Discovering Alternative Energy

13/September/2016
Lourens Kloppers

Reliance Compost
With the high occurrence of load shedding that we’ve experienced in South Africa in the past, looking at alternative energy sources should be a priority. We all need to change the way we live if we want to try and save the planet from ourselves, and the rapid depletion of natural energy resources is one of the biggest concerns.

If you take some time to think about it, it’s easy to see why a decline in natural energy resources is cause for huge concern. Energy is life – it’s what powers our homes, our cars, our existence. The simple journey of one loaf of bread can paint quite an energy-dependent picture. It starts as a mere seed, the seed has to reach the farmer – how? Probably by truck delivery. What powered that truck? Fuel. Once the seed is planted it needs to be watered – how does the water reach the field? Probably pumped there. How is it pumped there? With electricity. Once the seed is grown, it is harvested, transported, milled, sent to a factory, mixed with other ingredients, baked, packaged, transported to a store, all of this done by machinery powered by electricity. As a consumer you drive to the store in your petrol-powered car,  you purchase it using a card machine powered by electricity, at home use the toaster to toast it and then eat it. This is a really basic illustration of the cycle of just one small daily occurrence, of which there are literally millions, but it shows how incredibly dependent we are on energy, in its many different forms, to ‘power’ our lives.

The most common method of energy generation in South Africa is through the burning of coal, with 77% of our energy needs provided by this method. This very old, and still widely used method [36% of worldwide energy production], releases harmful gases into the atmosphere and speeds up the effects of climate change. Climate change has been brought on by the increasing amount of greenhouse gases released into the earth’s atmosphere – largely due to the way that we live. It is a major cause for concern and is one of the other big driving force behind the development of alternative energy.

Almost every single step of our daily lives involves a dependency on energy in some shape or form and this energy has to come from somewhere. Whether its food security,  environmental or commercial security, we rely on being able to flick a switch and having immediate access to power. It’s no secret that coal and other resources are depleting at a rate faster than we can replace it, so what then? What are we doing about securing that future?

There are several companies globally that are spending considerable amounts of time and money to research alternatives. The sooner a cost effective solution is found the better. South African-born innovator, Elon Musk, is the co-founder of Tesla, a company that has developed a new way of using energy more efficiently with the creation of the Powerwall. This is just one of the options of the future that will hopefully one day become commonplace in every household .

The Powerwall, so what is it?

It is essentially a battery pack that generates electricity through solar panels or the grid and stores it for later usage. It uses a SolarEdge inverter which converts the direct current generated through solar panels into alternating current for household use. The storing capacity is up to 6.4 kWh, which is enough to power most homes in the evening. The Powerwall usually includes solar panels and an inverter to convert energy but can function without a solar panel by tapping into the grid. The Powerwall can also be used as a backup for when the electricity grid is unreliable.

The difference with the Powerwall compared to other forms of battery storage devices on the market is that it looks somewhat stylish. It also comes with a 10-year warranty and has a daily cycle. The design is uncluttered and relatively compact; it uses 7kWh lithium ion batteries with 92% efficiency, which translates to the 6.4 kWh storing capacity. Lithium ion batteries are proven technology in other Tesla products (cars). The system is easy to install and completely automated, it requires no maintenance or operation from the owner. More than one Powerwall can be combined to go off grid completely if you have a larger house.

tesla powerwall 1000x1
It’s all good and well to go green, but how much will it cost? At the moment the Tesla Powerwall is still destined for the ‘haves’ and will remain a dream for the ‘have nots’. The Powerwall and inverter can only be installed by a limited amount of trained technicians around the world, which can make the process of getting one quite tricky, given that we live on the tip of Africa. Dako Power, a South African distributor of SolarEdge and Tesla, will install the Powerwall, solar panels and inverter for around R225 000. That price is linked to the dollar exchange rate and will go down if and when the rand strengthens.

The good thing is that many of the different components for alternative energy are getting cheaper, year-on-year. Solar panels are becoming more and more mainstream and will continue to drop in price as the market grows. The Powerwall will become cheaper over time as its reliability gets proven and the market grows.

Some countries’ governments, like Australia, even offer rebates for people using solar energy to encourage them to lighten the load on the energy grid. This type of rebate would definitely go a long way towards encouraging locals to go green and to get off the grid in sunny South Africa.

Another form of renewable energy is wind power, one of the oldest renewable energy methods in existence. It has been used in the USA since the 1980s following the oil crisis of the 1970s. In South Africa, we’ve been slowly catching up with the rest of the world and now have 25 wind farms all across the country.

Wind power in South Africa is now up to 40% cheaper than coal power produced by the national utility and also safer. It’s likely that the use of wind power will increase dramatically over the next few years and it should, as it makes economic sense.

The price tag of these kinds of alternative energy sources is hefty and probably out of reach for most of us, however, there are still small changes that we can make to help reduce our energy consumption and our strain on the national grid.

What you can do

  • Switch off your geyser when going away for extended periods of time. Consider reducing the thermostat temperature to 60 ºC or invest in a solar geyser.
  • Replace old light bulbs with LED ones – they use 90% less electricity.
  • Don’t set the temperature too cold on your refrigerator and freezer. Between 2 and 5 degrees is enough for a fridge and between -20 and -22 degrees for a freezer.
  • If you have a pool, you only need to run the pump for 6 hours in summer and 4 hours in winter.
  • Shower instead of taking a bath, also install a low-flow shower head to reduce wastage. Shower with a partner!
  • Switch off non-essential appliances and get into the habit of switching off lights in rooms that are not in use.

These small actions might not seem like a lot, but they all add up and go towards saving energy and reduce the load on the national grid.

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