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Renewables engine for youth empowerment: Mhuriro

It so happens that Simbarashe Mhuriro turns 33 today. But his young age belies the successes that the youthful entrepreneur has achieved since founding the renewable energy company Oxygen Africa Ltd in 2013. In 2016, Mhuriro was named among Africa’s 30 most promising and inspirational young entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine as well being recognised by the Africa Youth Awards as one of 100 most Influential Young Africans for that year.

Now with a little over a decade of experience in business and management, the Oxygen Africa Ltd chief executive today leads a company that is developing a pipeline of commercial and industrial rooftop solar projects. The biggest of these ventures is the $28 million Old Mutual Zimbabwe solar project, targeting to install the equivalent of 20 megawatts of solar panels on all the insurer’s commercial properties. Between October 14-22, Mhuriro attended a UN-supported global youth conference in Russia, invited to share his entrepreneurial skills with over 20 000 young men and women from across the world; to talk about how renewable energy could transform economies and livelihoods through partnerships and innovation. We spoke to Mhuriro on his Russia experience, and on other clean energy nitty-gritties. Below is an excerpt of the interview. I am represented JG, and him SM.

JG: You were in Russia for a global youth meeting. Tell us about that meeting and your experience there?

SM: I was invited to make an address on African Energy access at the opening ceremony of the 19th edition of the World Festival of Youth and Students organised by the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), a United Nations-recognised international youth non-governmental organisation, jointly with the International Union of Students since 1947 and is the largest gathering of youth and students in the world. I also participated in a panel discussion on entrepreneurship and innovation “The Inevitability of Innovation: Devise, Implement and Employ’’. The festival attracted over 20 000 participants from around the world, the opening ceremony was attended by 12 000 youths and the panel discussion had an audience of about 1600.

JG: How important are such conferences to building and developing entrepreneurship for Zimbabwean youth?

SM: Such events are important in bringing together young minds to develop working relations, share ideas and experiences from across the world. It is an opportunity to market your country and present it as an investment destination, together with being a source of innovation and answers to today’s questions around attaining global sustainable development goals.

JG: We understand that you had an opportunity to brief Russian President Vladimir Putin over your renewable energy projects back here at home. Is that right? What did you say to him. . . and what did he say to you?

SM: Yes I had the opportunity to brief the president and his first deputy chief of staff Mr Sergey Kiriyenko on our solar project, ask for more Russian participation in agriculture as they have a massive fertiliser industry that has created six billionaires. The president told me how Russia is doing a lot in the field of renewable energy and has recently started manufacturing solar panels which are considered the best in the world in terms of efficiency and in terms of durability. They (Russians) have been using solar for years to heat up oil pipes that run through the country’s northern regions. I was impressed that solar is sufficient. He sees these sources of energy (oil and solar) being connected and will continue to develop side by side for many years to come.

JG: You were one of a select few speakers at the Russia meeting. What message did you have for budding youth entrepreneurs of the world, particularly as far as clean and renewable sustainable energy is concerned?

SM: Drive and implement the global sustainable development goals, compliment and support your respective governments’ policies and goals in relation to sustainable energy, climate action and the environment. Participate in you countries economic growth; dream big, come up with that big energy idea financiers will flock to. Anything is possible.

JG: Your company, Oxygen Africa Ltd is implementing a 20 megawatt rooftop solar project on buildings owned by Old Mutual Zimbabwe. Can you give us a sense of the progress you have so far made . . . and whether you think the project is scalable?

SM: We are at the final stages of concluding financial closure and moving towards construction of the pilot sites in Harare.

JG: What role can renewable energy play in driving Zimbabwe’s economic and environmental goals? How can Zimbabwean young men and women participate in this transition?

SM: Renewable energy has the opportunity to attract foreign investment, or if locally funded, substitute the importation of power.

The economy cannot grow without reliable sustainable power. There is an opportunity for young men and women to participate right across the value chain of a project from financial and legal advisory, procurement, engineering and construction. I am a big believer in ecosystems where we work in teams to bring a project together, everyone has a seat at the table and each plays their position effectively, delivering results. With regards to environmental goals, we anticipate that upon completion the Old Mutual Zimbabwe project will achieve a net power generation of 32 gigawatts per year and avoid upto 30 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

JG: While in Russia, you participated in a panel discussion that featured a Russian billionaire and other Russian government ministers. How important was this event to telling the Zimbabwean story on renewables, and whether the Russia visit presented opportunities for investment/partnerships in renewable energy for youth-led businesses?

SM: I took the opportunity to showcase Zimbabwe as an investment destination and place where the policy, corporate and financing framework enables young entrepreneurs to innovate, start businesses and succeed.

We wanted to show what is being done in the renewables space in Zimbabwe from the point of view of a young entrepreneur; the support we have received in developing our project from Old Mutual Zimbabwe, the Government, banks and others. I also stressed how important it is for young entrepreneurs to align their projects to the vision and goals of their clients, government/policy framework and their investors and lenders in order to create an ecosystem where every party can extract value. So we didn’t seek investment opportunities and partnerships per say, but to share our story with youths from across the world and tell them that entrepreneurship is possible in Zimbabwe and Africa and this is what is happening on the ground.

JG: How can such meetings as the one in Russia be made to work for the young Zimbabwean company, partcularly those looking at mitigating the emission of climate damaging gases?

SM: It is an opportunity to learn about new ideas and innovations, how they have been successfully implemented elsewhere so that they can be adopted back home.

It is also a chance to show case what is happening back home and the local innovations invested to tackle environmental issues. Recently I learned about The Tsapo Bag project is an initiative by the Enactus Organisation from the Midlands State University, which manufactures insulation bags from recycled styrofoam waste or kaylite and old vinyl banners. The bag is used to store food and keep it warm by conserving heat. We all know the impact kaylite was having on our environment and this innovation has potential to be scaled up and exported to the region and beyond if given the opportunity to showcase at platforms like that presented in Sochi, Russia

JG: Thank you for your time, Mr Mhuriro.

SM: You are welcome. Thank you.

Source: inspiredevolution

Green building buy-in now imperative for corporates, developers, urge analysts

As government chases legislation to enforce the implementation of green building principles, analysts advise that embracing sustainable development is crucial for all sectors of South Africa.

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Sustainable development specialists and property analysts have urged all South African businesses and developers to embrace the reality of “green building” as government actively pursues legislation to enforce more sustainable construction. Sustainable building academic at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), Chris Allen advises that government is in the process of developing a green building framework aligned to the Green BuildingCouncil of South Africa’s green star rating system, in order to reap the benefits in government buildings throughout the country, namely more efficient operation leading to lower running costs.

On the back of these moves to strengthen South Africa’s already significant switch to more sustainable buildings in the wake of the energy crisis of 2008, government is providing both the carrot and stick to get the private sector to follow suit.

“You’re going to see the private sector adopting green building practices more vigorously, with the government starting to request energy performance certificates for their buildings this year, with the aim of asking the same of commercial buildings from 2018 and the private sector from 2020,” said Allen.

Allen recently spoke on the topic at a regional SA Property Owners Association (SAPOA) meeting in Port Elizabeth. He was joined by sustainable solutions experts Brian van Niekerk, managing director of sustainable solutions company Rhino Group, and Heather McEwan, MD of Rhino Group company Rhino Lighting.

Allen, a lecturer in building science within the department ofconstruction management at NMMU, said: “The real benefits to green buildings start to accrue when it comes to their running costs. The commercial reality is that their running costs are 30 to 40% down on conventional developments. Added to this is a similar improvement in the productivity levels of people working in green buildings as a result of increased natural lighting levels, ventilation rates and even how those commuting to these buildings get there.”

Last year a research report by Allen and fellow NMMU academic Katharina Crafford based on Rhino Group’s showcase House Rhino – which is an energy-plus home located at Crossways Farm Village outside Port Elizabeth – was hailed at a global conference in the UK. African Energy-Plus construction: A case study of House Rhino received the Chair’s Award at the Sustainable Ecological Engineering Design for Society international conference at Leeds Beckett University.

“Due to the energy crisis that South Africa has experienced over the past seven years, challenging preconceived ideas by creating attractive, affordable, energy efficient buildings has become critical to offsetting massive cost increases for electricity,” reads the research report.

Van Niekerk said there were already a myriad of avenues for corporates to reduce their energy consumption without implementing major or costly energy savings systems.

“During our energy efficiency audits of major businesses and retailers, many of the buildings which we go into don’t meetbasic energy efficiency requirements. By making simple changes in their daily operations, those businesses have saved tens of thousands of rands on energy costs,” said Van Niekerk.

Often businesses neglected making the most of the space at their disposal, said Van Niekerk. Rhino Group has recently completed a 3MW solar installation for a client in Johannesburg – using mounted solar panels with the dual purpose of creating undercover parking for the client.

It takes typically seven years for a landlord to cover the costs of solar installations, said Van Niekerk, adding: “It’s a very good investment. For landlords, when you look at the return on investment, you can protect yourself by having renewable energy to cover you in case tenants default – plus you’re greening the building for the tenant.”

McEwan, whose company also undertakes energy audits for major companies, said one recent audit revealed that the amedium-sized retailer could save more than R12 000 annually – or reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 10 tonnes – simply by changing the setting on the air conditioning system from 18˚C to 22˚C.

SAPOA Port Elizabeth chairman Mark Bakker said while the perceived cost of developing a green building has always appeared to be prohibitive, “one needs to take into account not only the direct savings that will be made by using alternate sources, but also the indirect benefits that will be gained through higher achievable rentals, longer term and happier tenants”.

“Property owners need to explore the ‘going green’ avenue, not only because government is implementing requirements or because ‘it’s the right thing to do’, but also because in the longer term they will benefit from happier tenants,” said Bakker.
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This $6 a month solar energy plan could power a million homes in Africa by 2017

The biggest obstacle to powering off-grid homes is infrastructure.

The problem, specifically in sparsely populated areas, is a lack of power lines. Without lines going to a remote power grid, many communities lack the access they need to electricity. Entire villages can stay dark. But there are ways around that.

A startup called Off-Grid Electric is looking to use cheap rooftop solar panels for energy in rural parts of Africa, instead of building expensive infrastructure.

Off-Grid Electric is a for-profit company started by Xavier Helgesen in 2012, who had the idea for the company when he was traveling through Malawi to meet clients for his bookselling company, according to NPR.

The village happened to be entirely off the grid, people made heavy use of kerosene lamps and lived entirely without electricity, even though some of the villagers owned electrical appliances, that’s the experience that led Hegelsen to start the company.

The solution that Off-Grid offers is a pay-as-you-go program with a $6 installation fee for solar panels that sit on a household’s roof. The package also includes a meter that keeps track of how much energy each household is using, as well as LED lights, a radio, and a phone charger.

Customers pay for electricity as they use it and can use mobile payment apps to pay bills. In an interview with NPR, Helgesen said his company has been closely watching how people use their electricity.

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For instance, the company learned to not to ask households how much wattage they think they’ll use — measuring consumption is foreign to many people. Instead, Off-Grid asks what appliances they want to power. That way, the company gives its customers a more bespoke solution.

The company says it’s lighting up some 50,000 homes a month, with a goal of reaching 1 million African homes by 2017. Off-Grid currently covers parts of Tanzania, and the company is planning to expand to Rwanda within the year. Eventually, it will expand beyond the African continent.

Off-Grid isn’t the first effort to bring solar-powered local energy to rural and developing areas. A startup called Watly, for example, makes self-contained solar power reservoirs that act like self-service hubs for communities where people can charge their phones, use the internet, and access other services.

There are multiple ways to tackle the problem. And as long as companies can listen to users’ needs and reconcile cultural barriers, technology can be a real solution.
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Source: techinsider


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Scientists are developing graphene solar panels that generate energy when it rains

Solar power is making huge strides as a reliable, renewable energy source, but there’s still a lot of untapped potential in terms of the efficiency of photovoltaic cells and what happens at night and during inclement weather. Now a solution has been put forward in the form of producing energy from raindrops.

Key to the new process is graphene: a ‘wonder’ material we’ve heard plenty about before. Because raindrops are not made up of pure water, and contain various salts that split up into positive and negative ions, a team from the Ocean University of China in Qingdao thinks we can harness power via a simple chemical reaction. Specifically, they want to use graphene sheets to separate the positively charged ions in rain (including sodium, calcium, and ammonium) and in turn generate electricity.

Early tests, using slightly salty water to simulate rain, have been promising: the researchers were able to generate hundreds of microvolts and achieve a respectable 6.53 percent solar-to-electric conversion efficiency from their customised solar panel.

For the experiment, the team used an inexpensive, thin-film solar cell called a dye-sensitised solar cell. After adding a layer of graphene to the cell, it was put on a transparent backing of indium tin oxide and plastic. The resulting ‘all-weather’ solar cell concept was then equipped to produce power from both sunshine and the rain substitute.

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What’s happening here is that the positively charged ions are binding to the ultra-thin layer of graphene and forming a double layer (technically referred to as a pseudocapacitor) with the electrons already present. The potential energy difference between the two layers is strong enough to generate an electric current.

The experiment is still just in the ‘proof of concept’ phase, so there’s work to be done, but the researchers hope their findings can “guide the design” of future all-weather solar cells and contribute to the growing influence of renewable energy.

They’re now working on adjusting the technology to handle the variety of ions found in real raindrops and figuring how to generate enough electricity from the typically low concentrations they come in.

It’s not the first time graphene has been used to boost solar energy technologies: earlier this year, a team from the UK was able to create a graphene-based material that’s very effective at absorbing ambient heat and light, and which could eventually lead to solar panels that can work with the diffuse sunlight that finds its way indoors.

If these scientists get their way, in the future, photovoltaic cells may not be hampered by a lack of direct sunshine at all.

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100% solar-powered super villa makes Arab housing sustainable again

After oil ushered in an era of excess, many people in the Middle East stopped building sensible homes adapted to harsh weather conditions. But a group of students from Oman are bridging the distance with a sustainable design with which even the most traditional Arab can identify. Here’s the thing: many homes in the Gulf region in particular have separate quarters for men and women (who aren’t a part of the family), making them rather large. Whether or not westerners agree with this, it’s a fact of life here – so the Higher College of Technology found a brilliant way to satisfy this requirement while slashing the home’s overall footprint by roughly two thirds. Then they added a slew of other sustainable features and a crown of solar panels, resulting in a super villa that is 100 percent powered by the sun and generates three times the energy it needs to run.

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Mona Al Farsi, the HCT GreenNest Eco House project manager, told Inhabitat the students wanted to demonstrate that less is more. To that end, they rejected a few of the attributes common in Arab homes, which prioritize privacy above all. Instead of solid walls and curtains that suffocate the interior, they opted for shaded openings wrapped with vegetation and oriented towards the north to optimize natural light and ventilation. Al Farsi said this gives residents a moving framed image when they look outside as the seasons unfold and a greater sense of well-being as their connection to nature is thereby deepened.

The western wall is covered in greenery, creating a colorful habitat for pollinators and other creatures. Elsewhere on the site, which is located on the HCT campus in Muscat as an educational showcase that is now being incorporated into the architecture department’s curriculum, the students installed an insect hotel. They’re also growing food on site, including the citrus for which Oman is notorious. All around the house are shaded recreational areas that extend the living space, a particularly important feature for a people accustomed to entertaining many visitors.

About 60 percent of the home’s water is recycled for irrigation, a sensible conservation strategy further bolstered by low-flow fixtures. These are especially progressive features for homes in such a water scarce region. The rooftop PV array comprises 76 solar panels that feed energy to the city grid. Al Farsi says 50 panels would easily generate enough energy for a family of six.

GreenNest was the winning entry in Oman’s inaugural Eco House Design Competition. The students are required to monitor the home’s performance, in part to help the government transition to more sustainable housing that is also financially feasible. They are measuring temperature, humidity, energy generation and experimenting with different plants and crops as part of this year-long followup study. It’s not easy to find a sustainable home design modern Arabs can embrace (they’re not going to squeeze their families into tiny homes anytime soon). Now, after many years of searching, I think I’ve finally found a winning model.

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Cape Quarter PV solar project up and running

This flagship property within the Tower Property Funds portfolio recently received an extensive PV solar system installation as part of the funds greening and occupancy cost reduction strategy.

702 solar panels have been installed on the roof of the Cape Quarter Square and so far initial results show that the installation is outperforming its expected cost savings – by 20%.

The project, which was managed by Spire Property Management, took several months of research and due diligence before a contractor was selected who could effectively deliver on the required results.

“Sola Future Energy were selected to conduct the Cape Quarter PV solar installation,” explains Simon Penso, Head of Sustainability for Spire.  “Once the project was given the final green light it took only a month, from mid-November to mid-December, to complete the onsite installation of the panels.”

“Sola Future Energy used specially manufactured mounting structures and modular systems that allowed for this speedy installation time.  Sola have also given us an energy production guarantee on the predetermined amount of energy promised.”

The Cape Quarter PV Solar installation is being monitored through a roof top weather station that feeds results through to an online portal that allows Spire Property Management to check how the system is performing at any time.

Initial results indicate that the solar panels on the roof of the Cape Quarter will allow for an electricity saving of approximately R400 000.00 per annum.  “These figures mean that the solar installation will pay for itself within eight years,” says Penso.  The lifespan of the system is 25 years.

Marc Edwards, CEO of the Tower Property Fund explains that the Cape Quarter has also undergone lighting and other retrofits which will save the centre an impressive R1 million per annum in energy costs for the property.  According to Edwards, there are additional exciting plans on the cards for even greater future energy savings at the Cape Quarter.

“Recent global research has shown that green buildings outperform normal buildings significantly – on average achieving rental premiums of 6%, capital value improvement of 12%, while reducing operating costs by 30%.  Tower has set a clear strategy of occupancy cost reduction across the board for all the buildings within the fund’s portfolio, with a strong focus on ‘greening’, and as the funds flagship building we rolled out this solar retrofit at Cape Quarter first, but this will soon be followed by similar initiatives in other properties within the portfolio,” Edwards concluded.

Source: Cape Business News


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Four innovative African architects bring a new wow to buildings on the continent

Ever heard of a floating African city? Now you have.

African architecture is as diverse as the different cultures and peoples that make up the continent.

Islam and Christianity have produced astounding churches and magnificent mosques. The mix of colonial and modern influences have clashed in the urban environment, in some cities economic or political turmoil resulted in an eclectic clash of styles and little consideration of aesthetic beauty, and in rural areas the local environment was often the driver in the influence of design and structure.

Recently, however, something different has sprouted on the continent. There is a new breed of architect whose work is suffused with social responsibility, and the designs that emanate from them are nothing short of genius.

Their structures created are carefully crafted to fit in with the various demands or pressures of modern day society in Africa.

Here we take a look at a few examples of these extraordinary architects:

Diébédo Francis Kéré

Even though he’s had international success and is based in Berlin, Germany, this hasn’t stopped Burkinabé architect Kéré from making waves back home, in Burkina Faso. Founded in 2005, Kéré Architecture is dedicated to supporting the educational, cultural, and sustainable needs of communities in Burkina Faso through sustainable building practices. Using his formal training as an architect, Kéré has developed strategies for innovative construction by combining traditional Burkinabé building techniques and materials with modern engineering methods.

His projects in Burkina Faso are impressive. In the village of Gando, his birth place, Kéré made a great push for education by constructing schools, along with the help of the local community, and the necessary teacher housing, library and wells to support them.

Image courtesy of Kerearchitecture.com
Image courtesy of Kerearchitecture.com

Each structure was carefully conceived to support the learning environment and be as adaptable as possible to the areas geography. Mud brick walls combined with raised tin roofs use material which is locally available and keep the buildings cool and dry. The school library has a roof with traditional clay pots that have been cut in half and inserted in the ceiling, letting in light and allowing air to circulate.

In June this year the “Surgical Clinic and Health Centre” was opened, serving a population of over 50,000 people from the town of Léo and its surrounding communities. In planning for the most sustainable building solution with least ecological impact, the main construction of the centre is compressed earth bricks.

Image courtesy of Kerearchitecture.com
Image courtesy of Kerearchitecture.com

Their high thermal mass capacity allows them to absorb the cool night air and release it during the day, helping keep the interior spaces cool. The clinic also features ten large overlapping roofs that protect the walls from rain and shade the interiors from the hot daytime sun. The vibrantly-coloured buildings are sited around a central outdoor corridor – a friendly characteristic which is important for the success of the centre, as it attracts patients who would normally not seek medical attention.

Kunlé Adeyemi

Kunlé Adeyemi is a Nigerian architect and urbanist – heavily influenced by the fast-paced urbanisation of African cities. After studying at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, followed by Princeton in the US, Adeyemi founded NLÉ – an architecture and design practice based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

One of his recent projects has focused on his homeland and its fast urbanisation rate. In 2013 Adeyemi completed the “Makoko Floating School”, a prototype floating structure, built for the water community of Makoko, located on the lagoon heart of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. This pilot project took an innovative approach to address the community’s social and physical needs in view of the impact of climate change and a rapidly urbanising context.

Image courtesy of NLE
Image courtesy of NLE

At a cost of less than $7,000 the school accommodates 100 students, uses 256 plastic drums to keep it resting on top of the water, and the frame is constructed from locally-sourced wood. Electricity is provided by solar panels on the roof, and rainwater harvesting helps to keep toilets operational.

Adeyemi has been able to produce an ecologically friendly, alternative building system that could revolutionise Africa’s urban water societies. Now, he is taking the project a step further. He is now looking to expand on his pilot and create a group of floating structures in Makoko, allowing its estimated 250,000 inhabitants better access to sanitation, fresh water and waste disposal.

Image courtesy of NLE
Image courtesy of NLE

Another notable Adeyemi project is the community-built Chicoco radio, in Port Harcourt. The radio station is a floating media platform that provides a voice to 480,000 residents of Port Harcourt’s waterfront slums which line the creeks fringing the city. The governor plans to demolish them all. Not only is the innovative design sustainable and resistant to flooding, but the architecture has also merged with media to become a platform for modern communication and civic participation.

Mick Pearce

Zimbabwean architect Mick Pearce is dedicated to designing low maintenance buildings with low running costs, using renewable energy systems. His aim is to ensure buildings are suited to their natural environment and the people who use them. Over the past 20 years his work has focused heavily on bio-mimicry – an the imitation of natural processes and the use of natural materials.

Image courtesy of MickPearce.com
Image courtesy of MickPearce.com

One of his most famous examples is the Eastgate Centre in Harare. Largely made of concrete, the Eastgate Centre has a ventilation system, which operates similarly to the self-cooling mounds of African termites. Because of its altitude, Harare has a temperate climate and the typical daily temperature swing is 10 to 14 °C, making a passive cooling system a viable alternative to artificial air-conditioning. Passive cooling works by storing heat in the day and venting it at night as temperatures drop. Without relying on conventional air-conditioning or heating the building stays regulated all year round, dramatically reducing energy consumption and the building uses 10% of the energy a conventional building of its size would use.

Tsai Design Studio

Architectural genius is most of the time a combined team effort, on the part of a firm or when two firms come together. It would be impossible to have a list looking at architectural efforts linked to social reform or environmental sustainability without mentioning South Africa’s Tsai design studio. Even though it was established in 2005, this small team of architects has earned a number of design accolades and awards for its architecture and design work – though their community work, re-purposing shipping containers is what stands out.

Image courtesy of Tsai design Studio
Image courtesy of Tsai Design

The studio first became famous for this in 2010 when South African shipping company Safmarine commissioned the studio to develop several designs using recycled containers for community projects. The first Sport Centre prototype was built under a month to coincide with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The centre allowed disadvantaged children and communities to be twinned with a Dutch football club who trained local coaches with football techniques and life skills.

The design included a grandstand seating social area, a sheltering roof and an advertising billboard and movie screen as an extension of the roof structure that folds down vertically at one side. This can be used as a possible source of income for the sports centre or be converted into a movie screen for the children. Since then, the containers have been re-purposed for a variety of other community projects.

One example is “Vissershok primary school”. Sponsored by three South African Companies; Safmarine, Afrisam and Woolworths, “Vissershok primary school” was created. Serving as a classroom in the morning and a school library in the afternoon, the container provides a well planned environment for the pupils. The large roof keeps out direct sunlight and reduces heat while the windows staggered along the sides of the container ensure cross ventilation.

Source: Mail and Guardian Africa

 


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The Role of Infrastructure in a Sustainable Society

Green Business Journal 9 (2013)

By Kristan Wood

“Infrastructure is probably the single most important need for Africa to develop.” These are the words of Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa – a major U.S. business organisation linking the United States with Africa. The development of infrastructure is essential for the creation of a healthy, happy and thriving economic climate in communities. Future endorsements, successes and the enhancement of sustainable development rely on an efficient infrastructure programme within any given country. Particularly in developing countries such as South Africa, the planning, design and construction of sustainable infrastructure is of vital importance – how else are we to connect and grow as a nation?

If infrastructure is to be of benefit to future generations and contribute positively to the potential of a country, it must be sustainable. Infrastructure in South Africa can and should be viewed as an investment into economic growth, and therefore, it is not only the short term provision of infrastructure that holds weight, but it is the planning and designing which will take full account of its own impact and its operational needs and use. A responsible standard of sustainable infrastructure plans and designs needs to be set in both the short and long term and those who set the standard are held liable for designs that benefit not just the public, but the environment as well. What precautions and plans has South Africa proposed in an effort to achieve these aims?

National Infrastructure Plan:

The South African Government adopted a National Infrastructure Plan in 2012. With the plan, the government aim to transform the country’s economic landscape while simultaneously creating significant numbers of new jobs, and strengthening the delivery of basic services. The plan also supports the integration of African economies.

Government will, over the three years from 2013/14, invest R827 billion in building new and upgrading existing infrastructures, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan announced in his 2013 Budget Speech. These investments will improve access by South Africans to healthcare facilities, schools, water, sanitation, housing and electrification. On the other hand, investment in
the construction of ports, roads, railway systems, electricity plants, hospitals, schools and dams will contribute to faster economic growth.

Gordhan delivered a good budget from an infrastructure point of view with budgeted spending for public-sector infrastructure totalling R827 billion over the next three years. But the challenge for the state and South Africa is implementation and delivery on the ground and the huge amounts of the budget that are wasted each year through corruption and chronic implementation.

South Africa has spent R642 billion over the last three years on infrastructure projects in the public sector and a substantial number of projects are in progress or about to get under way. Weaknesses in planning and capacity, however, continue to delay implementation of some projects. But Gordhan said steps were being taken to address the problem: “Government is improving capacity to plan, procure, manage and monitor projects, as well as working more closely with the private sector at various stages of the project development cycle. Building technical capacity in the public sector is a multi-year effort, and initiatives to strengthen these functions have expanded.”

Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development (GDID)

The GDID Green Programme starts from the premise that achieving a green Gauteng is a major challenge, as well as a key opportunity. It is a challenge because it requires a fundamental shift away from historical ways of organising and managing our society and economy. Accelerating climate change; resource constraints and rapidly rising prices; the sudden re-appearance of environmental risks that were previously not accounted for – are all key drivers for change. There are major market opportunities and many decent jobs that can be realised from building a green economy. And fundamental changes in the way we live will bring healthier, happier and more resilient communities and households – something that has huge value evenin isolation.

GDID has embarked on a project to quan- tify the usable roof space in all government owned buildings in the Gauteng province. It is estimated that all government buildings have approximately 8 million square meters of roof tops that could be used for the mass roll-out of solar panels. If all the roof spaces are utilised, up to 300MW of electricity could be generated from public buildings alone. The department also believes that a mass roll-out of solar panels in the province can be used to spark a massive demand for solar PV technologies. Gauteng can utilise this demand to spark the development of a solar manufacturing industry in the province. Experience gained in South Korea indicates that a solar panel manufacturing facility can be built from a demand of approximately 12MW/month and GDID’s potential demand alone could sustain a standard factory for a period of two years. A partnering with Eskom has also been approved to audit and retrofit all government buildings with energy efficient technologies including lighting, air conditioning and water heating.

South Africa’s infrastructure plan sufficiently incorporates an inclusive social agenda. It begins from the premise that
it is not enough to merely select a limited number of economic firms or clusters for targeted green support, but that rather the sustainability of our economy depends on a fundamental transformation in number of sectors. “These cross-cutting sectors include air quality, climate change, economic development, energy, food security, land use, transport, water and sanitation, and waste, which together form the foundation for a true green economy,” reports GDID. “The department’s view is that investing in these sectors will promote economic growth so that green jobs become the norm, rather than add-ons to inherently unsustainable development. This broader shift in its development path will see Gauteng at the forefront of sustainable economic development.”

Green Building Council of South Africa

The Green Building Council of South Africa is an independent, non-profit company that was formed in 2007 to lead the greening of South Africa’s built environment. The Council provides tools, training, knowledge, connections and networks to promote green building practices across the country and seeks to build a national movement that will change the way the world is built.

But what does the concept of green building entail? Green building incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and people. Green buildings are energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible. The green building movement addresses what are becoming the major issues of our time: excess energy consumption and the related CO2 emissions from burning carbon fuels; the pollution of air, water and land; the depletion of natural resources; and the disposal of waste.

Sustainable Infrastructure

It is possible to then deduce that sustainable infrastructure design is not just about incorporating new infrastructure into society – it is about the rehabilitation, reuse and optimisation of existing infrastructure. This includes the renewal of existing infrastructure, the long-term economic analysis and considered benefits of infrastructure, energy and cost mitigation in the building process, the protection of existing infrastructure from the environment as well as the conservation of the environment during material selection and the building process. Sustainable infrastructure and responsible design should balance all social, economic and environmental issues.

In both developed and developing nations globally, a lack of, or compromised access to clean water, sanitation, energy, transportation and various facilities severely compromises the growth of the economy. Basic infrastructure is therefore not a luxury that can be implemented once a country is established, but a necessity for supporting and creating a sustainable economic environment.

The stipulation of appropriate infrastructure is an urgent and ongoing requirement not just for South Africa or Africa, but on a global level.