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You can create a cleaner future

The 26th UN Climate Change conference starts this weekend, in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s an important event as the world waits to see the commitment of more than 70 countries to a real plan – among other things a net-zero carbon emissions strategy by 2050. This momentous transition in the way we produce and consume energy will play itself out over decades on the global stage, and will have far-reaching implications for industry and world geopolitics. But we might wonder what it is that we can do, to play our part in a cleaner environment that we want to leave for future generations. Within our own lives, we are able to effect change in our individual households, and more broadly within the community in which we live and work.

Keeping productive 

In the short term, we have a pressing need in South Africa to deal with the problem of load–shedding, which among other inconveniences prevents those of us who are working from home professionals from keeping productive when there is no power. Many households get through a power outage with torches, candles and board games without feeling too hassled by power outages. Yes, we probably all need more of a work-life balance in favour of our lives, our health and families, and it may even be romantic. And working from home, you can usually get by on your phone or laptop battery for a few hours, at least to finish up something urgent or important. But let’s be honest that continuous and regular load-shedding in the years to come will be a major blow to our productivity. If you want to keep the WiFi network and other key electronics up and running in the event of an outage, then an uninterrupted power supply system (UPS) is worth the investment.

As with anything – you get what you pay for. UPS’s vary in quality and come in different sizes. From a small unit that will power your WiFi router alone with a couple of USB ports for charging your phone, a large back-up generator or large solar powered battery bank to power your entire home. One consideration is what you will need to power – your essential loads – for a typical two-hour load-shedding period. A second consideration is the budget you may have to spend on a backup solution. Then there are considerations such as the noise and pollution that may be caused by a generator.

Or perhaps its long-term running costs, including petrol and maintenance make it quite literally unsustainable. The longevity and reliability of a backup generator may be a primary concern.  A lithium-based smart UPS should check all the boxes with regards to longevity, cost, rapid charging time and reliable quality of power. A lithium battery, if well balanced and managed should last over 4000 cycles, which should be well over ten years. If you buy a cheaper deep cycle battery you are going to have to reinvest in a few years. And your cheap option will have to go to the dump. Some larger UPS options can also be charged with solar, which allows you to be covered for longer grid outages, hit the road with a mobile system, or even go off the grid.

Reducing costs 

If you have not yet considered solar panels for your house, you really should. It is a proverbial no-brainer right now if you are interested in long-term investment in your home, reducing your electricity costs, or hedging against the risks of fast-rising electricity prices. Or simply saving the planet one solar panel at a time.

Simply put, every rand you spend on solar panels, if properly installed and safely registered, will be a financial investment that will probably perform better than the equity market, year-on-year for over 25 years. It is way less risky than any conventional financial investment, not to mention the latest e-coin fad or whatever.  Think about it, you are buying a real tangible asset that is fixed to your property, not easy to steal, and which will give you value as long as the sun is in the sky. Another way of looking at the business case is that a solar investment allows you to prepay a portion of your future electricity consumption in advance.  You should be able to get a payback of your initial investment in about 5 years, after which you have free electricity. Not a bad deal.

Something interesting happens when you start to look at home solar. You begin to understand what are watts, kilowatt-hours, solar yield, business case and such. You actually learn about your own consumption, what are your major loads, you see your inefficiencies and where you can save money. Such as putting your water heater on a timer switch or replacing your old “Edison” bulbs with LEDs. 

Moving on clean technology 

The other main place where we can clean up our own act is in the way we move. Bicycles, skateboarding, rollerblading, walking are probably the best environmental option, and have the added benefit of being enjoyable and also leave us feeling and looking good. One step up from this is to motorize these technologies, and there are amazing new products for e-bikes and personal mobility. For a regular commute or urban run-around, an electric motorcycle or standard car EV is becoming an increasingly affordable option. 

The benefits of EVs are many. One is never having to stop off at a petrol station again. So, you are not having to spend on fuel, the price of which is set to go up in January. You are immediately lowering your environmental impact, even if you charge your EV from the Eskom grid.  Electric motors are just way more efficient, silent, cleaner, powerful and require less maintenance than internal combustion engines. And if you combine your EV with a solar system at your home or office, you can push up the renewable source of your energy from about 5% in the case of Eskom (with some grid solar and wind generation) to as much as 100%. In the near future, mainstream shipping and even airplanes will use clean power.  If anything, future generations will look back on our era and ask not only – what were you thinking? But – what took you so long? 

Increasing access

It was recently estimated that investment in the global energy industry needs to double to about 4 trillion dollars to keep up with the needs of the green transition, to get to net-zero carbon and allow us to keep climate change in check. We need some of that money in the developing world, and ideally, it will drive down the costs of new infrastructure and cleantech adoption. Even now many options exist for financing our own investments in batteries, solar and e-mobility.  You can go to the main street banks and get a loan. You can enter into pay per use or PPA agreement. Or you can simply rent or lease clean tech equipment for a monthly charge while deriving the full benefit of it.

The good news is that we can make a difference. And as leaders in our own lives, we can make an exponential impact on our environment. That’s because early adopters can push the whole society over the tipping point of change. To quote Margaret Mead:  Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.  DM

Ralph Berold and Felicity Berold are the founders of Sun Ship Technologies, which provides quality solar, energy storage and e-mobility products, services and finance for South Africa and African residential customers. www.sunshiptech.com


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