Off the Grid Looking Good for SA Homes and Businesses

wind turbineWhile South Africa has been rather behind in the development of alternative energy sources, it looks like we are finally catching up in a real way.

At last there are companies producing small wind turbines suitable for domestic use, which could be the solution for families wanting to go off-grid, or at least generate a substantial part of their own energy needs.

With the abundance of wind in our local climates, a wind turbine can produce enough energy to power a home, especially if it has back up from solar power when it comes to water heating.

One company, Psiclone Renewable Energy Solutions has produced two types of domestic wind turbine – one to be used completely off-grid, which has a battery for storing excess power produced; the other version ties into the grid, enabling excess energy to be returned to the grid.

Though much of this is developed with rural areas in mind, some models are compact enough to be mounted on the roof in urban situations. Combine your own clean energy source with other energy saving solutions like LED lighting and energy efficient appliances and you could be well on the way to a carbon neutral way of living.

As with many alternative energy solutions the draw-back is the initial cost of instalment; however if you add up your monthly energy bills and consider that all your future energy will be free, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to discover that the installation costs will have paid for themselves in about two years or so. Plus you will have a clean, sustainable energy source to weather future power outages, price hikes and all the doom and gloom predictions of power shortages.

Now it’s just a question of whether you can handle all your friends and neighbours descending on you every time there’s a power outage in the future!

Christmas Cards – Can they be Green?

Christmas cards

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Are Christmas cards just a chore for you that you’d be happy to dispense with? Or do you love the ritual of catching up with old friends once a year and sharing the latest annual family photo?

Christmas cards are still a firmly rooted tradition for many but are they ever really green?

Several friends have sent out their Christmas cards by e-mail, which is probably the greenest option – no paper used, no postage, no carbon footprint for getting it delivered to your door. But for some this is a cop-out – how can that e-mail pic of the kids in their Santa hats, however cute, ever make it to the display of Christmas cards on the mantelpiece or hanging from the ribbon on the wall? Only if the recipient prints it out themselves… and then it is no longer carbon neutral! While I actually like the immediacy of e-mailing cards – nothing better for the last minute Christmas panic catch-up – some people just don’t feel that they are proper.

Other green options include making your own Christmas cards from recycled paper, packaging, found items, such as leaves and pressed flowers and so on. Hand-delivering can save on postage and help with the green profile, unless you are driving several miles just to deliver it, of course.

What about if the hand-made look just isn’t you, but you still want something unique and individual? It’s well worth looking out for specialist printers with a green ethos, if you like a more formal or sleeker design of card. You can either design your own card, or provide some images and have it designed for you. Ask for recycled paper, check that they use earth-friendly, vegetable based inks and have your own green Christmas cards printed especially for you.

If you are trying to keep costs down, think laterally – why not design yourself a business card size Christmas greeting, so that you can take advantage of special rates in litho printing. Or a postcard size – this will save on postage and envelopes too.

One tip to keep postage costs down – design your cards to fit the standard envelope size. International postage costs far less in this size than it does when you move one size up.

So if you are weighing up tradition versus green living when it comes to Christmas cards you can find an acceptable balance… except now with a countdown of just over a week till Christmas it may be too late to send out the traditional printed and posted Christmas card, this year anyway… e-mail cards here I come!

Live Christmas Trees

live christmas trees

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If you are about to go out and buy your Christmas tree, think twice about buying a cut tree that will barely last through the festive season in South Africa’s hot Christmas weather.

Buying a live tree, that you can plant out in the garden when Christmas is over, is definitely a green alternative. Some people have one that they plant out and dig up year after year successfully.

But why not go one step further along the alternative tree route? Does your Christmas tree even have to be a traditional pine or spruce? Why not buy a large indigenous tree in a container, ready for planting out in your garden in the New Year, one that will take a permanent place in your garden.

While not all indigenous trees can take the strain of being loaded down with Christmas ornaments and sparkling lights, some of them are sturdy enough to consider, especially if you go for a more stylish and minimal style of decoration!

An important thing to consider if you are going for a live Christmas tree – it will need watering regularly over the Christmas period to keep it healthy enough to plant out later. Make sure that you position a drip tray under its pot so that your pile of presents doesn’t get sodden before Christmas Day!

Another issue in the winter rainfall area of South Africa is that mid-summer isn’t really an ideal planting out time for large trees. Your Christmas tree will need lots of TLC after Christmas, with regular watering to help it adjust and settle in through the hot weather. Consult your large tree nursery to get advice on how to make this work for you.

With all that said however, there is something lovely about choosing a  Christmas tree that makes a positive contribution to the environment and isn’t just a seasonal throwaway. Enjoy your green Christmas!