Articles Posted in the Renewable energy category

African projects win green energy awards

June 16, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

Cooking with briquettes made from agricultural waste

A woman cooks with briquettes made from agricultural waste. The briquettes are clean, easy to handle and reduce cooking time. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

In a continent where millions of people have no access to the electricity grid or simply cannot afford to pay for electricity, small-scale  energy options can have a huge impact in improving the quality of people’s lives. They also play an important role in combating climate change.

Last week the UK-based Ashden Awards gave prizes to two African energy projects that are inspiring examples of how local sustainable energy can make a difference. A Ugandan company producing briquettes from agricultural waste and a rural solar energy project in Ethiopia each were awarded  £20,000 (R260,000). Another award-winner with an African connection is a joint US/Chinese cooking stove scheme that is bringing social and environmental benefits to African countries, including South Africa


Briquettes made from agricultural waste. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

KJS's briquettes. The company sells 130 tonnes a month and hopes to expand to other African markets. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

Kampala Jellitone Suppliers (KJS), a Ugandan coffee-processing company, won an Ashden award for “avoided deforestation” for its briquettes made from the residue left after processing commercial crops, such as rice and peanut husks, coffee pulp and maize stalks.

The company sells 130 tonnes of briquettes every month, along with improved stoves that burn the briquettes more cleanly and efficiently, to schools, universities and hospitals for cooking, and to five factories for producing heat.

In climate terms, this saves 6.1 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of briquettes used, or 9,300 tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to an Ashden Awards press release.

“Using our briquettes reduces the pressure on wood resources and thus reduces deforestation, which is a serious and growing problem – particularly around Kampala [the country’s capital],” said Abasi Kazibwe Musisi, managing director of KJS. “The agricultural residues used to make briquettes were previously burned as they were regarded as waste.”

A traditional home with a photovoltaic panel attached to the roof in Rema, Ethiopia. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards.

A traditional home with a photovoltaic panel attached to the roof in Rema, Ethiopia. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards.


Samson Tsegaye of the Solar Energy Foundation with a solar light. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

Samson Tsegaye of the Solar Energy Foundation with a solar light. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

The Solar Energy Foundation, a non-governmental organisation established in 2006, has won the Ashden prize for rural electrification for installing more than 2,000 small solar energy systems in two remote Ethiopian villages, bringing electricity to these communites for the first time.

The 10,000-plus villagers living in Rema and Rema ena Dire, in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, five hours’ drive from Addis Ababa, previously depended on smoky kerosene lamps and candles for their lighting. They reportedly turned down the offer of free diesel generators in favour of solar power.

The villagers pay a monthly fee of about $1 to cover maintenance and repairs to keep the solar systems running. The village committee manages payments and employs nine local people as fee collectors.

“The solar programme has helped develop the community in many ways,” said Samson Tsegaye, the Ethiopian country representative of SEF.

“The local women’s association has set up a popular night school for uneducated adults to improve literacy. School children can now study in the evenings and one teacher claims her pupils’ grades have improved by 75 percent as a result. Fewer people are suffering from eye and respiratory problems associated with kerosene smoke.”

The foundation also has installed a solar-powered water pump in Rema to provide fresh drinking water, saving the villagers from having to walk for two hours to collect water.

“We now have a special financing system in place that will allow us to establish a network of Solar Centres all over Ethiopia over the coming years. Our aim is to initiate self-supporting solar businesses across Ethiopia – and to make ourselves superfluous as an NGO,” said Dr Harald Schützeichel, who established the foundation.


Workers pack affordable efficient stoves for export at Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer's factory in China. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

Workers pack affordable efficient stoves for export at Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer's factory in China. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

Domestic coal stoves mass produced by a joint venture between the US-based Aprovecho Research Center (ARC) and Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer (SSM) in China, were named Ashden energy champions last week. Each stove is said to prevent around 1.5 tonnes a year of carbon dioxide from being emitted and reduces toxic emissions by well over half.

About half the world still cooks with biomass or coal, using open fires or traditional stoves. The resulting emissions cause indoor air pollution, leading to serious eye and respiratory problems and kill around 1.5 million people a year, mainly children and women.

The emissions also contribute to climate change. The collection of firewood often leads to deforestation and erosion and is an additional and demanding chore for women.

Tests on the ARC/SSM stoves indicate major environmental benefits and health gains for users: reductions of up to 50% percent in fuelwood use and 70 percent carbon monoxide and particulate emissions compared to a traditional fire.

The stoves are manufactured in China by SSM and sold to distributors around the world — 60,000 stoves have been sold since 2008. They are used in countries including Argentina, Chile, India, Tanzania, Madagascar and South Africa.

Ester Konene, a South African householder who tested an ARC/SSM stove, said: “I used to use two litres of kerosene a day, costing $1.50 (R12). Now a 5kg pack of wood costing US $2.40 (R19) lasts three days. There are no emission problems. I wouldn’t want to give it back.”

For information on other 2009 Ashden Award winners click here

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.

Eskom decision on solar power plant imminent

March 6, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

solar-tower-californiaEskom is looking to the World Bank to help fund a proposed R6-billion, 100MW solar thermal power plant, Reuters reports. The power utility could make the decision to build the plant, which will provide baseload electricity, later this year. Eskom’s climate change and sustainability manager Mandy Rambharos said the plant could be built within 18 months and would be piloted for two years after that.

In 2002, Eskom completed a pre-feasiblity study for a large-scale, grid-connected concentrated solar power generation project. The study found that Upington offers one of the world’s best solar resources and that a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant built in South Africa could produce the lowest-cost solar electricity in the world to date. It also found that CSP plants could be designed to meet evening peak loads in South Africa.

Read more

Minerals and energy minister punts clean energy

March 6, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

A wind turbine crop circle in the United States by BG Johnson under a Creative Commons licence

The department of minerals and energy is developing a climate change strategy for the energy sector, which should be completed by the end of September, Bulyelwa Sonjica, the minister of minerals and energy said this week at the Climate Change Summit 2009 in Midrand.

The strategy will assess climate change mitigation measures for the energy sector and consider technological opportunities in energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon capture and storage.

Minister Sonjica said that energy and climate change are “clearly intimately connected” and that mitigation offered opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors and that climate change policies must assist in promoting these opportunities.

The renewable energy feed-in tarrif (Refit), which is reportedly due to be released at the end of this month (March), will be an important stimulus for the renewable energy industry in South Africa.

She said the department is continuing with pilot projects around wind and solar which it hopes to “upscale at the right time”, adding that “clearly more needs to be done to support both public and private investment in renewable energy technologies.”

She said that these technologies offer a number of economic opportunities and job creation benefits that our society can capitalise on.

Additional funding could come from a 2c/kWh levy on electricity from non-renewable sources that is due to be implemented this year. Deputy director-general of minerals and energy Nelisiwe Magubane was reported by Reuters as saying: “We now charge a carbon tax on electricity … we will use that to go back to the Treasury to either introduce tax breaks for people who want to invest in renewables or increase our subsidies, now at only R20-million.”

At a side event earlier in the day the minister urged South African companies to make use of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism. She said the CDM was an international tool to unlock carbon assets and very few South African companies are tapping into it.

South Africa is lagging behind other developing countries, such as India, China and Brazil with only 14 CDM projects. But it does have more than any ther country in Africa and there are reportedly another 12 local projects at the validation stage.

Some CDM projects are “low-hanging fruit that could easily be harvested”, said Ms Sonjica, adding that her department has put initiatives in place to help companies access CDM funding.

Africa not so remote thanks to solar power

February 18, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

An Ericsson solar base station in Morocco Ericsson and Orange Guinea Conakry are deploying more than 100 base stations fully powered by solar energy. This will allow remote parts of rural Africa without an established power grid to have access to mobile communications.

Alassane Diene, CEO of Orange Guinea Conakry, says: “We are reducing our energy bill. These base stations are also easier to install and require less maintenance than the traditional site. They also offer greater reliability and therefore considerably improved quality of service.”

Jan Embro, President of Ericsson for sub-Saharan Africa, says: “It is extremely exciting to be able to run sites on alternative energy sources. Limiting dependency on fossil fuels brings many advantages, but the greatest is the ability to offer sustainable connectivity to low-income users in remote areas across Africa.”

This rollout program supports the sustainability initiatives of both Ericsson and Orange, focusing on reducing the carbon footprint while making communication more affordable and accessible.

Orange Group says it intends to have more than 1,000 wholly solar-powered base stations in its African operations by the end of 2009.

Photograph: Ericsson

Obama’s new age and big investments in SA solar

January 23, 2009
Posted in Business, Renewable energy


The ad above apparently appeared in an Australian newspaper this week.

The big news of this week is, of course, the inauguration of President Barack Obama and all the hope that brings for people concerned about the state of the planet: he has, after all, said that the US would at last join the world in trying to combat climate change and has plans to invest billions of dollars in alternative energy technologies to create jobs and help drag the US economy out of the doldrums. In his inauguration speech he said: “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” Inspiring stuff. We wait in anticipation to see what develops.

Renewable energy seems to be getting a boost here in South Africa, too, with news this week of multimillion-rand investments in two solar water heating companies:

  • RISING IN THE EAST: Zwelakhe Sisulu, the son of Walter and Albertina Sisulu, has signed a R20-million deal with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation to finance a solar water heater manufacturing plant in East London, the Daily Dispatch Online reports. Sisulu’s company, Matla Solar Energy, has a partnership with Taiwanese company Min-Yang Funland, which will supply technology and bring management to South Africa as part of a skills transfer arrangement, the report says. Sisulu said the East London plant would be up and running within six months. The South African solar water heater market could be worth of billions of rands, Sisulu was quoted as saying, adding that already two municipalities in Gauteng Province (Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni) had put out tenders for a total of 500,000 solar water heaters a year. That is just a start because municipalities could earn carbon credits which they could sell to boost their revenue.
  • COMFORTING SUM: US investment company E+Co has invested R2,3-million in Johannesburg solar power company Home Comforts, Engingeering News reports. The loan will be used to help grow the company’s solar water heater division, which comprises 60 percent of its business, Home Comfort’s CEO Hendrik Roux was quoted as saying. The loan is E+CO’s seventh investment in the South African solar water heating business.

Obama could usher in a new era for solar in the US

November 13, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

President-elect Barack Obama’s increased emphasis on renewable energy could help to finally unleash the United States vast potential for solar energy, but economic difficulties may prove a barrier to some of the more expensive renewable initiatives, says information technology research and advisory company Gartner, Inc.

“Demand for solar energy remains dependent on government subsidies, because it costs more than conventional forms of electric-power generation,” said James Hines, research director at Gartner and lead analyst for solar energy technologies.

“However, the new US administration could help encourage investment in solar energy projects if it succeeds in implementing some of its plans, which is more likely with majorities in both houses of Congress.”

The increased emphasis on renewable energy and the extension of the 30 percent investment tax credit for solar projects – passed last month – could provide a significant boost to the US solar industry. It could potentially help the US to overtake Germany as the largest photovoltaic market within a few years, said Hines.

President-elect Obama’s New Energy for America plan includes:

  • A federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires 10 percent of electricity consumed in the US to come from renewable sources by 2012
  • A $150 billion investment over 10 years in research, technology demonstration and commercial deployment of clean energy technology
  • Extension of production tax credits for five years to encourage renewable energy production
  • A cap-and-trade system of carbon credits to provide an incentive for businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

“The new president will face a difficult economic situation that could significantly impede his plans. Expensive government programmes will be hard to pass if tax receipts are declining and corporate earnings are depressed, even with Democratic control of Congress,” Hines said.

“It is likely that the RPS will be passed during 2009, which will provide a strong boost to US demand for solar energy. The other provisions, which require significant spending or tax incentives, might have to wait until the economy starts to recover.”

MPs take up renewable energy cause

October 30, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Parliamentarians from a cross-section of political parties have formed a lobby group to try and get things moving in the renewable energy sector in South Africa. Calling itself eREACT (e parliament Renewable Energy Activists), its first move this week was to unveil a private members bill on feed-in tariffs.

Essentially, it would entail Eskom, the electricity utility, ensuring that private providers of renewable energy get a fixed tariff to feed energy into the grid for a fixed period of time.

The business community has reportedly been reluctant to invest in renewable energy because it could not get a guaranteed price per kWh for the electricity it produced.

“Hopefully our introducing this bill will be a wake up call to ministers who should be driving the renewables programme, to which they largely pay lip service,” said the group’s convener, Dr Ruth Rabinowitz of the Inkatha Freedom Party, in a statement.

Feed-in tariffs have had a huge impact on the uptake of renewable energy in countries where they have been implemented, she said. “This fosters entrepreneurship, creates jobs, offers certainty to the industry, encourages provision of energy other than conventional coal-fired for rural areas and helps clean up the environment.”

In South Africa, the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) has proposed the concept of a feed-in tariff for three years and has even drafted guidelines for it, she said. But, “at present there is no integrated vision or strategy to fast track development of a renewable energy industry in our country”.

Solar water heating should be routine and solar photovoltaic electricity generation should be incentivised, along with many other forms of alternative energy such as geothermal, biomass and biodiesel, said Rabinowitz.

The 2003 White Paper on Renewable Energy set a target of 10,000GWh hours by 2013. “At present we produce 53.8GWh from biofuels and 148.2GWH from other sources, a far cry from the recommended target in spite of our Cabinet approved Climate Mitigation Strategy,” she said.

“The recently adopted energy bill made scant mention of renewable energy, without targets or clarity on where responsibility for it would rest.”

According to the group, Trevor Manuel, the finance minister, has stated that he is not convinced of the economic case for large-scale renewable energy projects in South Africa. The focus, therefore, remains on nuclear and coal-fired power stations.

The case for solar thermal
There is convincing evidence, however, that the world’s best site for large-scale solar power generation is in the Northern Cape. Eskom has been looking into building a 100MW concentrated solar thermal power (CSTP) plant there, but appears to have put the project on hold.

A CSTP plant comprises a field of giant mirrors that track the sun and focus its rays onto a central focal point, known as a receiver. The receiver absorbs the radiation and transfers the heat to molten salt which is then used to generate steam which is used to drive turbines that generate electricity. Another type of plant entails parabolic mirrors. (More on CTSP)

Gareth Morgan of the Democratic Alliance says the greatest barrier to the establishment of concentrated solar thermal power in South Africa seems to be the cost of the technology. This manifests itself in the price of electricity generated from it.

But there are arguments that CSTP-generated electricity may already be competitive with South Africa’s peaking electricity price today, especially if it is supported with financing from carbon trading and tradable renewable energy certificates.

In a Sapa report, Howard Ramsden, CEO of Terra Power Solutions, was quoted as saying at the media briefing on the launch of the private members bill that the cost of establishing a solar power station was about R17-million a megawatt. The plant would need to sell its electricity at a minimum of 80 cents a kWh to break even. A similar figure applied to wind turbines. The current cost to consumers of Eskom power was 36 cents a kWh, but Eskom’s peak-usage gas turbine plants put out power at R2,80 a kWh, he was reported as saying.

“Encouraging CSTP would contribute to South Africa’s target of reversing its carbon emissions growth by 2020-2025. International climate change financing can be encouraged in developing the technology of CSTP, and South Africa can and should aim to gain from the renewable energy, in particular CSTP, investments being seen today. Such investments will increase massively in the future,” said Morgan.

Morgan said if the parliamentary schedule allowed, the bill – sponsored by Rabinowitz and supported by Lance Greyling of the Independent Democrats and Judy Chalmers of the ANC – would be tabled before Parliament closes ahead of next year’s election.

Sun, wind and cellphones in remote areas

October 22, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Ericsson has unveiled a new wind-powered radio base station concept that could support mobile communication in areas with no or limited access to the electricity grid, says the company. The wind-powered Tower Tube houses base station and antenna in a fully enclosed concrete tower. It has a smaller footprint and lower environmental impact than traditional steel towers, says Ericsson. Its power consumption is 40 percent lower than traditional bases station sites and this helps operators reduce their operating costs significantly, says the company.

The wind-powered Tower Tube has a four-blade turbine with five-meter blades vertically attached to the tower. Ericsson is working with Vertical Wind AB and Uppsala University in Sweden to develop the concept and trials will be conducted to determine if the wind-powered Tower Tube enables low-cost mobile communication, with reduced impacts on both the local and global environment, the company says in a press release.

Village Solar Chargers in Africa

Ericsson and Sony Ericsson have codeveloped a solar charger for mobile phones that has been shipped to 12 Millennium Village clusters in Africa, as part of a project with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the Millennium Villages project aiming to lift rural African communities out of extreme poverty.

Mobile phones are contributing to economic development in the developing world but the biggest problem in rural areas is charging the phone, says Mats Pellbäck Scharp, Sony Ericsson’s director of environment and supplier quality assurance. “People often have a phone but need to walk for miles to get it charged.”

The Ericsson Village Solar Charger is built on standard components and can be used for all types of mobiles. It uses a 0.7 square metre solar panel connected to a rack where eight mobiles can be charged at the same time. A 12-volt lead-acid battery makes charging possible at night. The charger is capable of recharging at least 30 mobile phone batteries a day, all year round. It can also be used for other types of load, such as powering computers, lights or TV sets, says Ericsson.

Africa’s largest wind farm and other renewable energy news

October 14, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

  • Ethiopia has signed a $300-million deal with French wind turbine manufacturer Vergnet to build the largest wind farm in Arica. The 120MW project, to be built near Mekele in the northern Tigray region, is expected to be up and running by 2012. [AFP, Reuters
  • The US Army reportedly intends to build a 500MW concentrating solar power plant at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert. The project is five times bigger than South African electricity utility Eskom’s proposed 100MW plant in Upington. [Treehugger]
  • Twenty-four schools in the German city of Berlin have been turned into “mini power plants” in a scheme that allows private individuals to rent roof space on school and public buildings for photovoltaic panels. Berlin reportedly has ambitions to become a solar power house. The city already has 10,000 jobs in the solar sector and that is expected to increase tenfold in the next decade. Germany produces about half of the world’s solar electricity and, according to Reuters, last year alone it installed enough capacity to power a million homes. [Reuters]
  • US researchers have found a way to make silicon-based solar cells that are “flexible enough to be rolled around a pencil and transparent enough to be used to tint windows on buildings or cars”. Using a special etching technique, brittle wafers of silicon are sliced off a bulk silicon wafer into ultrathin bits and “printed” onto a flexible surface. The slices can be adapted to suit the application, say the researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The technology has been licensed to a US company called Semprius Inc. [Reuters]
  • Japan plans to subsidise households that install solar power systems in a bid to stimulate the mass production of the systems and bring down costs. The subsidy will cover about 10 percent of the total cost of the system. Home solar systems apparently generate about 1.4-million kilowatts of electricity in Japan, but the government wants this to increase tenfold by 2020. [Reuters]
  • And, finally, to South Africa, where the country’s first clean technology fund was launched recently. The Evolution One fund has reportedly already raised R400-million and has a target to increase that to R1-billion by the middle of next year. The fund plans to make 10 to 15 investments over a period of three to five years in Southern Africa. According to the Engineering News, among the projects the fund is looking at becoming involved with were thin-film solar manufacturing, retail goods from recycled industrial waste, co-generation, and electric vehicles. [Engineering News]

Pic of wind farm in Illinois by Dual Freq licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

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