Tag Archives: energy

The Greenest Building in the Southern Hemisphere

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SSIC: The super energy efficient SSIC building

THE Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC) is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere. It houses techies who are working on solutions for the future in the fields of construction, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and wet services. The SSIC is the first 6 Star Green Star SA accredited building in South Africa.

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Heat pumps versus air conditioners

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TECHNO TALK: Hair today, gone tomorrow

SINCE I was a child I’ve had this fantasy of dressing up in a medieval suit of armour and having an all-out sword fight with someone also clad in medieval metal. The only problem is that people were a lot shorter 1 000 years ago.

The human race has evolved to be a lot taller than our flail-wielding ancestors. Squeezing oneself into a genuine suit of knight’s armour would be near impossible now — especially if you’re a beer drinker. This may make one wonder if we are still evolving today.

Most evolutionary biologists would argue that if we haven’t stopped evolving, our evolution has at least slowed down to a glacial pace. The main argument is that we have created and adapted our urban environments to best suit our current shape and form.

We have taken to sitting down a lot — whether behind a desk, on a sofa or in a car seat. When it’s too cold we take comfort behind our walls and cover ourselves with blankets. And now that things are heating up, we may blast air conditioners to keep comfortable. Human evolution doesn’t stand a chance.

Fortunately, evolution is technology’s best trait. Air conditioners have become more efficient and eco-friendly and can now be used to heat and cool a building thanks to a variety called a heat pump. Heat pumps are typically used to pull heat from the air or ground into a building to raise the temperature, but can also be put into reverse to cool a building.

How heat pumps work

Liquid refrigerant is pumped through the outside coils of an air-source heat pump. A fan pulls outside air over the coils, which absorbs the heat in the air and expands it into hot vapour. The vapour enters a compressor, which increases the temperature and pressure of the gas. The vapour then flows to indoor coils. The refrigerant condenses the vapour back into a liquid as it cools and flows outside to gather more heat. Meanwhile, the heat is pumped through the air ducts of your home and distributed throughout. This process can be reversed to cool the air inside your home. (Diagram: howstuffworks.com)

Liquid refrigerant is pumped through the outside coils of an air-source heat pump. A fan pulls outside air over the coils, which absorbs the heat in the air and expands it into hot vapour. The vapour enters a compressor, which increases the temperature and pressure of the gas. The vapour then flows to indoor coils. The refrigerant condenses the vapour back into a liquid as it cools and flows outside to gather more heat. Meanwhile, the heat is pumped through the air ducts of your home and distributed throughout. This process can be reversed to cool the air inside your home. (Diagram: howstuffworks.com)

Heat pumps operate in a very similar manner to standard heating and air-conditioning units but without the need to install separate systems. They are also far more efficient than their ancestors as they do not burn fuel to condition the air but rather transfer it from one place to another. Heat pumps can also be used to heat swimming pools and can even fire up a hot tub.

I’m proud to inform that heat pumps are widely available in South Africa. A couple of good places to start perusing these are www.itssolar.co.za and www.heatpumpssouthafrica.co.za By providing your name, contact details­ and nearest city, a heat pump specialist will contact you within 24 hours. Prices for domestic heat pumps range from R10 000 to R15 000.

Heat pumps should of course be used in conjunction with other energy-saving techniques. Using fluorescent light bulbs and turning appliances off when not in use are the obvious ones, but it is also a great time to utilise the spring sunshine. Phantom loads are the less obvious energy drainers. When something like a cellphone charger is plugged into a live socket, but not into a cellphone, this actually drains more energy than would be used if a phone was charging.

So let’s all do our bit this sunny season to help the planet fend off global warming by being energy savvy and by using green devices such as heat pumps. I really don’t want to have hairy grandchildren.

A tribute to Jean Pain and Solar Impulse

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ENERGY FROM COMPOST: The Jean Pain Method

I WAS thrilled to hear that the world’s first fully solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse, successfully completed its first international flight last week. The Swiss solar powered aircraft flew for a full 13 hours from Payerne to Brussels without using a single drop of fuel. Granted that the aircraft is slow moving (with a top speed of around 50 km/h), Solar Impulse represents an astonishing feat of engineering and shows just how much can be achieved with renewable technology. Gizmag.com suggests that we may even look back on this period as a “Wright brothers moment” in the history of aviation.

According to Gizmag: “A rough calculation tells us that a Boeing 747 would have used around 7 570 litres of fuel to make the same trip. Of course it’s not much of a comparison when you consider that a commercial airliner can carry hundreds of people, but one can’t help but think that the seeds of a new era are being sewn. Solar Impulse is powered by 4×10 horsepower electric engines, the Wright brothers had 12 horsepower at their disposal when they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”

We should not neglect these significant moments in history. It brings to mind the ecological work done by a Frenchman who died in 1981. My attention was drawn to this great innovator by a contact living in Russia who happened across a video made by some permaculture students living in New Zealand. Ah, the joys of Facebook!

Jean Pain (1930-1981) was a self-taught organic gardener, forester, and biotechnologist who developed a compost-based bio-energy system that produced 100% of his energy needs. It can be argued that he was a genius ahead of his time, as three decades later we continue to develop efficient bio-energy systems with new technologies that are as efficient. Pain’s work is certainly worth celebrating, so I wish to offer this as a tribute to the great man.

The Jean Pain Method

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — www.daenvis.org

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — http://www.daenvis.org

The method of creating usable energy from composting materials has come to be known as the Jean Pain Method. By distilling methane, Pain was able to run an electricity generator, fuel his truck and power all his electric appliances. Pain lived on a 241-hectare timber farm, so had free access to the raw materials needed to produce energy.

Pain essentially constructed a compost power plant (of his own design) using brushwood and pulverized underbrush, which supplied 100% of his and his wife’s household energy needs. Pain estimated that 10 kilos of brushwood would supply the gas equivalent of a litre of petrol.

Jean PainPain spent considerable attention developing prototypes of machines required to macerate small tree trunks and limbs; one of these, a tractor-driven model, was awarded fourth prize in the 1978 Grenoble Agricultural Fair, according to Wikipedia.

When compost decomposes or ferments it produces heat. By burying 200 metres of pipe within a large compost mound, Pain was able to heat four litres of water a minute to 60 degrees Celsius. A sizeable compost heap continues to ferment for 18 months, after which the installation is dismantled, the humus is used to mulch and fertilise soils, and a new compost system is erected.

Jean Pain’s methane generator took 90 days to produce 500 cubic metres of gas. However, this is enough to power two ovens and three burner stoves for a full year. Pain’s methane-fueled combustion also powered a generator which produced 100 watt-hours of electricity every hour. Pain was also able to store this current in an accumulative battery, which could be used to power lights.

The Jean Pain Method is an amazingly simple and incredibly inexpensive system of extracting both energy and fertiliser from plant life. Pain worked within the balance of nature to become truly self sufficient. May history honour his memory.

Sources:
www.daenvis.org
www.wikipedia.org
www.navitron.org.uk
www.motherearthnews.com

Water Saving: toilet and shower mods

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SHOWER POWER: Green tweaks for your HOME

FOOD, energy and clean water: apart from having a roof over our heads, these are the things that we need for survival.

In recent columns I wrote about how we could create an abundance of fresh produce in city centers with the use of Dr Dickson Despommier’s sky farms or vertical farms. Growing food in skyscraper-sized greenhouses offers numerous­ benefits over traditional farming methods. Water is held in a closed system and nutrients can be pumped within to yield healthy produce. There is minimal risk of bad weather or insects destroying crops. The land used would be minimal and there would be no risk of farm invasions­.

Furthermore, if food were grown in tall buildings within city centers, inflation would be lower as food wouldn’t need to travel far. This would result in fresher and cheaper fruit and vegetable foodstuffs all year round; not only that, but a lot more of it too.

We’ve got the power!

With regards to clean energy generation, there really is no limit to harnessing more power than we could ever need. With a combined use of solar, wind, tidal and of course, geothermal­ energy sources, we need never burn another finite fossil fuel ever again.

Unfortunately, solar powered technologies are still at a stage where they are very expensive for the home user to implement. A solar geyser for example can save you up to 40% of your electricity bill, but will set you back by about R15 000.

Drink it up

And then there’s clean drinking water­. It has been predicted that wars in the future will not be over land or industrial resources, but rather over fresh water. Despite our planet being more than two thirds water, only about 3% of this is drinkable if it’s not contaminated or polluted.

However, it has long been known that boiling water to the point of evaporation is an effective distilling process. Evaporated water leaves behind contaminants and heavier metals making it pure and safe when re-condensed. What has hindered mass production of this kind was the amount of heat and power constantly needed to boil water at such temperatures.

This has become less of an issue since the invention of heat-exchange devices — devices that produce power but require heat to operate. Coupling this with a water-distilling machine creates a closed loop of energy whereby one device­ feeds into the other. We have now reached a point where we can even create­ fresh drinking water from sewage­ and ocean water.

Producing more for less

What is also starting to sink into social­ consciousness and green living is the idea of creating more with less — an idea which permeates all economic­ sectors of society. The farmer practises producing more food with less land, the architect designs more energy-efficient buildings, and the businessperson, more profit from less work. While there may not be a world war over water in the future, conserving our most precious resource by using it more efficiently should still be high on the social agenda.

Flowing ShowerheadSeveral water companies have been tapping into the water­ conservation market, offering a range of technologically advanced and super green products that will save you thousands. From my experience, I find that the simpler solutions are always better.

Apart from the bath, two of the largest water guzzlers in an average household are the shower and the toilet. It is estimated that a daily five-minute shower uses about 100 litres of water, while a flush toilet uses between six and 18 litres of water per flush.

African Water Controls is one Johannesburg-based company that largely focuses on making the household shower and toilet more efficient.

A toilet­ device, called a WaterStop, allows the toilet user to control how much water is used to flush the toilet simply by holding down the toilet handle­ until the desired water quantity has been released. An unmodified toilet flushes away a full tank of water with one touch of the handle.

For showers, a pressure compensating regulator (PCR) can be used, which can either be fitted behind a hand shower or behind a wall shower. This half-inch connection standardises the pressure throughout a water network and can reduce the amount of water used by a shower by half.

ShowerheadShower heads and fittings such as these come with different flow rates and fittings and can be found in several major stores throughout the country. However, this is the first company that I’ve come across that sells such devices­ so inexpensively, with the shower fitting available­ for around R45 and the toilet WaterStop for around R65.

Creating abundance and conserving energy and water should not have to be as complicated and difficult as it’s often made out to be.

African Water Controls contact details

130 Main Street
Marshalltown, 2001
Phone: 011 331 9425
Email: contact@africanwater.co.za

The Future: energy production and longevity

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THE FUTURE: Drinking water, energy, food production and longevity

WHAT we call “the future” may be closer than we think. The technology and solutions for many global issues already exist both in theory and practice; they just need to be properly implemented. Growing populations, clean drinking water, electricity, food production and even longevity are all on the cards within the coming decades…

Energy production in major cities

electricityFIRSTLY let’s just get something out of the way here. The whole energy crisis mumbo-jumbo is a complete myth. When there is something like load-shedding, this is the result of inefficiency. There is no longer a need to burn finite fossil fuels to produce electricity. Geothermal energy alone (which comes from the Earth) could power the entire planet for billions of years to come.

What’s more likely to happen, however, is that cities will use a combination of sustainable and renewable energy sources. We are all already familiar with tidal, wind and solar power, but some scientists are looking at heavy pedestrian areas as a possible energy source.

American inventor Elizabeth Redmond is looking at ways of generating electricity from human kinetic energy­, or foot traffic, using what she calls the POWERleap Flooring system. Thin and spongy smart panels which contain micro generators, produce piezoelectricity from applied mechanical pressure.

Power is produced and stored on the spot as people walk over them and go about their daily business. Placing these panels over busy sidewalks or pedestrian areas would produce enough electricity to power a large portion of a city’s electrical infrastructure (traffic lights, elevators­ etc.). Not only that, but sidewalks and cities would be a lot quieter too.

Longevity and Ageing

Anti-AgeingIT would be such a shame if all of this was to come to pass and we weren’t around to experience it. Exercise and diet aside, genetics are the way forward if we wish to enjoy longer life spans.

A good start for advancing longevity would be to have a personal copy of your genome or genetic profile. Iceland is already having its entire population profiled, which is a logical start as Iceland is a relatively small and closed population. Having­ an accurate copy of your body’s instruction manual, will allow you to take preventive measures in advance before the unfavourable genes strike.

Advances in modern medicine are also promising to extend our lives within the coming decades. A longevity gene has already been isolated which is currently extending the life span of mice two-fold. Fortunately we all possess this gene, it’s just a matter of triggering it. It may very well be possible to simply pop a “longevity pill” in the near future. You might also be delighted to know that the active ingredient for the longevity gene is found in red wine.

According to Cambridge scholar and founder of the Methuselah Foundation, Aubrey DeGrey, keeping our bodies young and youthful is just a matter of maintenance. DeGrey believes that we can combat ageing by treating it as a simple engineering problem. “When things break, we can fix them”, says DeGrey.

DeGrey’s Methuselah Foundation is offering a whopping grand prize of $4,5 million (roughly R31,5 million) to the research group that can most successfully extend the life span of lab mice by breaking the world record for the oldest mouse. The “Mprize” is designed to directly accelerate the development of revolutionary new life extension therapies, and it’s working.

The Future: What comes next?

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THE FUTURE: clean Drinking water, electricity, food production and longevity

WHAT we call “the future” may be closer than we think. The technology and solutions for many global issues already exist both in theory and practice; they just need to be properly implemented. Growing populations, clean drinking water, electricity, food production and even longevity are all on the cards within the coming decades…

Distilling fresh drinking water

Water splashDESPITE our little Earth being more than two-thirds water­, only three percent of this is drinkable. To make matters worse, a large portion of this miniscule percentage is either polluted or contaminated. Despite what some doomsayers might say, a lack of fresh water is single-handedly the biggest threat to the survival of our species and many others.

So how can we produce more of it cheaply? Simple. Boil dirty water beyond recognition. Boiling water at extreme temperatures not only kills germs, but rising water vapour leaves behind any sediment or pollutants, which don’t vaporise. Water vapour collected via this distilling process is highly pure and drinkable.

American inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, has invented a small portable device that can produce clean drinking water from any source — even ocean water and sewage. He calls it the Slingshot, which is designed to produce 1000 litres of clean drinking water a day and can be manufactured for under $2 000 (roughly R14 000).

Of course it takes huge amounts of energy to boil water at such temperatures. To counter this, Kamen uses­ a heat-exchange device which is powered by heat and produces the energy needed to create heat. This closed loop of energy allows the Slingshot to run on less power than a toaster.

Food production in major cities

Sky farmIT is estimated that about 80% of what grows in the ground can be grown indoors under controlled environments. Indoor farms and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) make so much sense when we consider that the majority of the world’s population lives in densely populated urban areas.

Furthermore, growing food directly where it’s needed, will result in lower inflation and therefore cheaper food. No fuel or transport costs would affect the price of staple foodstuffs. Weather conditions would no longer be an issue and we would no longer need to worry about farm attacks.

According to Dr Dickson Despommier from the University of Columbia, a 30-story high sky farm about the size of one New York city block, could consistently feed around 50 000 people per year. The logic is quite simple: to produce food where the people live. The result would be being able to get freshly picked fruit and vegetables easily and cheaply on a daily basis.

Link: The Vertical Farm

Solar power and the Sun Ray Cooker

PRAISE THE RAYS: Higher electricity bills power a surge of interest in solar power

THE sun is possibly the most untapped resource we have. The amount of solar energy produced by our bright, burning star is enough theoretically to power the planet forever; or until it decides to give up on us and fizzle out entirely.

The total solar energy absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses is about 3 850 000 Exajoules (EJ) per annum. In layman’s terms, the amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast that in one year it could produce roughly twice as much power as that which could ever be obtained from all of the Earth’s non-renewable resources (coal, oil, natural gas and uranium) combined.

The Sun being coolSolar power can be harnessed at different levels around the world depending on geographical location. Basically, the closer a place is to the equator, the more potential­ solar energy is available. Unfortunately, the erection of entire solar power plants is not cheap, but there are ways that we can all do a little better to harness this clean, renewable energy­ source.

I always imagine my future home as a green embodiment of eco-friendliness – a home with a rooftop covered in solar panels. These would be used to heat water, power lights and store excess energy in batteries. Solar geysers are great for water heating and can save a lot on your electricity bill — especially­ if you like taking long, hot baths.

Unfortunately, a solar geyser will set you back about R17 000, but it can cut your monthly electricity bill by up to 40%. More importantly, a solar geyser could cut your carbon emissions by three tons per year. This is according to SolarTech, one of South Africa’s major­ solar businesses that specialises in solar-powered geysers.

The Sun Ray Cooker

Sun Ray Cooker

The average household electricity consumption, according to Eskom, is 1100 kWh per month, with an estimated eight percent of consumption ascribed to the stove in your kitchen. The Sun Ray Cooker offers an alternative to using a conventional oven.

THE SUN RAY COOKER

If you like the idea of using solar power and are interested in testing the rays, the Sun Ray Cooker is a great affordable start. This solar-powered oven consists of a couple of pots and a reflective box. Simply placing food inside the box and leaving it in the sun for a few hours, slow cooks food to perfection. It is said to be great for stews and can even bake bread.

Natural temperature build-up cooks the food and the cooker can feed up to six people. Generally, a slow solar cooker takes twice the time to cook a meal that a conventional stove does, but the Sun Ray Cooker can save you up to 8% on your electricity bill.

November is the perfect time to make use of such solar-powered devices as we’ll be getting an average of 10 hours of sunlight a day here in sunny South Africa. Even winter sunshine is sufficient for perfect cooking results, says Herman Warren, chief executive of Sun Ray Cooker. The Solar Cooker combo sells for R900.

Prices on solar-powered devices are gradually dropping, yet solar power for individual homes is not nearly as cheap as it should be in this country. But it is certainly a great investment if you wish to go green in 2011.

What should really happen is that solar power be made compulsory for homes of a certain size. Like the power-saving light bulbs we got previously, this Christmas we should get solar panels — freely installed by power-hungry Eskom.