Category Archives: Green

Who’s Going to Wear the Green Tights?

Gateway Hotel - Umhlanga

Gateway Hotel – Umhlanga

Have you ever witnessed one of those moments at a glittering event, where the company envoy ostentatiously hands over the enormous polystyrene dummy cheque to the suitably grateful charity representative. The cameras flash, the recipient’s knees bend a little, the company boss swells and flashes a self-satisfied smile. People clap and everyone swoons in awe at the selfless generosity of business. Onlookers declare: “They do have a heart.” And “It’s not just about the money.” Let’s not pretend that business doesn’t need positive affirmation from the community. Face it; we all like a good pat on the back.
Which brings up a growing trend in the world that has found its feet in South Africa. Green Buildings. If ever there was a way of scoring points with the community, government and those with not only green fingers but whose superhero sports green underwear – the environmentalist, this is it.  IF you’re a land lord don’t knock it, because something’s in it for you.
Recently this was demonstrated in the latest extension to that Mecca of upmarket shopping, Sandton City. A splendid dome graces the new Protea Court. This crowning expansion, involves interior refurbishments and 30,000sqm of new retail space. The Protea Court roof has been created with a product called Texlon, which is made up of multiple layers of foil known as ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene (ETFE) it’s so green it could be mistaken for peas.
“Texlon is an innovative technology used worldwide but has been used for the first time in South Africa at Sandton City,” affirms architect Tia Kanakakis from MDS Architecture. “It was selected as a suitable roofing material as it is lightweight and an environmentally-friendly climatic envelope”.
Kanakakis pointed out excitedly: “The ETFE material is unique in that it does not degrade under ultraviolet light or atmospheric pollution.” The material doesn’t harden yellow or deteriorate. Furthermore, as the surface is very smooth and has anti-adhesive properties, the envelope self-cleanses in rain.” For Sandton City this means going Green and they are being richly rewarded already. Sandton City Manager Sharon Swain was able to announce the arrival of international names like Dumond, Inglot, Carlo Pignatelli, Miguel Vieira and Kurt Geiger to the centre.

Nedbank Ridgeside Durban

Nedbank Ridgeside Durban

Of course Green buildings aren’t new. Twenty-one years ago two initiatives were launched which were foundational to  establishing the concept of energy-efficient buildings and green building: BRE (British Research Establishment) released BREEAM, and BREEAM became the basis for a host of other rating tools including LEED in the US and the much talked about Green Star in Australia.
What about the landlord cost/tenant benefit scenario?  Investor’s landlords may well ask what’s in it them, surely more of a good old pat on the back? The Australian Financial Review explored the importance of green-star ratings, which basically determine how Green a building is, in attracting tenants to buildings. When looking for leasing locations tenants are now demanding at least a four star rating. In Australian cities the demand for the now-coveted green buildings is driving up costs in refurbishing and retrofitting older buildings. Greener adds value and demands higher rents.
According to property investment analysts IPD, Green Star buildings are outperforming non-rated buildings on a financial basis by a significant margin.
Here in South Africa,  Llewellyn van Wyk, Editor at Large for Green Building South Africa writes: “Ultimately I believe green building is in the national interest, and should be an issue driven by Government: for this reason, I strongly supported the establishment of a Part X “Environmental Sustainability” to the South African National Building Regulations and look forward to it being populated with the full range of deep green building imperatives in due course.”

Responsible-Building-Design

The world-class, high-tech design of the Durban ICC building itself incorporates green elements such as large glass facades for natural lighting, reducing the need for artificial lighting, and energy saving escalators which only activate when stepped on. In addition, the Centre utilises energy-efficient air-conditioning systems which build up ice overnight, which is used to cool the building the following day. Indigenous landscaping is a feature of the Durban ICC, with the majority of plants local to Kwazulu-Natal, limiting the reliance on irrigation. The Durban ICC’s water use profile is low for a building of its size. The installation of sensor taps in the bathrooms prevents water waste and even its toilets have been converted to a more efficient water usage system.

In the US the Green standard is held up by LEED, which has not been without its squabbles:  Henry Gifford has made his living designing mechanical systems for energy-efficient buildings in New York City. And he admits the (LEED) program has popularized the idea of green building: “LEED has probably contributed more to the current popularity of green buildings in the public’s eye than anything else. It is such a valuable selling point that it is featured prominently in advertisements for buildings that achieve it. LEED-certified buildings make headlines, attract tenants and command higher prices.”
 

By means of counter point Ben Ikenson reports on the current controversy embroiling LEED and hence whole Green Building bureaucracy in the US:”But for years, Gifford has been a tenacious and vocal opponent of LEED, claiming that the program’s “big return on investment’ is more a matter of faith than fact, and that LEED simply “fills the need for a big lie to the public.” Last October, Gifford filed a class-action lawsuit for more than $100 million against the USGBC, accusing the non-profit of making false claims about how much energy LEED-certified buildings actually save and using its claims to advance a monopoly in the market that robs legitimate experts — such as himself — of jobs. We may ask ourselves if we need this in South Africa.
Back to the benefits, conventional wisdom has it that not only does the environment benefit from the carefully considered construction that goes with Green building, but that people are generally happier and more content working or living in Greener buildings. Comments Dr Suzan Oelofse, IWMSA Central Branch Chairman, “The environmental benefits derived from green buildings can further be enhanced by including waste minimisation and recycling principles in this type of environment.”
Further to this, Oelofse believes that Green buildings should be orientated in such a way as to reduce the heat load and to optimise shade and thereby enabling the use of more energy efficient lighting systems and air conditioning.  This makes economic sense in the light of on-going increasing Eskom electricity costs and it makes sound economic and environmental sense to use renewable resources and to become as energy efficient as possible.
It seems the devil may be in the bureaucracy and that making buildings greener may require state rather than private regulation if the LEED struggles are anything to go by. But there are clearly many practical and financial benefits to Greening up the workplace. Besides there’s nothing quite like that warm approval that comes from cosying up to a superhero or heroine in green tights.

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Green Construction – What’s left after the hype?

Green OfficesBack in 2011 regulations were put in place that officially launched South Africa into the world of green buildings. Of course there had been those who had pioneered a path years before but it’s since then that South Africa has chosen to walk in step with the much of the world on the green buildings front.  In fact between the 16th-18 of October this year will see Cape Town play host to the “Green Leaders for the World GBC Congress” at the 6th annual Green Building Convention.

Internationally much of the hype has died down and a vast body of people in the industry are knuckling down and getting on with the business of building better quality buildings. Many of those previously sceptical players in the building industry have realised that Green construction isn’t all that different from the conventional kind. Both need to be vigilantly organized and both need skilled labour to be brought to the table. The difference is that conventional construction doesn’t take the welfare of the environment into account nearly as much as green construction does. A building with certain green guidelines will even see construction of mechanisms whose sole purpose is to greatly reduce the overall impact the building has on the environment. Conventional construction often doesn’t have any such additional mechanisms.

images (35)Current technology facilitates buildings getting a significant allotment of their energy from clean/renewable sources. Green guidelines have the wherewithal to demand that a building receive a given portion of its energy from solar or wind power sources. The infrastructure for such energy delivery would have to be put in place during the early stages of construction.

Inevitably the issue of construction costs of green buildings surface regularly, but these have come down significantly, making green buildings more affordable. Dr. Prem C. Jain, Chairman – Indian Green Building Council says that in India the construction costs of a green building which is about 3-5 per cent higher for Platinum rated green building than a conventional building, the incremental cost gets paid back within 3-4 years with substantial reduction in operational costs.

The conventionally held view is that the initial or capital cost of energy efficient and green buildings is higher than that of other buildings. However, it is well established in studies done in the US, UK, Australia and India that when considering the total costs over the life of a building, including capital and operational costs, energy efficient and green buildings are typically more economical than conventional buildings. Specifically, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has noted that the energy consumption in both new and existing buildings can be cut by an estimated 30 to 50 per cent without significantly increasing investment costs with proven and commercially available technologies. The IPCC further notes that this potential for greenhouse gas emission reductions from buildings is common to developed and developing countries.

images (2)Some construction that follows international green guidelines merely involves using the most efficient equipment possible. Take central air conditioning for example; previously used units weren’t nearly as efficient as many of the units currently available. Certainly, a building could still be fitted with a less than efficient unit. Green guidelines, though, would most likely stipulate that the building be equipped with an efficient Energy Star compliant unit. Measures would have to be taken to ensure no leakage of heat from the building. A unit working overtime to keep a building at a desired temperature would defeat the whole purpose of getting an efficient unit in the first place. The best way to make sure heat doesn’t easily escape from, or enter into the system, is to make sure the building is sealed and the ducts don’t leak, which is best accounted for during construction- which is the whole point.

Coming back to South African standards: in 2011 government in South Africa put forward the National Building Regulations, SANS 10400 which includes requirements for energy usage in buildings. Now mandated, SANS 10400 is mandatory on all new buildings and major renovations requiring building plan approval.

Energy regulations such as SANS 10400 are important components in energy efficiency of buildings, and energy use equal to or less than that of SANS 10400 is also a minimum requirement for a Green Star SA rating. Extra points are then awarded in the rating system for exceeding the minimum requirements of SANS 10400X. However, Green Star SA goes beyond the requirements of only energy efficiency, addressing other environmental and human health impacts of buildings.

green-building1Furthermore, in its current form, SANS 10400X can only be applied in the design of new buildings and major renovations, and does not specify requirements for the operation or “in-use” phase of buildings – whereas Green Star SA rating tools are being developed for the operation or “in-use” phase of buildings. (Source: CIDB)

According to the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), an independent body, the country has seen a massive increase in the Green Star SA rating of buildings. Based on the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star rating system, it is the official green certification measure for buildings in South Africa, authorised by GBCSA. The first few examples of Green Star rated building in South Africa were; the Nedbank phase-two head office in Sandton;  Xenprop’s Ridgeside project in Umhlanga,  The Villa Mall, in Pretoria and more recently Standard Bank’s Rosebank Office. Many more have followed.

downloadA building development can receive either a 4-star rating signalling that it has employed “best practice”; a 5-star rating which recognises “South African Excellence”, or the coveted 6-star rating indicating that the project is a world leader.

Green guidelines are about trying to save energy and resources, with the ultimate goal of saving the environment. Towards that end, every little bit helps. The sample guidelines above are some of many new initiatives in the construction industry, many more come on to the table as this process rolls out. Time will tell how many were constructive and what failed to make an impact in drive for sustainability and the reduction of the carbon footprint.

Green Leases – All You Need To Know

images (4)The mention of something called a green lease may conjure up something by a sea-sick lawyer or scribbled on elephant dung paper. But it is far more practical than it may sound to some who still have the idea of green being about separating the garbage or wearing daisies in strategic places. Green leases are here to stay and it’s likely if you have a foot in commercial property in South Africa that you’re going to need to know what one is.

Crudely a green lease would include obligations on the landlord and tenant to achieve targets for energy consumption and sustainability, among others.

At a residential level green leases would encourage landlords and tenants to agree to work together to make a home greener. The property owner typically commits to manage the rental in a sustainable way while the tenant pledges to reduce energy consumption, to recycle whenever possible and to follow other green lease terms.

green-leaseIn the world of big buildings and commercial interests such discussions can leave one quite discombobulated. As serious as these matters are, in order to understand the necessity of green leases we need to extricate ourselves from some of the genuine earnestness and angst with which the subject is typically approached.

No better place to do so than the good old land of Oz. No worries mate! Well it’s true, despite the rumblings for things to go green in the construction world in the US and Europe for many years, it was the practical Aussies who have played such a pioneering role in the world of green building and thence the accompanying lease framework.

The essential motive for the bringing about green leases in Australia was its federal government’s resolution not to inhabit structures that did not make a 4.5 star NABERS (not the soap opera) rating. NABERS is the operational rating system for carbon emissions in Australia. South Africa is in the process of developing a similar system. More recent legislation relating to mandatory disclosure has further strengthened the Australian regulatory framework and has had a positive impact on green leasing. The carbon emissions legislation in the UK has played a similar role in framing green leases.

Since the Australians have been down this road before, let’s consider what has typically been present in their green leases. According to Commercial Property firm Cousins Business Lawyers, experts in green leases, indicate the following ingredients in Australian green leases:

  • A commitment on the part of the landlord to maintain the central services of the building to such standards to ensure the Australian Building Greenhouse Rating is retained.
  • An obligation on both parties to consider “in a reasonable and co-operative manner” whether an improved rating can be achieved during the term of the lease and, if they agree, to take whatever steps lie within their control to achieve that rating.
  • Both parties to commit to an energy management plan to operate the building in accordance with prevailing government policy on energy conservation.

green-lease1Over in the UK there are increasingly stringent building regulations requiring developers to build more energy efficient buildings and Green Leases may be being used as a device to attract “Green Tenants”.  It is anticipated that in the EU and UK in the future, property owners will be under pressure to improve the energy performance of their buildings as a result of the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) for commercial premises and Green Leases may have a key role in enabling the implementation of the recommendations that will form part of EPCs. The commercial property industry is trying to anticipate legislative pressure that may manifest itself in the same way as it has done in Australia.

Here in South Africa, just last year, The Green Building Council and SAPOA (South African Property Owners Association) put their heads together and rather helpfully released a “Green Lease Toolkit” similar to the UK version and those used in some US cities. The Toolkit aims to facilitate a smoother path than some of the pioneers in this field have experienced thus far. In the Toolkit are some contemplative thoughts like:

“Green buildings present a textbook example of economic game theory. Each party stands to gain if the other acts, but loses if they act and the other doesn’t. The challenge is in negotiating an agreement where both parties act for green buildings to achieve an optimal equilibrium – a ‘win-win’. An informed tenant may be willing to pay a higher base rental if the costs and efficiencies of occupation are improved, so that the joint gain needed to stimulate investment into green development, can be achieved.” PG17 Green Lease Toolkit.

images (1)The Green Building Council and SAPOA’s document make the point that mutual understanding is what underpins any green lease.  They believe the primary purpose of the lease is to a) improve the operational performance of green buildings and b) deliver to landlords and tenants an “equitable share of the incremental value provided by green buildings.”

Finally the toolkit, which has a wealth of information and opinion from South Africa’s leaders in the field, States that a Green Lease seeks to achieve its goals through the governing of:

  • The base building and fit-out quality in buildings
  • The contractual requirements of facilities managers
  • The behaviour of tenants from an environmental perspective
  • Regulation of governing bodies (through continuing education)

Clearly conceptualising of the practical elements as well as articulating the more abstract notions has come together in a very sober yet encouraging document that behooves potential tenants and landlords to seriously consider the work of those who have gone before, as well as follow the advice of men and women who have laid a foundation on which others may build.

images

Whilst the aims of green leases are admirable enough, the provisions that impose obligations on the parties may have some unforeseen consequences:

•      For tenants, the cost implications of the green provisions may only become apparent some way into the lease.

  • For landlords, the level of rent on review may be lower if the green provisions are deemed to be onerous on the tenant.
  • As these provisions are largely unknown and untested in this South Africa, the uncertainty surrounding them may make green leases more difficult to sell on.

Regardless of one’s opinion of matters green it’s clear that green is the future and green has benefits. One thing is certain; if you’re going to get a green lease drawn up make sure you use someone with green fingers, that is someone who knows all about the new strides in green leases.

3 Renewable Energy Fallacies

Three Renewable Energy Fallacies

So it’s the 21st century and we can watch TV on our phones and be informed about anything and everything via the internet. Though sometimes what we consider a blessing can also be a curse. An abundance of information means we require discernment to judge between truth and fiction.

This brings us to a world in transition. We currently find ourselves suspended between two eras: a time dependent on fossil fuels such as oil and coal, and a future potentially dominated by renewable energy sources. Not everyone is on board though. Options vary on just how dependable some of these renewable energy sources are, as well as how well they’ll be able to sustain us in a post-fossil fuel era, if there is such a thing.

Such hesitation gives birth to fallacies, misconceptions and even blatant falsehoods. Below we’ll ignore the conspiracy theories and obvious tomfoolery and focus on what seem to be the fallacies that have been given credence of late.

Solar Power is Impotent

Okay so your kids can have sparkly calculators that can get by on solar power and yet the latest formula one racing cars use fossil fuels. This doesn’t help the image of solar power very much.

Even if solar electricity, also known as photovoltaics (PV), was only capable of energizing our low-power gadgets many experts identify the statement “little steps can’t make a difference” as a major myth surrounding the green movement.  While such gadgetry may seem to make little difference to global energy consumption, it’s a small change that forces others to think about the ecological matters at hand and possibly make both small and substantial changes in their sphere of influence.

PV power may not be in a position to solve all our energy problems this year, but its potential for the future is great. Think for a moment, we are referring to acquiring energy from a gigantic star — one that drives our solar system, our atmosphere and pretty much all life as we know it. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that the solar energy resource in a 100-square-mile (259-square-kilometer) area of Nevada could supply the United States with all its electricity.

South Africa is one of the best located regions for Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) with some of the highest levels of Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI) in the world. The Northern Cape region of the country experiences levels of more than 2 900 kWh/m2, significantly more than some of the other CSP hot spots such as Spain and Southern California in the USA and the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Integrated Resource Plan allows for 1 GW of CSP of a total of 18 GW to be delivered from renewables by 2030.

Initial research by the University of Stellenbosch’s Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) indicates that there is a short term potential of 262 GW for viable CSP taking factors such as DNI, land slope, dispatchability, land use and water availability into account, and 311  GW in the medium term with further transmission infrastructure upgrades.

Now that could blow the numbers out of your calculator.

Cleaner Coal Will Make Solve Everything.

Clean Coal is an oxymoron. In short coal is filthy stuff. Scientists argue that the coal mining process alone prevents it from ever being “clean,” without even considering the other pollutants.

South Africa’s energy resource is almost solely dependent on coal. For every unit of electricity produced and consumed, nearly 1 kg of carbon dioxide and pollutant by-products are released into the atmosphere.

Coal-fired power plants spew out sulphur dioxide, carbon particles as well as carbon dioxide (CO2). But coal continues to play a vital role in global energy production, and it would be unreasonable to expect people to return to pre-Industrial Revolution days either. Clean coal technology theoretically mitigates the impact of coal pollution until a better option is found.

However there are a great deal of clean coal technology centres around capturing and storing pollutants that would otherwise be released in the burning process. This involves either pumping the gas down wells or into deep-ocean depths.  Not only can the latter option potentially endanger marine ecosystems, but also they both require care and monitoring to prevent polluting the environment anyway. Some scientists insist that these measures amount to a redirecting of pollution, not a true reduction of it.

The fallacy of clean coal solving everything is easy to unveil. We may have to put up with it for a while but we should never be fooled into believing that it is either green or renewable. It certainly isn’t inexhaustible.

Wind Power Kills Birds and Deafens Humans

Wind farms are accused of being bird deboning and feather-plucking plants. Alas this is not entirely untrue, wind turbines do kill birds. One may argue that so do many other things do too: vehicles, buildings, pollution, poison, transmission lines, communication towers and the introduction of invasive species into their habitats. Despite the daunting sight of a field of wind turbines the statistic for bird deaths is low, that’s 1 in 30 000 according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

As for noise, modern turbine technology keeps turbines relatively quiet- essentially no more than the soft, steady call of wind through the blades. In Canada the Ontario Ministry of Environment breaks it down like this: If 0 decibels is the threshold of hearing and 140 is the threshold of pain, then a typical wind farm scores between 35 and 45, sandwiched between a quiet bedroom (35) and a 40-mile-per-hour (64-kilometer-per-hour) car (55).

Regarding the cost: research indicates that the average wind farm pays back the energy used in its manufacture within three to five months of operation (source:BWEA). Since wind farms depend on variable weather patterns, day-to-day operating costs tend to run higher. Simply put, the wind isn’t going to blow at top speed year-round. If it did, a wind turbine would produce its maximum theoretical power. In reality, a turbine only produces 30 per cent of this amount, though it produces different levels of electricity 70 to 85 per cent of the time. (source:BWEA)

This means that wind power requires back-up power from an alternative source, but this is common in energy production.

Wind power has huge potential as a renewable energy resource.

Something worth noting when examining such fallacies is that while renewable energy certainly offers the prospect to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, regrettably, solar and wind power requires substantial parcels of land to deliver relatively low volumes of energy relative to fossil fuels. By way of an example, a natural gas well producing 60 000 cf per day generates more than 20 times the energy per square meter of a wind turbine. Transferring to renewable energy will result in a substantial “energy sprawl” that will pose challenges for the conservation of bio diversity.

Sources: Rainharvest; Energy Find; How Stuff Works; CIA Factbook; New York Times; The Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa)

Unorthodox Renewable Energy Ideas

In every sphere of life there are eccentrics. Why should renewable energy be any different. Rather than wait for the oil wells to run dry and coastal cities to disappear beneath rising sea levels, many people are looking ahead to cleaner alternative sources of energy. Some of the unorthodox examples that follow have been tried and are already catching on whilst others are very much in the minds’ of some very lateral thinkers. Here are some Unorthodox Renewable Energy Ideas.

Mudstones

Ancient Mudstones

300 million-year-old mudstones could one day reduce our dependence on conventionally-obtained fossil fuels, according to researchers at the University of Leicester. Shale gas can be found in the stones, much as it’s been found in sandstone for many years. But mudstone yields up to four times as much gas as sandstone. However, extracting the gas from the stones could be challenging since the stones aren’t consistent in their gas retention.

Balloons in space

Balloons in Space

Orbiting Mirrors to Transmit Solar Energy, does that sound like a Bond movie? A fleet of balloon like satellites, which would inflate once in orbit. That’s the brainchild of Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering professor William F. Schreiber. Once inflated and orbiting, and as the Earth’s position changes with respect to the sun, the spherical mirrors would be adjusted continuously to catch and focus solar energy and transmit it in concentrated beams to receiving stations on Earth. At those receiving stations, that solar energy would be used to heat water into steam and drive turbines to generate electricity.

While Schreiber’s idea for using giant shiny balloons may sound a little eccentric, scientists increasingly have been looking at the possibility of using satellites to harvest solar power and transmit it to Earth. At the International Academy of Astronautics in Paris a statement was released to this effect: “It is clear that solar power delivered from space could play a tremendously important role in meeting the global need for energy during the 21st Century.” Similarly U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Smith, the director of the Pentagon’s Centre for Strategy and Technology, was quoted as saying that the concept has the potential to supply safe, clean energy to earth if it can be made to work.


Tornadoes

Tornadoes are usually seen as very destructive forces, but one Canadian engineer believes that we can one day harness the power of the tornado to power entire cities. Louis Michaud believes that by pumping warm, humid air into his Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE), a chamber 200 meters wide with 100 meter tall walls, he can create an artificial tornado. The rotation of the tornado would then power wind turbines at the chamber inlets, creating enough electricity to power a small town. Michaud proposes using waste heat from power plants since they typically reject more than half of the heat they generate. He admits that the tornado would probably cause some extra precipitation in the surrounding area, but says that the whole setup would be inherently safe.


Save Energy – buy a cow: Bagging Methane Discharges from Cattle

We humans are notoriously poor at taking responsibility for our actions. So it should not come as a surprise that cows farting, excreting and belching is being blamed by some for climate change. In all seriousness though a 2006 United Nations report estimated that cows, along with other livestock like sheep and goats, contribute about 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet — more than cars, planes and all other forms of transportation put together.

This is not without good reason since bovine discharges  are rich in methane, a gas that’s 21 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. {Source: LA Times}

Researchers have developed a means of acquiring methane from cattle excrement and converting it to a biogas fuel that’s of a quality that can be fed into a standard natural gas pipeline. In Kern County, California, a company called Bioenergy Solutions uses that method to produce 650,000 cubic feet (18,406 cubic meters) of biogas from manure, enough to power 200,000 households. [Source:Levinson}

Argentina is one of the world’s leading beef producers. Herds amount to over 50 million cattle, outnumbering the human population. Scientists have created a special bovine backpack that captures a cow’s emissions via a tube attached to the cow’s stomach, and discovered that the animals produce between 800 and 1,000 litres of gas each day {Source:Zyga}

One might even call it a kind of wind energy.

Dancing Bodies

When was the last time you made the world a better place by clubbing all night? Sustainable Dance Club was formed in the Netherlands with the idea that dancing bodies could create enough kinetic energy to actually power a building. Lots of music festivals have turned to bicycle generators to power their concerts. And some hipster bars are even making customers pedal for a few minutes to get their pitchers of perfectly blended margaritas. Rotterdam was the first to install the Sustainable Dance Floor, but SDC is looking forward to taking their technology all over the world to other clubs, festivals, and wherever there are people willing to dance for the good of the Earth.

Projects range from permanent installations at museums in Miami and Philadelphia to pop-up events around the globe in Vancouver, Shanghai, Salvador and Abu Dhabi. Their mission statement is “To create personal experiences where sustainability and fun are combined. To inspire (young) people worldwide to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.” They hope to spread the knowledge that living a greener lifestyle isn’t all about sacrificing the things you love.

Gym Power

Several innovative gyms are popping up that convert human energy into useable electricity. One of them, in Hong Kong, has exercise machines that look perfectly ordinary from the outside, but have generators inside that create energy from movement. So while you’re busy sweating it out, your efforts are creating electricity to power the exercise console and supplement the electrical juice it takes to keep the overhead lights on. The owner of the gym maintains that the average person can generate about 50 watts of electricity per hour on the machines. {Source “Blume”}.

Then there’s the Pedal-A-Watt bike stand, which works by powering a generator with the movement of the bike’s rear wheel, comes with an optional PowerPak that stores the energy you create for later use. The PowerPak has an outlet where you can plug in and power any appliance that runs on less than 400 watts of electricity. For a frame of reference, a large television uses around 200 watts, a stereo 20 watts, a desktop computer 75 watts and a refrigerator 700 watts {Source: Convergence; Tech 3; Inc.;HTW}

Clean and healthy energy is starting to catch on in U.S. gyms. There are now converters on exercise equipment in more than 80 locations in North America, including My Sports Clubs in New York City and Washington.

The Green Microgym, a 3,000-sq.-ft. (280 sq m) gym has more than 200 members, is doing so well that owner Adam Boesel has started franchising. The gym doesn’t generate enough electricity to be carbon-neutral yet, but if all the equipment gets used at one time, it can produce twice as much as it needs to run the facility at any given moment. {Source: Time}

Wind and Solar Energy Trivia for the Enquiring Mind

Two of the most prominent renewable energy sources besides hydroelectric power, are wind and solar energy. Read on to discover some facts to satisfy your curiosity and broaden your general knowledge.

Wind Power

Wind power is one of the oldest renewable sources of energy. As its speed doubles, its capability can produce an eightfold increase of power generation.

There’s nothing new about wind power, from time immemorial people have used the wind to pump water.

How does wind power work? The rotor blades of a wind turbine work like the wings of an aeroplane. As air passes over the specially designed blades, “lift” is created. This lift, in turn, sends the blades spinning in a circular motion, which drives an electric generator. When winds reach about twelve Km per hour, the rotor is engaged and the wind turbine begins producing power.

These days one modern turbine can produce enough electricity to support up to 290 homes.

As of April 2010, U.S. wind capacity reached more than 35,000 megawatts, achieving in 2010 alone what had previously taken two decades – the installation of more than 10,000 MW of wind power capacity. Currently 35,000 MW of wind energy will prevent an estimated 62 million tons of carbon pollution annually, which is equivalent to taking 10.5 million cars off the road.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy study released in 2009, wind energy could provide 20 per cent of U.S. electricity by 2030.

Currently, Denmark, Spain and Portugal meet between 12 per cent and 20 per cent of their electricity needs from wind energy. By contrast, wind power supplies about two per cent of the US’s current electricity needs. America’s wind resource is the largest in the world.

Solar and wind power systems have 100 times better lifetime energy yield than either nuclear or fossil energy system per tonne of mined materials.

At the end of 2007, worldwide capacity of wind turbines in operation was just over 94 Gigawatts.

The world’s largest wind turbine is currently the Enercon E-126 with a rotor diameter of 126 meters. The E-126 produces 6 megawatts, enough to power approximately 5,000 European households.

By 2010, Europe was leading the world in the development of offshore wind power.

Wind power makes up 40 per cent of new generating capacity installations in Europe and 35 per cent in the USA.

Solar Power

It would take only around 0.3 per cent of the world’s land area to supply all of our electricity needs via solar power.

With 4% of the world’s desert area, photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The technology of Photovoltaics is the conversion of sunlight into electricity – also called “solar cells”.

The area of roof space available in Australia is enough to provide all of the nation’s electricity, using solar panels.

Weight for weight, advanced silicon based solar cells generate the same amount of electricity over their lifetime as nuclear fuel rods, without the hazardous waste. All the components in a solar panel can be recycled, whereas nuclear waste remains a threat for thousands of years.

The invention of the solar cooker challenged the consumers of the new millennium. In some places of the world, solar cooking is popular usually in large cities where the renewable heat of the sun generates enough energy. When sunlight hits a space with an area of 1 square meter, there is about 1,000 watts of energy from it on that surface which is hot enough to run the solar cooker.

Solar power is capable of providing many times the energy demanded by the world but it is an intermittent energy source as it is not available at all times. The amount of sunlight is dependent on location, time of day, time of year, and weather conditions. A large surface area is therefore required to collect the energy at a practical rate.

Experts believe that sunlight has the potential to supply 5,000 times as much energy as the world currently consumes.

Leonardo Da Vinci predicted solar industrialization during the late 15th century.

Horace de Saussure, a Swiss scientist, invented the world’s first solar energy collector or ‘hot box’ in 1767.

Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his experiments with solar energy and photovoltaics.

The amount of energy that goes into creating solar panels is paid back through clean electricity production within anywhere from 1.5 – 4 years, depending on where they are used. This compares with a serviceable life of decades.

The theoretical limit for silicon based solar cells is 29% conversion efficiency. Currently, polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels generally available have efficiencies anywhere from 12% to 18%. With the addition of solar concentrators, the efficiency of photovoltaics is eventually likely to rise above 60 per cent.

The Earth receives more energy from the sun in an hour than is used in the entire world in one year.

Germany has nearly half the world’s installed solar cell capacity, thanks to a generous subsidy programme. In 2006, the country installed 100,000 new solar power systems.

Global annual photovoltaic installations increased from just 21 megawatts in 1985, to 2,826 megawatts in 2007.

Solar energy prices have decreased 4% per annum on average over the past 15 years.

Manufacturing solar cells produces 90% less pollutants than conventional fossil fuel technologies

The solar industry creates 200 to 400 jobs in research, development, manufacturing and installation for every 10 megawatts of solar power generated annually.

A world record was set in 1990 when a solar powered aircraft flew 4060km across the USA, using no fuel.

The worldwide production of solar cells increased by 60% in 2004. However production has been hampered in the past years due to limited supply of silicon.

The Mojave Desert in North America houses the world’s largest solar power plant. It covers 1000 acres (4 km²) of solar reflectors.  It produces 90% of the world’s commercially produced solar power.

Africa’s Sahara desert, using 15% efficient solar cells, could generate more than 450 Terawatt per year.

About half of worldwide production of solar panels is consumed by Japan. Their purpose is mostly for grid connected residential applications.

Solar and Wind energy are viable and renewable alternatives to filthy coal, oil and other fossil fuels. We ought to encourage every effort by business and local government in pursuit of programmes that seriously encourage their use. One example is Eskom’s solar Geyser programme where people are encouraged to make use of the subsidy or discount that Eskom and insurance companies are offering to replace ordinary geysers with solar powered ones. You can make a difference.

 

(Sources: Iberdrola Renewables, American Wind Energy Association, Global Wind Energy Council) Energy Matters; Wikipedia; Professor Andrew Blakers; SolarBuzz; Worldwatch Institute; Science Daily; The Four Green Steps.)

So I asked my 85 year old dad…“what do you think of when I say ‘Green’ dad”.

So I asked my 85 year old dad: “what do you think of when I say ‘Green’ dad”. There was a brief crackle on the phone and then came: “mould.” The generation gap on matters Green is clear.

I have to admit that as a 43 year I too didn’t think of the practice of making modern day sacrifices in order to conserve the rapidly depleting fossil fuels, when the word Green came up. Rather I would think of someone new on the job, who parks in the bosses bay on the first day, a ‘Green-horn’ if you will, it’s best not to mix those two words up.

Or perhaps “Green Fingers”. I used to have “Green Fingers” when I was more involved in our garden or is that having a Green Thumb? It means the difference between getting anything to grow and creating a micro-desert.

But the search for a Green definition remains elusive: The movement to green has been nearly a thirty year process beginning in the 1970’s with the solar-energy craze.  Early in the 1990’s for example, the green building movement began to take hold.  Expanding our thinking and consideration for the larger picture of the total environmental impact, thus driving demands for materials, commercial and home designs offering reduced long term costs, healthier living, greater efficiency and sustainability.

But for me Green is for gunge: Gangrene from war stories, brave soldier who fought in the trenches and got the Dreaded Lurgy. Then there’s the sludge down on Zoo Lake before the big clean-up of whenever-it-was.  Then there’s beautiful, wonderful mucous. Oh yes, oh quivering parent – there were those nappies that….never mind. Green gunge is every little boys early fascination until puberty hits then green becomes just another colour.

One mini Green definition I heard somewhere, went something like is this: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” A little whimsical with a touch of daisy and shoo-wah, but pleasantly unimposing.  I rather like it.

Depending on where you are applying the term Green, ‘sustainable design’ may be a good substitute. True sustainability embraces a commitment to see the world as interconnected, to understand the impact our actions have on others and our environment, and to nurture the offspring of all species that will inherit the planet. To become truly sustainable, it is vital to equally address social sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability like three legs holding up a stool. Okay, a little preachy.

The truth is, the Green movement is now orthodoxy, mainstream, convention if you like. It’s no longer the fringe realm of hippies and New Ages or people with pony-tails in general. For example, Green construction is huge in South Africa now and Green Stars are a coveted reward.  It reminds me of my children when they were of the age when a gold star on the forehead for good behaviour was the most coveted award in preschool. Now we have pinstriped executives scurrying around fulfilling the requirements of the Green Buildings Council so as to acquire more Green Stars for their buildings.

As if Green building isn’t enough we have green nappies, green fuels and green political parties. But a new interesting one I discovered is “green-hypocrisy”. Green campaigners argue that cheap short-haul flights have fuelled a massive hike in carbon emissions over the past few years. Celebrities in particular are criticised for struggling to reconcile their well-meaning efforts to develop green credentials and the demands of the modern world.  Sienna Miller and Chris Martin preach the importance of being ‘green’. They recycle obsessively, insist on green nappies and compost every scrap of organic vegetable peeling and they’re not slow to tell you about it. Yet they jet set the world over producing a carbon foot-print bigger than the rest of us.

It’s tough at the top. Looks like you can’t get away with anything these days. Did I say Carbon Footprint, let me tell you what my 85 year old dad said when I asked him what he thought of when I said Carbon Footprint….

 

Being Prepared to Pay the Price of Going Green

One may argue that ‘going green’ is not a sacrifice but rather an investment. Currently, green expenses are concealed. In the pursuit of all matters Green do we consider the concealed expenses? Let’s look at some common and not so common sense examples.

Home is Where the Heart is: the Micro Level

Seeking out the concealed expenses of going green requires common sense and no shortage of balance. A for instance:  if you change from disposable nappies to towelling nappies you may preserve some trees; then again, you must now acquire a solution to cleanse those nappies without inflicting harm on the environment somewhere else. Similarly you will need to consider the environmental impact of producing the towelling nappy.

It’s all about research and how much effort you are prepared to put into this process. Then you need to stay the course, unlike those guys who menacingly change lanes on the highway and end up reaching the same destination as everyone else milliseconds sooner. Not finishing what you started may just increase your expenses. So pick a lane and stick with it.

A few practical examples.

Concealed expenses exist in so-called ‘green’ plastics; we do not see the waste in the manufacture of the product, or the disposal of it. Glass is still a far better choice, no matter how ‘green’ the newer, lightweight plastic bottle is said to be.

Preparing a compost unit for kitchen scraps and other household waste seems like a good move. But there are hidden expenses if you don’t research building it correctly. Creatures are attracted by the tiniest scent of decaying food. Rats, dassies and stray cats can move into your garden and home before you know it. It’s worth investing in an animal-proof compost bin, it will save on the concealed expenses of damages and presence of the abovementioned vermin.

Purchase the best and sturdiest recycle bins for your Mondi bags, (or whatever they have in your area.)  If these heavy plastic bins are damaged the impact is severe on the environment since heavy duty plastic is a land fill’s permanent resident. Metal cans are best since they will break down. The concealed expense is the heavy plastic to the environment.

Planting trees seems unlikely to have concealed expenses, but when you consider the long term damage potential to water pipes, septic tanks and sewerage pipes, not to mention building foundations in just a few years of a poorly positioned tree, one can see why some common sense research is required. It may be the difference between gutters filled with fruit or lovely shade on a summer’s day.

There are concealed expenses to growing your own crops too. It’s important to factor into the equation the watering of crops, cost of tools and whether you’re prepared to do the labour yourself. Of course physical exercise is a plus on this scale. The rewards of healthier, fresher and more convenient food goes without saying, but it’s not free.

Finally products: Many consumers are prepared to pay a higher purchase price for green products. As many of these products have been marketed for relatively short periods of time, demand and supply for them is still limited and prices are higher due to a lack of significant economies of scale that are there for truly mass products.

Additionally the technologies entrenched in these items are new, keeping manufacturing costs high until companies figure out more efficient and cheaper ways of building these novel products. So the concealed expense is present but it seems it’s also understood by the consumer. Similarly, upkeep and repair costs will be higher than for conventional products, for the same reasons that product purchase prices are.

At the Macro Level

Most areas in South Africa average more than 2 500 hours of sunshine per year, and average solar-radiation levels range between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m2 in one day. Solar power is a viable option for the future of power at the macro level, an ultimate green dream. But there are concealed expenses.

While it may seem like a wonderful notion to never have to pay for electricity again in favour of free, natural energy forms such as wind and solar power, the actual process of switching to this green living lifestyle can be exorbitantly expensive. While over time, these energy saving installations would pay for themselves and save you money in the long run, many people cannot afford these installations. Solar panels for example are incredibly expensive to the point where only the wealthy can afford them.

One redeeming situation is the Eskom Solar Geyser initiative whereby home owners are encouraged to replace their geysers with solar powered units subsidised by Eskom. The window opportunity closes in 2014 though.

Other rumblings are coming from Cosatu since many local firms producing solar power components have closed down due to cheap foreign imports. The resulting job losses are a not so concealed expense of going green.

On the wind power front, the Cape seems to be leading the way: applications for at least 88 wind farms have been received by the Eastern and Western Cape authorities and some of these wind farms are expected to have as many as 600 turbines located on them. Each wind farm application has to be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment. Each turbine is between 80 metres and 120 metres tall, the height of a 20-or 30-storey building.

While there has not been much public response to the wind farms, some communities have already lodged objections against the planned wind farms and one project, in Brittania Bay, has been delayed because of opposition from residents of the town. Elsewhere in the world objections are raised due to the harm caused to the environment, sound pollution and tarnishing of the natural scenery. Hence there is a concealed expense to consider there too.

So there are many ways to go green in the  world but a word to the wise is to do it right, do the research and use common sense and weigh up what you’re prepared to spend/sacrifice when you’ve calculated the concealed expenses.

On the one hand we can save money by taking shorter showers instead of long baths to reduce water consumption, turn off appliances, cell phones and computers when not in use and to conserve battery power (subsequently reducing the need to charge them as often.) On the other hand there is a price to pay for “going green” whether it’s capitalising poor communities to acquire solar powered geysers or compromising the beauty of nature with wind farms.

The Environment has one fundamental code that nothing is squandered, and all is a nutrient for something else in the cycle of life.  It’s also true that, there’s no free lunch.