Consol Solar Jars

Consol solar JarI first saw these fun solar lamps on urban sprout. I thought it was a great idea but then promptly forgot all about them.

A little while later my sister-in-law returned from the Design Indaba in Cape Town with one for us as a present, saying it was the best thing she saw there.

So last night in addition to our usual candle at supper we had the glow of our very own solar jar. It came already charged, so I haven’t had time to assess how long the light lasts for on an average solar charge, but last night at least it shone surprisingly brightly for several hours.

The jar is now charging outside on the grass – it’s a lovely sunny day so hopefully it should reach its maximum charge to shine again tonight. A great idea, only depending for maximum efficiency on us remembering to put it outside to charge.

Solar jar lampEdited to add: Two days later it has been recharged outside and is still shining brightly for as long as we need it every evening. The ‘boys’ took it apart and approved of its construction, sturdy batteries and LED light bulbs, so altogether we think it is great value for money. And pretty cool too!

Buy solar jars online direct from Consol’s Solar Jar website if you want to try them out for yourself. Or they are available from the Consol retail outlets in Stellenbosch and Woodmead, Gauteng.

Beat the Heat Without Air Con

cool airWhen summer temperatures soar, the air con companies rub their hands with glee, as people rush to buy something, anything, to keep themselves cool and sane in the heat.

Before you join the throng, think about the costs involved, not just to your pocket but also to the environment. Air con isn’t only an initial outlay but will also push up your electricity bills considerably and make your carbon footprint a whole lot heavier.

So first try some of these tips to stay cool without raising your electricity bills this summer.

Open windows strategically.
The cool of early morning and late evening is the time to throw open every single window and let the cooler air flow through your home. As soon as the sun burns off that morning cool, close all the windows up tight again, shade sunny windows with blinds and hang on to that cool air as long as you can. Train family members to close doors too in the middle of the day and your home will stay cooler for longer naturally. As soon as evening cools down throw everything open once more. It’s worth getting up before the sun, just to enjoy that early morning freshness and flood your home with the precious cool air.

Use fans
A ceiling fan does use electricity it’s true, but far less than air con. The gentle breeze helps cool you down and helps air flow in the home. Get clever with standing fans too. Try hanging a dampened muslin cloth over the front of one, for a breeze cooled further by water droplets.

Do your baking at night
Having your oven on during the day is bound to warm up your house unbearably on hot summer days. Any baking that needs doing can be done in the evening with doors wide open for the heat to escape. For the same reason use other heat producing appliances at night: dishwashers give off quite a bit of heat as they dry. You probably don’t need your tumble dryer in the summer anyway, with clothes drying on the line in no time, but if you are still using it out of habit, switch to line-drying for the duration of the summer heat, saving electricity and keeping cool.

Switch to LED light bulbs
In small rooms the heat given off by incandescent light bulbs can be considerable over the course of a day. Switch to LED light bulbs which are much cooler and use a fraction of the electricity.

Plant your garden for shade
Shade the sunny side of your house with trees planted cleverly. Notice where the sun comes from in summer and compare it to where it comes from in winter. You want the winter sunshine to reach the house for warmth, so get the right angle to block summer sun and allow winter sun through. Plant deciduous trees which will be in full leaf in summer, so nice and shady, but lose their leaves in winter to let in more light and warmth when it is needed. This is a longer term solution, as trees do take time to grow, but for quicker results buy mature large trees from a specialist nursery. Not only will you save energy in cooling the house but your tree will lighten your carbon footprint too.

Switch to iced tea and coffee
Make yourself a supply of iced tea or coffee and stash it in the fridge. Not only will this save boiling the kettle (more heat and electricity) but it will keep you feeling cooler to sip at iced drinks instead of hot ones.

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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!

Drive Green, Save Fuel, Plant Trees

drive green save fuel

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Going green is about changing your mindset, so that everything you do is geared towards minimizing your carbon footprint. We try, but there are some areas where it’s hard to live the green ideal. Driving is one of our biggest Achilles heels.

So it was great to see this article on saving fuel by changing your driving habits. I already do several of the things advised on the list, but there are points where I could do better – checking the tyres for one! With the price of petrol constantly on the rise, anything we can do to cut consumption has to be good, not just for the environment but also for our pockets.

Living on a farm you’d think would be a very green way of living, and in many ways it is. We can grow our own vegetables, compost much of our waste and so on. But when it comes down to transport it is the opposite of green – distances are further for schools, shopping and face to face meetings. This is when it starts to seem like a greener choice to live in a town or city…There is little or no public transport in rural areas, it’s too far to walk or bicycle to the nearest town… so until  the solar powered car becomes a reality, we just have to ease our consciences by combining trips, sharing lifts and planting trees to try and offset our carbon footprint.

But now I have something else on my eco-conscience – a planned family reunion that involves flying halfway across the world with our children. How many large trees are we going to have to plant to make up for that I wonder?!

Who’s Saving Energy with LED Lighting in Cape Town?

I’ve just been checking out LED lighting in Cape Town and was delighted to discover that some of our favourite Cape Town places to visit are getting serious about going green – not just in a token recycle-a-few-plastic-bags way either. Top of the list is the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, closely followed by Fairview, the makers of delectable cheeses and wines and another new discovery is luxury guest house Parkers Cottage.

Two Oceans Aquarium wind turbineThe Two Oceans Aquarium have recently won recognition of its sustainability efforts from the Heritage Environmental management Company: it’s efforts include a wind turbine cleverly installed at its entrance, solar panels to power its administration block and LED lighting in all its ablution facilities. It has also designed a solar outreach van to take its exhibits to disadvantaged schools in the area – the van isn’t fuelled by the solar energy (one day!) but the solar panels power all the electricity needs of the mobile aquariums keeping all the fish alive, saving on all the electricity previously used to charge batteries to run the systems.

Fairview Cheese Factory are getting sustainable with solar panels installed on the roof, an economiser to  reduce energy used in heating water and many other energy measures. I’m not sure if LED lighting is included in their list, but I’m sure it is being implemented as it certainly makes sense in their overall plan to become carbon neutral.

Last but not least is Parkers Cottage in Tamboersklooof, central Cape Town, who have set out to prove that luxury and heritage historical properties can be eco-friendly and sustainable. Their grand plan aims at being off-grid by 2015, and while not without a few hiccups and trial and error in some stages of the plan, such as the photovoltaic panels,  they are hugely pleased with the success of their LED lighting sourced from CandelaLED, which is already making savings in the electricity bills.

I’m sure that there are plenty more wonderful places in and around Cape Town that are going green and using sustainable LED lighting, so tell me about any that you know of know in the comments, so I can add them to my list.

LED Light Bulbs – Research Before You Buy

LED light bulbLED light bulbs are moving into the main stream now – anyone looking for energy saving light bulbs for the home, can now choose between CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) which used to be the only alternative to the old incandescent bulbs, and LEDs, the new kids on the block.

LEDs have plenty of advantages – they use much less energy even than CFLs, 30-50%more efficient; they last a whole lot longer, up to 50,000 hours as opposed to 10,000 hours, ten years of more of average use; they are far less fragile, being a solid lighting system – no delicate filaments or glass to shatter when the cat sends the lamp flying.

With regard to the cat disasters – we’ve found that the CFLs that we switched over to several years ago almost never have the life span they advertise. If the cat doesn’t knock over the lamp, scattering shards of glass and fragmenrts of mercury under the fett of kids and animals alike, then the all too frequent power surges or power outages put paid to several light bulbs each time – CFLs just don’t like extremes of temperature or being switched off and on too much. LEDs apparently are much more resilient.

The main disadvantage of LED lighting, now that the light quality is every bit as good, and often better than, CFLs, is price. LEDs still cost considerably more than CFLs. Even though LEDs work out to be the cheapest option long term, once you work out their life span and energy savings, it is still quite an initial expense to equip a whole house with LEDs. So the answer is to do your research before you buy.

While prices are coming down, it doesn’t work just to buy the cheapest brand from a supermarket shelf. As with any new technology there are cheaper, lower quality versions that don’t live up to the LED promise, and which are sure to disappoint. You need to inform yourself about the quality brands of LEDs first of all. In South Africa, some of the reliable brands available are CREE, Edison, Bridgelux and Epistar.

Next work out your requirements – do you need overhead dangling light bulbs, or spotlights, reading lamps or tube lighting. You will need to read the labels attentively to get an idea of light output, whether it is omni-directional or focussed light, warm or cool temperature.  Check out this article written by a journalist trying out LEDs in his own home. The brand names available are different in SA but the choice is about as wide.

Next compare prices among the better quality brands. You will probably find they vary a lot, so find a specialist supplier that stocks the top brands at a reasonable price. Bargain basement is not a good idea when you are shopping for a product that you hope will last you 10 years or more.

One of the most reasonably priced suppliers of LED lighting in Cape Town that we’ve found is CandelaLED – they source direct from the manufacturers so are able to supply their LED  light bulbs and general lighting at an affordable price. Because they specialise in LED they can also advise on the best product for each lighting situation.

And while replacing every light bulb in the house with LEDs is probably beyond the budget of the average householder, there’s no reason why you can’t commit to buying ,say, one or two LED light bulbs per month and gradually introducing a more sustainable lighting system in your home. That’s our plan at least!

Green Cheese – Fairview Doing its Bit for the Environment

Fairview goatsSolar panels may not be the answer for every energy application, but they sure do make a difference, especially in a sunny country like South Africa.

I was really happy to read that my favourite wine farm and cheese making establishment – Fairview – is just installing a flotilla of solar panels in its cheese-making factory. They need huge amounts of hot water in the process to turn out their delicious goats and cows milk cheeses. The fuel used to heat the water will be reduced by two thirds once the solar panels are up and running –still not quite carbon neutral but a huge improvement.

A big thumbs up to Fairview and here’s hoping that more businesses will follow their lead!

Energy Efficient Lighting – LEDs, CFLs or halogens?

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If you’re confused by the latest developments in the energy efficient light bulb field, check out this article just published in the New York Times. In Almost Time to Change the Bulb, the writer, pen name The Pragmatist, examines what all the new lighting terminology means and then goes shopping for a variety of the latest energy efficient light bulbs to test in his home.

It’s very readable with plenty of humour and some user-friendly advice for anyone else about to embark on the great switch over.

LED’s score well for overhead and directional lighting, while he finds that some of the new halogens, though less energy-efficient, provide a better diffuse light . CFLs are also on his recommended list for some applications.

Of course all the brands mentioned in the article relate to the U.S., so if you are looking for more specific advice on the latest LED lighting technology available in South Africa, check out Candela LED, who have a good range of top quality brands.

Remember too that LED technology is developing rapidly, so we should see more advances in lighting quality and versatility,  as well as a gradual reduction in price over the next while.

LED lights are the new green

Those cute curly light bulbs are no longer on the green shopping list. CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) are no longer the cutting edge of energy-saving technology. The new lighting kid on the scene is the LED. OK so LED lighting technology has been around for a while, but mostly in smaller lighting situations, such as the on/off light on the TV or, more recently, long-lasting, pin-point flashlights.

The good news is that advances in LED technology means it can now be used in the home and office to replace all the old style tubes and light bulbs. More good news is that LED lighting is very energy-efficient, long-lasting and reliable. The only bad news is that it’s still more expensive to purchase initially than conventional old-style lighting.

So is it worth making the change?
Let’s look at how LED light bulbs compare with CFLs and you can decide for yourself

1. LED lights use 30-50% less energy than CFLs. This results in huge energy savings over their life-time and they end up paying for themselves in saved electricity costs in less than two years.

2. LED light bulbs last far longer than CFLs. They are less prone to burn out in hot or cold temperatures and last up to 50,000 hours, as opposed the less than 10,000 hours of CFLs.

3. LED’s are a solid light source and so are far more durable than CFLs, many of which never reach their optimum lifespan because of breakages.

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4. CFL’s contain mercury which is extremely toxic. When they break in the home this substance is dangerous to anyone who comes into contact with it. When disposed on in landfills the mercury remains toxic in the environment. While LEDs still need to be properly disposed of, as they do contain some heavy metals, they do not contain mercury. And because they last so much longer than CFLs there will be far fewer of them to be disposed of.

5. The quality of light in new technology LED’s is far better than most CFL’s and there is a wide range of colours and warmths to choose from.

With LED’s, as with most good things, you get what you pay for. There are many cheaper copies which won’t live up to the promises in terms of lifespan and energy saving. It is much better to invest in the best quality and latest technology that you can afford, from a reputable company, which will last you for many years, than to cut costs and end up with a lesser product. Look for established companies that specialise in LED products, such as Candela LED in South Africa, and get their advice on the best products to suit your needs.