Articles Posted in the Lifestyle category

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)

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

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]

Call for more public participation in SA’s energy policy

December 17, 2008
Posted in Business

The government has failed to respect the right of the South African public to participate meaningfully in the country’s future energy policy, says the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM).

Its committment to a long-term strategy that involves nuclear plants generating up to a quarter of the country’s total energy output in the coming decades has been made without any meaningful public participation, the Rhodes University-based group says in a press release.

The energy policy implemented in South Africa will have a major impact on efforts to eradicate poverty in the country. To do this it needs to maximise job creation and enhance opportunities for the improvement of the quality of life of the poor majority, it says.

“Nuclear power is enormously expensive and there are coherent arguments that it is not cost effective, does not create the kind and number of jobs that our country desperately needs and poses unacceptable environmental risks,” the PSAM states.

There have been some encouraging signs that the government is looking at ways to introduce more renewable energy. For example, Nelly Magubane, deputy director-general of the department of public enterprise, said recently that “renewable energy is definitely on the cards…we are actually looking at ways of making sure that we get even more renewable energy in the system”, notes the PSAM.

Although Eskom recently shelved plans to build a new power station, Nuclear One, because it could not afford it, the PSAM notes that the electricity utility has made it clear that nuclear power remains firmly on its long-term agenda.

Eskom is negotiating a $5-billion dollar (about R50-billion) loan from the World Bank to help fund its expansion and has already secured a $500-million dollar loan from the African Development Bank.

The PSAM is urging both Eskom and the World Bank to conduct its negotiations openly and transparently. “After all, what is being considered is essentially a loan to the people of South Africa, and we have a right to know what the conditions of the loan are, since we will be repaying it,” it says.

The PSAM wants the World Bank and on the government to make any loan to Eskom conditional on guarantees of meaningful public participation in the formulation of South Africa’s future energy policy and to ensure that the terms and conditions of any loan are transparent, allowing both parliament and the public to hold Eskom accountable for its use of the funds.

Can we have more renewable energy now, please?

December 9, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Now that Eskom, the state electricity utility, has decided that it can’t afford to build a new nuclear power plant will it start to pay more attention to renewable energy alternatives?

Many South Africans breathed a sigh of relief at the news last week that the board of Eskom had decided not to proceed with the proposed Nuclear-1 project – the country’s second pressurised water reactor nuclear power plant.

But, alas, the decision was not taken because Eskom had decided to scrap nuclear and embrace solar and wind. The size of the investment in Nuclear-1 is more than Eskom can handle in these straitened times and the utility is finding it hard to raise the money needed to fund the project.

The two bidders for the contract, the EPR consortium led by Areva of France and the N-Powerment consortium led by Westinghouse of the USA, have been told the bad news and have taken it rather well, according to reports.

The planned new nuclear plant was announced last year when South Africa was experiencing crippling power cuts. Work on the project was expected to start in 2010. The plant’s first power was expected in 2017/18. Reports say the plant was anticipated to generate about 3,500MW of electricity.

South Africa has only one nuclear power plant at present. Koeberg, situated on the Western Cape coast near Cape Town, which supplies 1,800MW, or 6 percent of the country’s electricity. But the country has big nuclear ambitions. Eskom wants to increase the amount of nuclear power supplied to the grid to 20,000MW, which is about a quarter of the 80,000MW it hopes to be generating by 2025 – up from 40,000W now.

Estimates put the cost of Nuclear-1 at more than R100-billion ($10-billion) – which would apparently make it the largest single investment in Eskom’s history. But Eskom spokesman Fani Zulu declined to disclose the worth of the project to AFP, saying Eskom had signed a confidentiality agreement with the two foreign companies bidding for the contract.

Business Day wrote that the project could have cost as much as R200-billion, or an amount that could have “bought Eskom two new coal-fired power stations, and left it with some change to spare”.

Anyway, it has been put on the back burner until further notice. Political opposition parties have reportedly hailed the news, saying it has spared South Africa the burden of a huge foreign debt.

No, It seems not. Portial Molefe, the director general of the department of public enterprises, has been quoted as saying that the government is still committed to introducing nuclear because the country has to deal with its carbon footprint and diversify its energy mix – about 90 percent of our energy comes from coal.

In a press statement the department said: “Government is committed to exploring the use of nuclear energy as part of base-load energy generation and to build an associated industrial capability to support such generation thereby reducing the cost of nuclear energy over time.”

It added that the government would establish a task team, lead by the department of minerals and energy, “that will work with Eskom, to develop and implement a framework for procuring a nuclear technology partner to support both the build and associated industrialisation process”.

There is speculation that the government may be hoping that the price of nuclear will come down as recession reduces global demand for nuclear power.

The Coalition Against Nuclear Energy issued a statement in which it said that there is little reason for over optimism about Eskom’s decision not to invest in foreign companies for the Nuclear-1 project plant while the government remains committed to its nuclear power programme.

Cane said there was “a deliberate silence” about the experimental pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR), which it said had already cost taxpayers more than R16-billion.

According to Business Report, Molefe of the department of public enterprise had said that the PBMR programme was not being abandoned, but it would be delayed.

There are many in South Africa who believe that nuclear is the only alternative to coal for “clean” baseload power. But in recent times the support for renewable energy has increased noticeably. A group of MPs even formed a lobby group in October to get things moving in the renewable energy sector.

Greenpeace opened its first office in South Africa last month to focus on getting the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions – it is the 14th-highest carbon emitter in the world – by ending its dependence on coal, without resorting to nuclear power. “The country is in a position to harness abundant renewable energy sources – solar, wind and biomass – and take a lead in an African energy revolution,” says Greenpeace.

The cost of renewable energy is usually given as the reason why it is impractical. But this is beginning to change. Brad Smith, campaign director for Greenpeace Africa, was reported as saying: “As the costs of nuclear power continue to soar, the price of renewable energy is decreasing annually.

“Already, and without subsidies, wind power is cheaper than nuclear power per unit of energy produced, while concentrated solar technologies are making big progress in the same direction,” he said.

Research from the University of Cape Town, released at a WWF National Renewable Energy Conference last month, found that renewable energy could be cheaper then nuclear. Electricity from renewables like wind and solar would require large-scale investment, but would not significantly raise the price of electricity, the WWF said. “That price increase – if we used renewable electricity to supply 15 percent of our electricity – would in 2020 be 15 percent higher than if we continued building coal power stations. This compares to a 20 percent increase if we pursued the nuclear alternative.

The Independent Democrats political party said in a statement that it was “very pleased” that the government had decided not to proceed with its proposed nuclear energy expansion programme because it would have saddled South Africa with enormous foreign debt and contributed very little to local job creation.

The party said money should be invested in renewable energy, most of which could be built by local industries and create jobs.

The 2003 White Paper on Renewable Energy set a target of 10,000GWh hours by 2013. But we’re a far cry from meeting these targets and the finance minister has reportedly said that he’s not convinced of the economic case for large-scale renewable energy projects in South Africa, hence the focus on nukes and coal

But now that nukes have become prohibitively expensive and with a bit of pressure from the MPs and the enviro groups, hopefully the government and Eskom will start looking a lot more seriously at investing in renewable energy alternatives.

Wind tubine pic licenced under Creative Commons licence Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Corporates join forces to compile an SA carbon-storage map

October 2, 2008
Posted in Business

It’s one thing saying that all South Africa’s new coal-fired power stations will be built ready to capture their carbon emissions, but where to put this captured carbon is another matter. Commercialisation of the carbon capture and storage technology South Africa needs to keep the millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide produced by its coal plants from polluting the atmosphere could be as much as 15 years away. And doubts have been expressed about the suitability of South Africa’s geological make-up for carbon storage. Nonetheless, with such coal-intensive energy plans, so-called “clean coal” technologies will be an important part of the country’s future.

Carbon capture technology could make as much as 60 percent of the country’s carbon emissions storable, Dr Tony Surridge of the South African National Energy Research Institute (Saneri) told the Engineering News. But the big question is where then to put it. A group of South Africa’s big-carbon corporates have joined forces to find answers. Sasol, Eskom, PetroSA, Anglo American and Saneri plan to identify potential sites for the future storage of carbon dioxide and develop a carbon dioxide storage atlas, the Engineering News reports. An initial assessment of SA’s storage potential is scheduled to be published by early 2010. Read the full story on Engineering News

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

New ‘climate bonds’ could help SA meet clean energy targets

May 29, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

The United Nations is considering a new type of bond to help developing countries finance renewable energy projects, Bloomberg reports.

Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate change official, said yesterday that the idea was that “climate bonds” would be sold to investors by developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They would simplify the funding of wind farm and solar projects and encourage investment in nations struggling to meet their renewable-energy targets, de Boer said.

The plan had not yet been presented to countries or investors, de Boer said.

Simplifying the funding of renewable energy projects would be good news for South Africa which has got off to a slow start in meeting its renewable energy target of 10 000 GWh/year renewable energy consumption by 2013.

For example, Business Report recently reported that Eskom was struggling to find investors for its 100MW concentrating solar power demonstration plant in Upington.

The CSP plant will cost R5-billion, of which Eskom can put up R3-billion. It is looking for partners to fund the remaining R2-billion, the report said.

Eskom’s other renewable energy project, a 100MW wind farm in the Western Cape, received a R1.4-billion loan from the French Development Agency which will reportedly cover most of the costs. According to BR, it is expected to be operational in 2010.

The country’s first commercial wind farm, with a 5.2MW capacity, was officially switched on on Friday.

Read the full report on Bloomberg

Why should Eskom have all the power?

April 7, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

In an interesting comment piece in Business Day recently, Sarah Ward of Sustainable Energy Africa, wrote that “there is nothing like a crisis for opening the doors for much needed change”. It’s hard to conceive of the energy crisis, that neither the government nor Eskom – the utility that produces 96 percent of South Africa’s electricity – appears to be prepared to take responsibility for, as an opportunity, but Ward writes that we are at a point in time when “we can change SA’s energy picture forever, and for the better”.

The way to do this, she writes, is for cities to take charge of their own energy and develop “energy pictures” that suit their own unique needs. This is a move away from the “one-size-fits-all shoe” they have historically had to accept because it is all that has been made available by Eskom, she writes. Power has been centralised and the country has been “force-fed” and “become heavily addicted to, big power from one utility and one source of energy (electricity from coal power)”.

Nuclear is Eskom’s “clean” energy alternative of choice and it is set to become a major part of our energy future. But renewables and energy efficiently don’t seem to be taken nearly seriously enough.

Ward gives examples of how cities could power their own futures:

• Substantial energy supplies are provided by locally available sources (ocean, wind, sun, waste ) by several utilities;

• Energy efficiency is heavily incentivised (it is much cheaper to save electricity than to make it) and the “polluter pays” principle is applied;

• Safe and affordable energy sources are available to the poor and industry is encouraged to produce and purchase clean power;

• Local government buildings are retrofitted for energy saving and staff are given incentives to reduce their energy consumption;

• Waste is turned into useful energy; and

• All residential areas glitter with solar water heaters.

She writes that a number of South African cities already have strategies – which is very exciting news – but she adds that the real struggle is now implementing them. She has ideas on what is needed to help cities take charge, which you can read in the original article.

As an ordinary South African I’ve never lived in a city that didn’t only receive electricity from one utility; I saw a solar panel in operation in a home for the first time a few months ago; and if you’d asked me a year ago what co-generation was, I’d probably have answered something to do with artificial insemination. What exactly the empowered cities Ward talks about would look like would have been very hard to imagine if a couple of months ago I hadn’t come across something on the Internet called EffienCity.

It’s a fabulous interactive city created by Greenpeace UK that explains what decentralised energy is and how it works in practice. Using video case studies, animations and slide shows, it shows how real cities around the world are using decentralised energy . “As a result, they’re enjoying lower greenhouse gas emissions, a more secure energy supply, cheaper electricity and heating bills and a whole new attitude towards energy,” says Greenpeace.

Ward says one of the key projects cities should be implementing is informing and educating residents and business. She’s right, many South Africans still see renewable energy as expensive, unreliable, and science-fiction. It’s very enlightening to see what other cities around the world are doing.

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