Beyond oil: fuel for the future

Date: Oct 5, 2012 | News


​​​​​In 1974, Jimmy Carter stood before the National Press Club to announce his candidacy for the US presidency. As part of his announcement speech, he said: “We are grossly wasting our energy resources and other precious raw materials as though their supply was infinite,” adding that global nations need to face the prospect of changing their ways of life. ​

 

Published by IT Web: 3 Oct 2012​​​

“This change will either be made on our own initiative, in a planned and rational way, or forced on us with chaos and suffering by the inexorable laws of nature.” Two years later, he was elected the 39th president of the US.

Today, Carter’s comments are as relevant as they were more than 30 years ago, because global consumption of energy continues to increase, despite desperately constrained supply.

“Energy has emerged as arguably one of the world’s most urgent and far-reaching issues. It holds the key not only to the long-term health of the global economy, but also the global environment,” says HP’s environmental manager for Africa, Ruben Janse van Rensburg. “When discussing macro-economic and environmental issues, such as climate change or the depletion of resources, in many ways, they’re all rooted in energy.”

As the debate surrounding fracking in the Karoo rages on, and the South African government looks to import coal from Botswana, big business and IT leaders in SA are increasingly acknowledging that something different needs to be done.

Why is this important?

It is estimated that the IT industry contributes as much as 3% to global carbon dioxide emissions, a figure that is rising as more mobile devices go online. “If you can eliminate wasteful practices in any IT organisation, ultimately, you are going to be delivering a more sustainable offering,” says sustainableIT director Tim James.

He adds that, with government’s plans to implement a carbon tax in the 2013/14 tax year, it is in the best interest of businesses to be thinking about energy efficiency and sustainability. And James is practising what he preaches, as sustainableIT was recently named the first local IT organisation to achieve carbon neutrality within its business operations. According to James, many businesses view sustainability only from a cost-to-company perspective, failing to consider the long-term financial value of running a sustainable operation.

Janse van Rensburg agrees, adding that, with over a billion people using HP products each day, this gives the brand incredible scope to educate a large group of customers about environmental issues.

“By applying the full weight of our advantages to advance environmental sustainability, HP can uniquely help the world transform how it lives, works and connects.”

For Janse van Rensburg, the IT industry needs to develop more efficient, lower-impact alternatives to costly, carbon-intensive processes and technologies. “Greening with IT has the potential to fundamentally change how we live and work by replacing current processes that use a lot of energy with entirely new ones that have less environmental impact.”

Green office spaces

The roof of Vodacom’s Century City building will soon boast Africa’s largest array of solar panels. Come October, almost 2 000 mono-crystalline solar panels will span the building’s 3 600 square metre roof and, once completed, the panels are expected to supply 75% of the power required for everyday operations. Annually, the solar panels will save around 830.1MWh worth of electricity, which is equivalent to the amount of energy required to charge 70 million cellphones over the period of a year.

In order to have a true impact on society and the planet, Vodacom aims to do all that it can to build a business that is philosophically focused on being sustainable, says Suraya Hamdulay, executive head of Corporate Citizenship at Vodacom.

“While return on investment is only expected in the next five to seven years, we don’t think of projects such as these in only monetary terms. The impact on the environment and being seen as leaders in South Africa in sustainable practices is just as important as return on investment,” Hamdulay says.

Vodacom recognises the implications of climate change and the energy crisis, and that is why the brand decided to reduce its carbon emissions and to develop products and services that will enable customers to do the same, Hamdulay adds.

But Vodacom is not only greening its building in Cape Town; the brand’s Midrand home is the greenest building in Africa and has a six-star green rating due to its water and energy efficiency. These initiatives form part of Vodacom’s plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 5% each year.

Absa has also implemented strategies to reduce the electricity used during its operations. Absa Towers West, in the Johannesburg CBD, is largely run by an energy centre, which houses a 13MW gas energy plant producing clean energy using natural gas. The architecture of the building promotes natural light and boasts occupancy sensors and energy-efficient air-conditioning to reduce energy consumption.

“Absa wanted to create a business environment for employees, customers and their stakeholders aligning with the Absa Sustainability strategy,” says Jon Couret, head of Africa Corporate Real Estate Services at Absa. According to Couret, by not using coal-generated electricity, Absa Towers West has reduced the bank’s carbon dioxide emissions by 37 000 tons. In addition, the building houses SA’s largest grey water recycling system.

“Living and demonstrating sustainability by being a good corporate citizen is imperative for all businesses if they want to compete in the modern, resource-constrained reality,” Couret says.

As consumers become more environment-conscious, companies must make sustainability a part of their brands and cultures if they want future customers, Hamdulay says. “Done correctly, operational excellence produces a win-win situation – the environment benefits and costs are reduced.”

Backing green ideas

For Samsung, the corporate responsibility discussed above came in the form of signing the 49M pledge. Endorsed by government and various business partners, 49M is an Eskom initiative that urges all 49 million South Africans to change the way they use energy, and in doing so, reduce their energy consumption. Samsung is the first South African consumer electronics brand to take the pledge.

“The 49M pledge speaks to encouraging a national culture of energy saving for a sustainable future – which is in direct correlation to our global business principles,” says Michelle Potgieter, Samsung SA’s head of marketing and corporate communications.

In 2004, the consumer electronics brand established the Eco-Design Assessment system to manage each product’s compliance with environmental criteria based on energy efficiency and the use of eco-friendly materials. Since then, Samsung has set a global goal to ensure that 100% of its products exceed these criteria and also to reduce average energy consumption of its products by 40%.

To do so, Samsung aims to increase the local availability of solar-powered netbooks and energy-efficient products within its LED TV and lighting business, as well as its digital appliances and digital air solution categories, says Potgieter. “It is this innovation, coupled with our pledge to 49M, that we believe will impact the way consumers think about energy efficiency, and through this, we hope to see a change among South African consumers when it comes to power saving and energy efficiency.”

Solar challenge

Coupled with carbon taxes and the 49M initiative, the South African government is rolling out the Independent Power Producer Programme, which aims to generate 17 800MW of clean energy by 2030. Siemens is a supporter of this programme and will be a key partner in ensuring that SA makes inroads towards becoming a carbon-free country, says Siemens corporate communications manager Hulisani Nemaxwi.

In addition, Siemens is looking to further skills development in the renewable energy space, and as a result, is backing a team of University of Johannesburg (UJ) students who are currently participating in the 2012 Sasol Solar Challenge. The Solar Challenge is a 5 000km race across the country undertaken in a solar-powered vehicle.

“With this sponsorship, we aim to ensure that our people have the right skills and expertise that is needed in order to maintain environmentally friendly technologies. This is our commitment to empowering the people in order to power their country,” Nemaxwi says.

For Nemaxwi, the purpose of the Solar Challenge sponsorship is twofold – to demonstrate Siemens’ dedication to renewable energy, and to raise awareness around eco-friendly technologies.

“As a global leader in environmental technologies, Siemens, along with other major South African companies like Eskom and MTN, is proud to be supporting the team of students from UJ in this exciting project to help promote innovation and engineering excellence in South Africa’s renewable energy market,” says Siegmar Proebstl, CEO of Siemens Africa.

Alternative innovation

Film director and alternative fuel activist, Josh Tickell is a passionate believer in sustainably produced biofuels. In his award-winning documentary, titled “Fuel”, Tickell documents how to make biofuels sustainable by producing them from a seemingly unusual source: algae.

The original source of global oil reserves, algae is described as a wonder product of sorts by the film, as it requires minimal land to farm in, and even produces oxygen.​

“For too long, technology has languished inside of what is basically an environmental complaint. If we pull it out of that framework and we let people know that this (energy) is the highest technology industry, it is where the economy is headed, and it involves everything from interconnecting houses to grids of fibre-optic networks to redesigning batteries.

“Everybody from the university level up to producers, to information and technology companies, wants to be involved in that conversation. We have no lack of science, information or technology. It’s just a matter of waking up to the possibilities,” said Tickell in an interview with Popular Mechanics.

General Electric (GE) is exploring these possibilities. “GE is invested heavily in sustainable energy. The bulk of what we do is about making things more efficient,” says Daniel Coetzee, GE’s GM of Intelligent Platforms for the Middle East and Africa.

“The technology is available; it’s about how innovative you want to be.” GE has done extensive work on waste to energy projects, one of which is located in KwaZulu-Natal. The multimillion-rand energy project utilises methane gas from a Durban landfill to generate electricity. The project was introduced in 2007 and serves as a renewable energy reference project, providing much-needed electricity to the municipal grid.

Ecomagination is GE’s commitment to develop and build innovative technological solutions to today’s environmental challenges while driving economic growth. “Everyone is talking about green technology, but at GE, we didn’t want to make empty promises, so we have outlined various criteria that we are required to meet in order to measure the success of our efforts. Corporate social responsibility is not enough. You have to come up with something different,” says Coetzee. “Just because it’s the latest technology does not mean it has to be dirty; in fact, being the latest technology, there is even more reason for it to be clean and sustainable.”

According to figures from the US Energy Information Administration, between 2007 and 2035, global energy consumption will grow by nearly 50% and carbon dioxide emissions will increase 43%. Energy supply will be constrained, prices will skyrocket, and industry will suffer.

“Technology is the key to meeting the unprecedented opportunities that will allow for a global shift towards sustainability,” Janse van Rensburg says. “Technology enables more efficient processes and systems and deepens insight and guides smarter decision-making, enabling everyone from individuals to enterprises to entire industries to save energy, reduce waste and conserve resources.”

Ultimately, the cost of developing these technologies is high, but few can deny that the cost of doing nothing may be even greater.

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