Tag Archives: solar power

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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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

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.

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 POWER
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 POWER
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
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

Green gadgets on show at Stuff Live!

GREEN TECH: Green gadgets that could help save the planet

WITH the possibilty of yet another energy crisis looming, coupled with the current financial crisis and soaring fuel prices, gadget makers got a chance to show off their green credentials at the Stuff Live! technology show held in London recently. Amid the usual array of power-hungry televisions, stereos and computers, a handful of companies promoted hi-tech products designed to cut energy consumption and help save the planet.

THE WATTSON
London-based firm DIY Kyoto has come up with the Wattson – a wireless device that lets families monitor exactly how much power they are using at home. It measures electricity consumption and displays the amount of power and how much it costs on a sleek portable box with a digital screen. The £100 device glows red when households use more power than normal or blue when they are being energy efficient.

“The whole idea is to save money and to save the environment, and what’s great is that you find people try to get the reading down as low as possible” – Jason Goldman of DIY Kyoto.

THE EGO STREET SCOOTA
British gadget website www.firebox.com displayed a Chinese-built electric scooter that it has converted for sale on the British market. Called the Ego Street Scoota, it has a 30 to 40 mile range and a top speed of 30 mph. It costs eight pence to charge the bike using the mains electricity supply.

Parked next to it was a more powerful scooter from U.S. firm Vectrix. Its Maxi-Scooter has a top speed of 62mph and a range of 68 miles at 25mph. Its latest model has a built-in music player and a system that sends music wirelessly to your helmet.

SOLIO SOLAR POWER CHARGERS
While nearly all gadgets rely on electricity or batteries, a range of portable chargers from U.S. company Solio, that use solar power, were on display. The devices can convert one hour of sunshine into an hour of playback on an iPod or 25 minutes of talk time on a mobile. The gadget has three blades which fan out to catch sunlight which it then stores in an internal battery for up to a year.

A LAPTOP MADE OF BAMBOO?
Wearing its heart on its sleeve, one energy-efficient laptop came with a shell made of bamboo instead of the usual plastic or metal in an attempt to reinforce its eco-friendly aspirations.

Taiwanese computer maker Asustek said it used bamboo because it is strong, grows back quickly and is biodegradable. Advised to keep away from pandas!

Related posts:
Save the trees with iPaper
Will e-readers end the Age of the Book?

Protecting ourselves from the Global Warming

“We must protect ourselves from the Global Warming… Top scientists in Colorado believe that Global Warming will strike two days before the day after tomorrow!” – South Park

I was walking past the fruit and vegetable section in a supermarket one winter’s day when I felt a powerful gush of warm air seduce my face. The seducer was a household fan that had a heated coil in its centre which heated the air to a remarkable extent.

I soon learned that these new heating devices are very considerate on their energy usage and weren’t badly priced either. However, our coldest winter yet is thawing to a close, and it won’t be long before we go to lengths to keep cool.

Cooling off:
Contemporary air-conditioning systems are not only heavy energy consumers but also have an utter disregard for the ozone layer. At full volume a household air-con farts out enough greenhouse gases to chock a small elephant.

Thank the pope ScienceDaily have recently reported that scientists from Madrid have produced a solar-powered air-conditioner that is far more environmentally friendly than previous cooling systems. It is said to use a reduced amount of greenhouse gases and does not harm the ozone layer in any way.

The “Absorption Chiller”
Known as an “absorption chiller” the device makes use of solar and residual heat as an energy source. For the science people, the technology combines the use of lithium bromide solution with a reduction in the use of water, which supposedly damages the ozone layer and contributes towards the greenhouse effect.

More technically speaking, the absorption mechanism is capable of producing cold water at temperatures ranging from 7º C to 18º C when the sweating thermometer on the wall displays temperatures between 33º C and 43º C.

A look to the future:
The new cooling system seems to have arrived at a good time too. Last year 191 countries were involved in a signed agreement to avoid the use of ozone depleting substances as well as set a 25% consumption limit by 2010 (as compared to 1996).

By 2020 it will become law for all developed countries to replace all HCFC refrigerants, such as those used in air-conditioners, with green substitutes. No mention of developing countries however. I guess the ‘First World’ is quite content to continue selling the cheaper, more lethal air-conditioners to the ‘Third World’ forgetting that we all share the air that we breathe…