green your electricity

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 [biogaspower.co.za]

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]

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