

Can anyone seriously say that it isn’t worth taking part in Earth Hour?

(Update: Corrected a typo to read: That’s 10 percent of the output of a whole power station – Witbank’s Kendal power station, for example, produces around 4,100MW)

Google tests online home energy monitor

February 11, 2009
Posted in Green News


Google is developing what sounds like an incredibly useful online tool, called  Powermeter, that will allow users so see their home energy consumption in near real time online.

Being aware of where in your home you’re using energy makes it easier to reduce your usage. Studies show that people save between 5 and 15 percent of their energy costs when they have access to information about their energy consumption, says the search engine giant.

A Google hardware engineer who was involved in beta-testing the PowerMeter prototype said on the company’s website: “By monitoring my energy use, I figured out that the bulk of my electricity was caused by my two 20-year-old fridges, my incandescent lights and my pool pump, which was set to run more than necessary. By replacing the refrigerators with new energy-efficient models, the lights with CFLs and setting the pool pump to only run at specified intervals, I’ve saved $3,000 in the past year and I am on track to save even more this year! ”

But in order to get this near real-time feedback you first need an advanced electricity meter known as a smart meter installed in your home. Google says there are currently about 40-million smart meters in use worldwide, with plans to add another 100-million in the next few years – 40-million are planned in the US alone over the next three years through President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

Google idea is to make the information on smart meters available to consumers. “PowerMeter will receive energy consumption information from utility smart meters and energy management devices and provide anyone who signs up access to her home electricity consumption right on her iGoogle homepage,” the search engine giant says.

PowerMeter is currently still a prototype being tested by Google employees, but the company hopes to partner with utilities and smart energy device makers (presumably in the United States) and eventually make the tool available for free to consumers.

Sounds to me like this is something Eskom should be keeping an eye on because it could be a handy tool to help South Africans reduce their electricity consumption by the required 10 percent.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is reportedly about to make available an add-on “Environmental Dashboard” application for Microsoft Dynamics AX. It is geared at business users, to help them analyse and reduce their energy use. It also provides information on greenhouse gas emissions. You can read more about it on CNet

Source:, EcoGeek

What if minerals and energy split?

February 10, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

wind-turbinesIn what is potentially great news for the renewable energy industry in South Africa, the department of minerals and energy may be split into two separate ministries this year, according to a Reuters report.

An unbundled energy ministry would have the job of implementing an energy policy for the country that is less tied to the mining industry. At present about 90 percent of South Africa’s energy is produced from coal, of which there is a plentiful supply.  But for the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, which it has committed to do, this reliance on dirty fossil fuel has to end and other, cleaner energy sources, such as solar and wind, have to start adding their “green” electrons to the electricity grid.

The department of minerals and energy is perceived to have been dragging its feet on finding alternative sources of energy. Although the government has set a renewable energy target of 10 000GWh by 2013, this target is described as modest and the government is behind schedule in meeting it. What’s more the renewable energy feed-in tariff system (REFIT), which will determine how much alternative energy suppliers are paid for the electricity they generate and thus make the industry economically viable, has apparently been under discussion for more than a decade and has now become a matter of urgency.

According to BR, there is talk that the energy ministry may join with environmental affairs which would make sense given the relationship between energy issues and climate change.

Sources: Business Report, WWF

Make a change 10: Watch that hot tap

January 29, 2009
Posted in Green tips, Lifestyle

hot taps

Here’s an interesting fact from Scientific American’s recently published Earth 3.0 magazine.

“Running hot water at a sink for five minutes uses the same amount of energy as burning a 60-watt lightbulb for 14 hours.”

I did a test at home using an electricity monitor I bought called The Owl and found that after running the hot tap for about 20 seconds, the Owl registered an increase in my household electricity usage of around 1,800 watts for 2 minutes. That means my electric geyser had switched on for 2 minutes.

Save electricity and lower your carbon footprint (electricity in South Africa is mostly generated by carbon-belching coal-fired power stations) by being mindful of the amount of hot water you use. Make sure your hot taps are switched off properly and don’t use hot water for things like washing your hands or rinsing dishes when cold water will do the job just as well.

News briefs

December 19, 2008
Posted in Green News

  • BOTTLE STOPPERS: Students at Britain’s Leeds University have voted to ban bottled still water from all their bars, cafes and shops. More than 30,000 pounds in profits reportedly will be lost from the sale of around 20,000 bottles of water a year to students by the university union’s outlets. “It’s a measure of concern about the environment, putting sustainability before profit,” Tom Salmon of Leeds University Union told the Guardian. Bottled water will be replaced by water fountains and “affordable, reusable water bottles”, and a campaign will promote tap water. [Source: Guardian] (Thank you to Anna on Twitter for the link)
  • BUY EVERY MOUNTAIN: Capetonians were shocked to discover this week that Hout Bay’s landmark Sentinel mountain, which has been described as one of Cape Town’s most photographed features, has been put up for sale for a mere R12-million. Many people had been under the impression that the mountain was part of a national park. The fact that it is privately owned raises concerns that the mountain may be developed – Hout Bay is a very popular, upmarket, residential suburb. South African National Parks has apparently made “several offers” to buy the Sentinel, but they have been rejected. Any attempts to develop the land are likely to be met by fierce resistance from environmentalists. The estate agent involved in the sale was quoted as saying: “It’s quite unusual for a mountain to be up for sale. Whoever buys it will probably do so to be able to say: ‘I own that mountain’.” [Source: IOL]
  • POWERING DOWN: The government has retrofitted 4,000 buildings with energy-saving equipment, saving R56-million a year in electricity costs, the deputy president, Baleka Mbete, told an energy saving conference earlier this month. It aims to eventually make every government facility energy efficient. Ms Mbete urged ordinary South Africans not to waste power. She also warned that Eskom will be carrying out routine maintenance to its infrastructure in January. This time last year rolling blackouts cost the economy billions of rands. [Source: BuaNews]
  • SHORING UP: The Netherlands is spending  billions of dollars on reinforcing its dykes amid  fears of flooding from rising sea levels as a result of climate change. Two-thirds of the country  lies below sea level. It is also investing in augmenting its fresh water supplies. [Source: AFP via TerraDaily]

Greenpeace takes on dirty coal

November 1, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

If you’re a Bond movie fan you’ll love Greenpeace’s new hero who’s out to save the world from the evil bad guy Coalfinger. They’ve made a video with fantastic animation and horrible puns – but a very important message, obviously … The big question is:

Do we dogmatically pursue new coal in a business as usual scenario, or do we commit the world to a clean energy future, creating green jobs, increasing energy security and, crucially, slashing our carbon emissions?

Click on the image or go to to see the vid and get informed.

Australia wants to be clean coal research hub

September 22, 2008
Posted in Green News

Australia plans to set itself up as the world hub for carbon capture research, Reuters reports. The country’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wants to get United Nations’ backing for an Australian research institute at the general assembly meeting in New York this week. Rudd says that although there’s a great deal of international effort going into carbon capture research, it’s haphazard and he wants to bring it together in one place.

Australia is the world’s top coal exporter and relies heavily on coal for power generation, so developing “clean coal” technologies such as carbon capture and storage make economic sense; they would allow the continued use of coal to generate electricity – but without the climate-harming carbon emissions.

The country is already making progress in a method of carbon capture known as post-combustion capture (PCC). In July, the CSIRO reported that carbon dioxide had been captured from power station flue gases in a PCC pilot plant at a power station in Victoria. The pilot plant is designed to capture up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from the power station’s exhaust-gas flues. Read more

First coal plant ready to capture and store its carbon emissions opens

September 11, 2008
Posted in Business

Depending on your perspective, the world’s first demonstration plant for carbon capture and storage (CCS) (CSS) technology, which was officially opened in Germany on Tuesday, is either a milestone for clean coal technology or a distraction that will delay investment in real clean energy technologies.

The 30MW plant, built by Swedish energy utility Vattenfall on the premises of its 1,600MW Schwarze Pumpe power plant in northern Germany, took 15 months and cost about 70-million Euros to build. It’s very small compared to conventional power stations, but it’s the first coal-fired power plant in the world ready to capture and store its own carbon dioxide emissions. And Vattenfall has bigger plans for the future. Read more

Power sector emissions ‘racing in the wrong direction’

September 2, 2008
Posted in Green News

Emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing global warming, from the power generation sector have increased by more than 34 percent in the past eight years, according to the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a Washington-based think tank.

This does not bode well for international efforts to combat climate change. Power generation accounts for more than a quarter of all global carbon dioxide emissions, and the proportion is rising rapidly, the CGD says.

Thr CGD attributes much of the increase since 2000 to the surge in the number of new coal-fired power stations being built in China, which has now surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide from power generation, according to updated data from GDG’s Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA). Read more

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