Tag Archives: power

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 power of the planet

ELECTRICITY: All you ever wanted to know about power generation but were too afraid to ask

Planet powerDO you remember when South Africa experienced what was portrayed in the media as a “power crisis” last year? You know, when the country was experiencing regular power cuts due to poor planning on our government’s part? Does “Eishkom, she’s broken” ring a bell? It almost seems like a distant memory now.

What concerned me most about that little historical moment was not the thought of sitting in the dark burning candles for a good few months, but rather everyone’s poor attitude toward the whole ‘crisis’.

Some people (not only South Africans) really believed that SA was going to be left in the dark for an entire age. The majority spent their new-found energy — after being freed from watching TV, surfing the Internet and playing on computers — to slate Eskom and the government and express their hasty thoughts that South Africa was going to the dogs.

Also huddled in the dark during the same crisis one might have heard the reassuring utterances of a few positive South Africans who believed that everything would be fine and order and light would soon restore itself. And that it.

We’ve got the power!
Due to the non-renewable nature of fossil fuels, which are burned to produce the majority of our electricity, it is only natural to be fearful of it one day running out and leaving us in the dark. However, few are aware of our current state of technology regarding energy production. A large portion of the public is also unaware of how sustainable and abundant our planet actually is.

Currently we don’t have to burn fossil fuels at all. There are many renewable sources of energy available that are clean, sustainable and abundant.

Hydro, solar and wind are three powerful sources currently available that require virtually no preliminary energy to harness (unlike coal, oil, gas, biomass, hydrogen and all the others). Scientists are even developing better ways to harness geothermal energy from deep beneath the bowels of the Earth itself.

If used in combination, and efficiently harnessed through technology, these four mediums alone could power the world forever…

Wind powerWind power is the conversion of wind energy into electricity using wind turbines. Several countries have already achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration, such as 19% of stationary electricity production in Denmark. As of May 2009, eighty countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.

Wind energy has long been denounced as weak, and due to it being location-driven, impractical. However, this is simply not true. The US department of energy admitted in 2007 that if wind was fully harvested in just three of America’s 50 states it could power the entire nation.

Using wind energy as a power source is an attractive alternative to fossil fuels, because it is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and produces no greenhouse gas emissions.

Theoretically, wind power available in the atmosphere is much greater than current world energy consumption. The most comprehensive study to date found the potential of wind power on land and near-shore to be over five times the world’s current energy use in all forms.

Solar powerSolar power is the result of converting sunlight into electricity. This solar energy has such abundance that one hour of light at high noon contains more energy than what the entire world consumes in a year. If we could capture one hundredth of a percent (.01%) of this energy the world would never have to use oil, gas or anything else ever again.

The question it is not availability but the technology to harness it and there are many advanced mediums today which could accomplish just that. Some technologies, such as solar thermal concentrators have an element of thermal storage, such as molten salts. These store spare solar energy in the form of heat which is made available overnight or during periods that solar power is not available to produce electricity.

Many developing countries are building solar power plants, replacing other sources of energy generation. Since solar radiation is intermittent, solar power generation is usually combined either with storage or other energy sources to provide continuous power.

On a slightly larger scale, in Germany, a combined power plant has been demonstrated, using a mix of wind, biomass, hydro-, and solar power generation, resulting in 100% renewable energy.

Geothermal power is power extracted from heat stored in the earth by a process called “heat mining”. This energy originates from the original formation of the planet, from radioactive decay of minerals, and from solar energy absorbed at the surface. Through a simple process using water, heat mining is able to generate massive amounts of clean energy.

Geothermal wells do release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of conventional fossil fuels. As a result, geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels.

Geothermal power

Geothermal power is also highly scalable, with a large geothermal plant being capable of powering entire cities. It is cost effective, reliable, and environmentally-friendly and recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating.

In 2006 an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) report on geothermal energy found that 13 000 zettajoules of power are currently available in the earth with the possibility of 2 000 ZJ being easily tapable with improved technology. The total energy consumption of all the countries on the planet is about half of a zettajoule a year. This means about 4000 years of planetary power could be harnessed in this medium alone. And when we understand that the earth’s heat generation is constantly renewed, this energy is really limitless and could be used forever.

Hydropower stationHYDROPOWER
Hydraulic power or water power is power that is derived from the force or energy of moving water. Hydroelectric power currently supplies about 715,000 megawatts or 19% of the world’s electricity. Hydropower produces essentially no carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions and can be far less expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels or nuclear energy. The chief advantage of hydroelectric dams is their ability to handle seasonal (as well as daily) high peak loads.

  • Tidal power
    Tidal power is derived from tidal shifts in the ocean. Installing turbines which capture this movement generates energy. The trapped water turns turbines as it is released through the tidal barrage in either direction. In the United Kingdom 42 sites are currently noted as available – forecasting that 34% of all the UK’s energy could come from tidal power alone.
  • Tidal stream power
    A relatively new technology, tidal stream generators draw energy from currents in much the same way that wind generators do. The higher density of water means that a single generator can provide significant power. This technology is at the early stages of development and will require more research before it becomes a significant contributor. Several prototypes have shown promise.
  • Wave power
    Harnessing power from ocean surface wave motion might yield much more energy than tides. Generators either coupled to floating devices or turned by air displaced by waves in a hollow concrete structure would produce electricity. For countries with large coastlines and rough sea conditions, the energy of waves offers the possibility of generating electricity in utility volumes. In fact, it is estimated to have a global potential of up to 80.000 terawatt-hours a year. This means 50% of the entire planets energy usage could be produced from this medium alone.

This post was inspired by the documentary film Zeitgeist Addendum. To join the global Zeitgesit movement visit www.thezeitgeistmovement.com and become a part of the solution to the global crisis.

You can read the next two parts to this series below:
Part 2:
A world without money
Part 3: Incentive to work

Make way for Shweebways

SHWEEBS: personal pedal-powered pods

TRAFFIC jams. Being stuck in traffic has got to be in the top five on the list of peoples’ most hated things in the world – right after Bob Mugabe, taxes, Telkom and getting toffee stuck on the roof of your mouth.

I have seen murder develop in the eyes of the calmest looking drivers when caught between throngs of cars. It’s hard not to get slightly ticked off and lose it – suddenly finding yourself bashing your way through the metallic queue, foot flat on the pedal, with a criminal reputation mounting up, and laughing hysterically.

No. We need to restrain ourselves from doing that. I find that the best self-therapy is to turn up the air-con (or heater), wind up the windows thus blocking out the sounds of hooting and swearing, and listen to Bob Marley.

The Shweeb monorail system consists of two 200 metre long overhead rail circuits that vary in height between two and four meters above the ground. Under the tracks hang high performance pedal powered vehicles. Between one and five vehicles can be loaded onto each track enabling teams to race each other or race against the clock.

The Shweeb monorail system consists of two 200 metre long overhead rail circuits that vary in height between two and four meters above the ground. Under the tracks hang high performance pedal powered vehicles. Between one and five vehicles can be loaded onto each track enabling teams to race each other or race against the clock.

However, our traffic nightmares may soon come to an end thanks to an invention known as the Shweeb. And this is not just some fancy new swearword, but the world’s first human-powered monorail.

“Shweeb” means “to float” in German, and is a self-enclosed, pedal-powered pod which is already in use at an amusement park in New Zealand. The team of designers who developed the Shweeb not only see the pod as a vehicle of amusement, but as an environmentally-friendly replacement for personal motor vehicles in traffic congested cities.

The idea was conceived by designer Geoffrey Barnett while on holiday in Tokyo – one of the world’s most heavily conjested cities. Barnett implemented the idea in his adventure park – Agroventures – in New Zealand, which is partially a proof-of-concept for an ingenious, high efficiency, no emission urban transport system.

How it works
The Shweeb uses a monorail system to guide users along a pre-determined path, with each pod being powered by the rider. According to the official Shweeb website, to travel in a Shweeb takes only half the energy required to ride a regular bicycle, and only 1/3 the energy of a mountain bike to pedal (since it is enclosed and there isn’t the rolling resistance of the tyres to compensate for). For even greater efficiency, Shweebs can be linked together for less air resistance and more pedal power.

The pods are far more aerodynamically efficient than a bicycle too. Most riders see speeds of around 45 km/h, but on a longer circuit with a much longer straight, the Shweeb can reach up to 70 km/h.

Shweeb insideSuch speeds are rather impressive when considering that the average speed of a car in London these days is a mere 13km/h (due to traffic). This is the same speed that cars could reach 100 years ago – before the demonic birth of rush-hour.

What’s more, when taking tight corners the pods can swing out as much as 60 degrees; but unlike a bike or motorcycle, there is no danger of losing traction and crashing.

Barnett has spent six years developing how to efficiently transfer pedal power to drive wheels enclosed within a monorail track while allowing the vehicle to swing freely underneath. The hard wheels on the steel rail mean that there is very little rolling resistance, and riders have shown that you do not have to be an Olympic athlete to power the pedals.

The future
Shweeb futureBarnett foresees the future use of his high efficiency, no emission urban transport system: “Here’s how it works. You get up in the morning; descend to the second level of your apartment building where there’s a Shweeb port and empty Shweebs waiting for you. You cruise over the top of the traffic jams. You don’t pay parking. You’ve produced no pollution. You arrive at work fit, healthy and ready to go!” says Barnett.

An exciting aspect of the Shweeb is how it could address problems of health and fitness relating to lack of exercise in certain nations. Of course you will always get lazy Shweebers who don’t pedal, hold up the traffic and simply get taken for a ride; but any ticked off, speeding Shweebers won’t be able to knock others off the rails.

“Shock absorbers between the vehicles ensure that vehicles come together smoothly. When a fit rider comes up behind a slower rider, the impact is cushioned and they act as a single unit. The rider at the rear is sitting in the slipstream of the leading rider and is able to put all their power into pushing the lead vehicle,” says Barnett.

So it appears that road rage would no longer be an issue in a Shweeb world. In fact, two Shweebs acting together will always travel faster than either rider separately. Even if the lead rider were to stop pedaling, the energy required to maintain a vehicle’s momentum on a flat track is minimal.

Make way for Shweebways
The logistics of getting Shweeb systems up and running in countries around the world is not as difficult as one might think. “The urban Shweebrail network is inexpensive, has a tiny footprint, and each Shweebway requires only a square meter of airspace,” says Barnett. “It’s safe, silent and sustainable.”

Not only are Shweebways inexpensive to build, but the pods come cheap too. In fact, you would never even need to buy one. “You don’t own the Shweeb,” says Barnett, “you use it like a shopping cart. Empty vehicles are restocked to wherever they are needed.”

Imagine it now: climbing into a slick Shweeb after a day’s work, laying back and sailing above congested traffic during rush hour, getting a daily workout with gentle pedaling, enjoying a great view of the city, all while listening to Bob Marley… Sign me up!