Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Build a better way

I finally got around to watching "The Story of Stuff" and was absolutely blown away by the compelling and simple way that its message is presented. Spend 20 minutes of your time to watch this video (here, on the site, or download it)

It is really important that this message gets spread, as we all have a role to play in fixing what we have helped to create. As consumers we need to change how we purchase, as engineers we need to change how we create, as marketers we need to change the message that we spread.

There are some things we need to carefully consider. Take this comment from the brilliant Seth Godin,
"So I'm hoping that what you make is worthy. Marketing is a powerful tool especially when it associates a product with a desire and instinct we already have."

Does what we create help people to live a better happier life? Does it protect the precious world we live in? We have a great responsibility when we create, market and sell things – we need to make sure we carry that responsibility well.

And then the final line of the video,
"Remember that old way didn’t just happen by itself. It’s not like gravity that we just gotta live with. People created it. And we’re people too. So let’s create something new."

We have created the system that we currently have. Does the current system protect our world? Does it help us to be happier? I don't think so.

Even though some people may think "there is no other way" we have to remember this: we created this system, and we can create a new one. We can find a new way.

Further reading:
[1] Happiness versus consumption on No Impact Man
[2] Sustainable consumption's "double dividend" on No Impact Man
[3] Slower consumption by Dr Tim Cooper – Journal of Industrial Ecology (via No Impact Man)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Engineering is about creating a better world.

We need passionate engineers working hard to create a cleaner and healthier world. We have to make sure that each decision we make – each product we produce – is helping us move towards that.

No, it is not easy. It is actually really difficult. It means forcing ourselves to reevaluate the "norms", to look at every decision we make in the light of the world around us. It means taking responsibility for our products, and fighting for what we believe in. It means constantly searching for better solutions.

I call it environeering: engineering for a better environment.

An environeer wants to change the world, and can. They live for energy savings, cleaner technology, recycling, water saving and much more. They are constantly seeking ways to create better products. They talk passionately about the world and how we impact on it. It is all about moving forward and embracing our passion for the world we live in. Most importantly, they care about people.

I want to get to know all the environeers out there. I want to talk to you, engage with you, and together work towards a happier, healthier life for everyone.

Let's start talking – contact me.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Load shedding legislation

The DME has released the proposed amendments to the Electricity Regulations Act 2006. It makes for some interesting reading, but here is what it boils down to.

The "licensees" (the people you buy your electricity from – e.g. municipalities) must ensure the following,

  1. Incandescent lights must be replaced with energy efficient ones.
  2. Unoccupied buildings' lights must be turned off.
  3. No street lights should be on during the day.
  4. New dwellings with a value over R750000 must include solar geysers.
  5. Dwellings larger than 300m2 must include solar gesyers.
  6. All new installations must have a geyser blanket.
  7. Office blocks, hospitals, hotels, resorts, and shopping complexes must incorporate solar water heating by 2010.
  8. All geysers must be able to be turned off remotely by 2010.
  9. All heating, ventilation and cooling systems (HVAC) must be able to be turned off remotely by 2010.
  10. Swimming pool pumps and heating must be able to be turned off remotely (interestingly no date is set for this).
  11. Street lights must be fitted with energy efficient bulbs.
  12. Time use tariffs for customers who consume more than 500kWh a month, before 2010.
You can submit comments on the regulations up until 25 February 2008.

There are two things which stand out for me:
  1. HVAC that can be turned off remotely.

  2. The interesting thing with this is that it will be very noticeable to the end user. Turning off a geyser has little (no) effect on the end user. If your air conditioner suddenly turns off you are going to notice. The other thing is that turning a motor (the compressor) on and off is quite different to turning a resistor (geyser element) on and off. I wonder what the impact of this will be on the lifetime of the equipment?

  3. Time use tariffs for customers using more then 500kWh/month.

  4. There are many households using more than this, and certainly just about every business is going to be affected by this. We will have to think more carefully about when we use energy. Business is probably going to take the biggest knock from this, as it eats straight into your bottom line.

Other than that it just looks like we should all start solar geyser companies ;)

Monday, February 04, 2008

7 best ways to stop load shedding

emergency stop switchWe are in the middle of an energy crisis and each of us need to make some dramatic changes to ensure that we have electricity, and that the economy can continue to run.

The first thing we each need to realise is that in the short term Eskom and the government can't help us. In fact, the only short term solution is to punish everyone by load shedding or electricity rationing.

The next thing to realise is that we can help ourselves and everyone else. Here is what to do (keep reading and find out how...)

  1. Turn off the air conditioners
  2. Turn off your geyser
  3. Turn off your pool pump
  4. Turn off anything that consumes standby energy (TV's, DVD players, cell phone chargers, etc.)
  5. Switch to CFL and LED lights (and use fewer lights)
  6. Run appliances as late at night, or early in the morning as possible
  7. Use your computers in energy saving modes

Eskom's problem explained

We first need to understand the problem to know how to address it properly. There is a lot of confusing information out there, from silly politician's statements, through to confusing technical information.

There are two types of energy shortages, supply shortages and capacity shortages. Think of it like a dam and pipes. A supply shortage means there is not enough water in the dams, while a capacity shortage means the pipes are not big enough to get everyone enough water.

Eskom has a capacity shortage. That means there is not enough power generating capacity to deal with the peak demands.

Each type of problem requires a different approach to solve it. The supply shortage means we have to use less (just like when there are water restrictions). A capacity shortage means we have to either demand less, or spread the demand out better so that everyone gets what they need. This can easily be done.

Spreading the load

Eskom needs to reduce the demand by about 3000MW (megawatts) [1]. So in other words, we need to spread out the load more evenly so that during the busy times there is enough for everyone.

  1. Turn off the air conditioners

  2. This is not a suggestion that people like, but let's look at how this could work.

    Eskom estimates that HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) contributes 5400MW (about 15%) to peak demand. If we guess that half of that can be turned off without any dire consequences, we already have 2700MW of the required 3000MW. This would be quite an extreme approach. Eskom estimates that 10% could be saved by just applying some simple principles.

    Start with good insulation! If you have good insulation you will need to cool much less in the summer, and heat less in the winter. Make sure your ceiling insulation is in good condition and find out what else is practical to do (weather stripping, better windows, etc.)

    Use the fan to circulate cool air from outside early in the morning. Only turn the air conditioning on in the mid–morning. Set the temperature as high as possible, and make sure that it is no more than 10ยบ lower than the outside temperature.

    Conservative power saving: 600MW

  3. Turn off your geyser

  4. Turning off your geyser for a large part of the day can help significantly with reducing the peak demand. This does require a bit of planning and organisation, especially if you have a large family.

    I can turn off my geyser in the morning, and still have enough hot water to bath in the evening. Then just before I go to bed, I turn it back on to heat up for the morning. This may vary, depending on your geyser and its insulation. One thing worth investing in is a geyser blanket (if Eksom hasn't already come to install one for you).

    Remember that each time you use hot water while the geyser is off cold water is running into it and cooling the hot water. You want to try to use hot water all at the same time, i.e. get everyone in your family to shower/bath at the same time, then you should have enough hot water for everyone.

    Turn your geyser off before you leave in the morning, and turn it back on just before you go to bed. Play around and find out what works for you.

    Businesses need to look at how the geyser is used, and try to keep it off before 10h00 in the morning and after 18h00 in the evening.

    If one million households with a 2kW geyser element do this...

    Estimated power savings: 2000MW

  5. Turn off your pool pump

  6. Pool pumps can consume anything from 500–1500W. You will have to experiment with your pool and see what works, but try to run your pool pump at night (after 20h00) rather than during the day when there is a high demand for electricity. You can also look into other lower power pool maintenance options, like the Floatron.

    Estimate power savings: 120MW [1]

  7. Turn off anything that consumes standby energy

  8. TV's, radio's, DVD players, video machines, microwaves, computers, cell phone chargers and (some) ovens are just a few of the things that consume power even while we are not using them. If any of these items are turned on at the plug they can consume anything from 0.5W to 30W (have a look at the results of this guy's power audit).

    The easiest way to do this is to use a multiplug (power strip) with switches.

    It is really hard to estimate this, but a lot of small savings will add up for everyone. I suspect the savings could be a lot bigger than we think.

  9. Switch to CFL and LED lights (and use fewer lights)

  10. In the 2001 census there were 7.8 million households using electricity as their main source of lighting [2]. If each of those house were to change a single 60W incandescent bulb for an 11W CFL the savings would be significant (learn more about the benefits of CFLs). Also consider changing your halogen downlights to LEDs.

    Unfortunately household lighting does not play a big role during the day. Commercial and industrial users are the ones that need to examine their lighting and reduce their consumption. An easy way to reduce lighting consumption is to retrofit electronic ballasts to your fluorescent lights which consume up to 38% less energy than magnetic ballasts. Commercial installations also stand to win a huge electricity (and money) saving by changing to LED lighting.

    Obviously the simplest thing you can do is make sure that lights are turned off when you are not using them. Security lights can also also be changed to motion sensing to avoid them running all night.

    Estimated savings: minimum 400MW

  11. Run appliances as late at night, or early in the morning as possible

  12. Washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers require a fair amount of power to operate (particularly tumble dryers). By simply operating these out of peak demand you can help to alleviate the load on the network. It might not always be practical, but running them before 07h00 or after 20h00 can help to make a difference.

    Estimated savings: 250MW [1]

  13. Use your computers in energy saving modes

  14. We often use our computers in energy inefficient ways – allowing a screen saver to run, or leaving a computer on when you are away from it for a while. Some simple changes to your computers settings can help to reduce the load it puts on the network.

    In XP set your power management to "Minimal power" (to ensure the CPU uses as little as possible), and in Vista choose a power saving power plan. Try to optimise the settings for your own situation. Turn off screen savers, and set your computer screen to turn off instead. Set your computer to sleep if not used for more than 20 minutes. Allow it to hibernate if not used for an hour (desktop computers can do this too!)

    Again, this is difficult to estimate, but if every business took a small amount of time to do this the total savings could be significant.

With those conservative savings we can "load shed" over 3000MW. I think it is worth doing so that we can keep out homes and the economy powered.

PS. Post your energy saving tips here in the comments, or add to the list we have going on The Forum SA!

[1] National Response to South Africa's Electricity Shortage
[2] Census 2001: Census in brief