About John Gartner

John Gartner

John Gartner is a writer and analyst, and has been covering computer, internet, green transportation, alternative energy, clean technology and corporate sustainability for over 20 years, working in both editorial and reporter roles across a broad number of magazines, blogs and websites.

Prior to Matter Network, John started Wired.com’s Autopia auto blog in 2005, and worked as an editor and writer at Wired News, TechTV, TechWeb, and Windows Magazine. He has also written for numerous other publications including Inc.com, Environment News Service, REVENUE Magazine and MIT Technology Review. John is also a contributing blogger to Marketing Shift, a well renowned blog on marketing and branding trends.

Latest Posts by John Gartner

Cradle of Mankind’s Grave Implications

April 18, 2010 by  


Friday afternoon’s stop on the South African endless bus/plane tour was in the area humbly named “The Cradle of Mankind.” Sterkfontein Caves in Gauteng’s fossilized remains are to paleontologists as Hollywood is to the paparazzi — a seemingly endless supply of somewhat human-looking beings to be examined from every angle.

The caves, are rich in hominid fossils (more than 700) because of a confluence of “lucky” circumstances. “People” and animals either recently or about to be dead were washed or fell into a series of deep holes. Then, limestone leaked into the holes, and fossilized the remains of the day for millennia, according to researcher Dominic Stratford who led our tour through the dark and dusty caves. He believes that the abundance of human and animal bones may come from the tendency of leopards to store their kills in trees that might have hung over the hole.

One of the most famous finds at Sterkfontein is Little Foot, a pre-human whose skeleton was nearly completely (97 percent) found.

Stratford regaled us with an interesting theory of how eating more meat may have helped us to walk erect. According to Stratford, hominids began switching from eating nuts and wild grasses to eating more protein, including other hominids who may have been killed by prey or by each other. This may have also been because of a gene mutation that caused smaller jaws. Stratford says chewing protein such as meat requires smaller jaw muscles that stretch to the base of the skull, so there’s more room for a larger brain. Larger brains helped with developing tools that moved us gradually out of the stone age. So take that granola-lovers, if it weren’t for munching on recently departed cousins, we might still be knuckledraggers!

Anthropology and paleontology were never presented in a way this interesting when I was in school.

Fidelis Signs 207MW Supply Agreement with South African Solar Firm

March 17, 2010 by  


Fidelis Energy Inc. (FDEI.PK) signed a long-term solar module agreement to supply 207 MW of solar modules to TinSol Energy (pty) Ltd. (TSEL) of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

TSEL plans to use the modules in the development and build-out of several solar parks in Africa.

Fidelis will begin shipments against this contract during 1Q11. Product will ship from Fidelis’s Chinese manufacturing plant, which is scheduled to come online during 4Q10.

This is the first multi-hundred megawatt deal for Fidelis. CEO James Poole said additional agreements are in the works.

Fidelis Energy announced up to $80 million of new financing in February 2010, for the purpose of expanding its photovoltaic manufacturing capacity. Fidelis plans to expand its annual manufacturing capacity by approximately 150 MW in each of the next several years.

Fidelis owns a unique patent pending solar cell technology based on photovoltaic cells with integral light-transmitting wave guides in a ceramic sleeve. Fidelis says the advantage of this technology is the efficiency of less exposed surface area being required to generate electricity. The light-transmitting particles act as wave guides and allow the sun-exposed conversion area of the solar cell to be shifted readily from horizontal to vertical to capture more sunlight. The ceramic sleeve eliminates the need for expensive vacuum chambers, thereby allowing less expensive materials to be used in solar cell production.

Competitors’ processes that use vacuum chambers (instead of a ceramic sleeve) generally don’t allow for material substitution because of contamination issues. Fidelis says its technology will also allow manufacturers to quickly and economically shift to new materials if a shortage of any one type of material occurs.

Website: www.fidelisenergyinc.com

Reprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com

Solar Water Heaters to Green South Africa

November 25, 2009 by  


After recently having a domestic hot water geyser fail and investigating the potential of replacing it with a solar unit, I definitely saw the need for something different to advance the penetration of solar water heating in South Africa. While replacing my electric geyser costs R 5,500, an equivalent solar installation costs around R 25,000. Eskom, the state electricity generator, provides a subsidy of around R 3,000 and indicates a payback period is 5 to 8 years.

So why would one buy a solar water heater system? why not switch the electric geyser off periodically to save carbon, shower less or even put it on a timer?

Government’s Response

This type of reaction and the lack of impact of Eskom’s subsidy system, seems to be what has driven the South African Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs (DME) to develop a South African Solar Water Heating Strategy and Implementation Plan. The plan aims to install one million solar water heaters by 2014, achieve a 50% penetration of SWHs in the residential sector by 2020 and create jobs through the establishment of new manufacturing capacity.

This strategy is being finalised and will be presented to the minister on 4 December 2009. However, the draft strategy presented at the public participation meeting on 5 November has apparently been accepted and represents what will be presented to the minister.

National SWH Entity

As we have come to expect in South Africa the first focus of the plan is the creation of a National SWH Entity, under the Public Finance Management Act. Its role would be to implement the strategy, facilitate funding and “orchestrate” delivery to the unserviced residential market sectors.

It will have the right to obtain and allocate revenue from carbon offsets, demand-side management (DSM) and other revenue streams to achieve the national SWH plan.

The key aims of the entity are to ensure affordability by procuring low-cost quality systems through bulk buying and large contracts, to obtain and manage funding, to rigorously manage the supply chain, to manage the disciplined deployment of numerous subcontractors, to protect consumer rights and to be accountable to government, funding bodies and consumers.

Is the Devil In the Detail?

The entity would be self sustaining with individual programmes ensuring that costs are covered by a subsidy plus a customer contribution. Prices will be ‘stepped’ from the highest level for upper-income homes to the lowest level for poor households.

The entity would not rely on direct support from Treasury, although some of the funding could be indirect such as that recently announced by the Department of Environmental Affairs, namely a $500-million ‘infusion’ through the Clean Technology Fund.

DME notes that neither the business model nor the funding have been finalised. This is rather concerning because the implementation schedule calls for manufacturing tenders covering implementation, marketing, sourcing, installations, maintenance, financing to go out in April 2010..

The other concern is that although the creation of a manufacturing industry is listed as a benefit in the strategy there is no sign in the plan of how this will be achieved.

Although the overall objective and approach are easy to support there seems to be a lack of detail which might scupper the attainment of the goal. Will this be another case, like the biofuels strategy, where the goal and principles are talked about but little movement towards the goal achieved.

Image by Dave ‘Coconuts’ Kleinschmidt on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Reprinted with permission from Ecoworldly

Gold in the Sky

October 26, 2009 by  


By Edward Milford, Contributor

Johannesburg, the scene of the 29th bi-annual ISES (International Solar Energy Society) Solar World Congress held from 11th-14th October 2009, is the only major international city that is not founded on a coast or that does not have a river running through it. It sits out in the middle of the high veld in South Africa, its location entirely based on the gold discovered under the earth.

There was also a welcome for the announcement the day before the Congress opened of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Clinton Climate Initiative and the South African Ministry of Energy for support to examine the establishment of a 5000-MW Solar Park.

The massive spoil heaps dotted around the city from mainly disused mines, and the ownership of the largest buildings in the city centre, are signs of the historic and continuing importance of mining to the economy. They are also very visible evidence of the way the availability of natural resources can shape a city and its financial systems.

“We need to learn to harness the gold in the sky, not just dig it from under the ground” were the evocative words of conference Chair John Adams at the opening session, alluding to a fairly constant theme of the conference; why does the continent with the best solar resource in the world make least use of it? What needs to be done to make its use more widespread?

Many of the global energy issues are present in the small country of South Africa; it has a predominantly fossil-fuel powered electricity system, with many of its wealthier citizens enjoying high energy-consumption lifestyles while millions of others have little or no access to any form of electricity. The issue of power is intensely political; demand has been growing fast, resulting in load-shedding and vociferous complaints from many customers.

Both industry and those without power at all are clamoring for more. At the same time, the massive CO2 emissions from its largely coal-fired generation put the country under the spotlight. As Richard Worthington from the local branch of WWF pointed out in one of his presentations, one new coal-fired power station in South Africa would emit more CO2 annually than the combined emissions of the twenty, lowest-emitting African countries.

Electricity in South Africa means Eskom, the incumbent utility (and generous lead sponsor for the Solar World Congress), responsible for both generation and distribution. It owns over 40 GW of generating capacity, making it on its own reckoning one of the top 10 utilities in the world.

It faces intense pressure from many different directions; on the final day of the Congress, the national press were full of Eskom’s application to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa to raise the price of electricity to consumers by 45% a year for the next three years, taking it from its current level of 33 c kWh (about 4.5 cents US) to 99 c kWh (about 13.5 cents US). Eskom sees this as necessary to fund a capacity expansion program, but even rises on this scale will leave it 30 billion Rand short of the capital it is forecast to need.

South Africa is home to some very energy-intensive industry. Remarkably, over 65% of the energy it generates is used in industry, and this is reflected in its customer base. Barry MacColl from Eskom observed that the top 135 customers account for 40% of total energy consumption; the largest 80,000 account for 75% of demand and the remaining 8 million use the final 25%. The larger customers, all industrial concerns, will not be affected by the rate rises, as they negotiate their own contracts.

The planned Eskom rate rises do include an allowance for some CSP (concentrating solar power), and a lively discussion forum at the Congress agreed that the potential for this was significant. There was concern that the competing technologies might not all get a fair chance and many of the commentators from the floor argued against Eskom being in a position where it tried to pick a technology winner.

There was also recognition both that CSP could provide significant numbers of local jobs (it was claimed 80% of the costs needed to be based in South African Rand to protect against currency fluctuations) and that there was scope – as David Jarrett from NamPower, the Namibian utility, agreed – for significant regional development and initiatives. For MacColl again, another key issue will be to diversify the supply; if carbon taxes arrive (another issue under discussion) Eskom would be hit hard, with a tax of 200 Rand (US $27.40) per tonne of CO2 effectively wiping out Eskom’s turnover.

South Africa is also finalizing its feed-in tariff, and many of the speakers in other sessions believe that this could prove to be a very important catalyst to the development not only of CSP, but more widespread uptake of PV, and some significant utility-scale wind development. Again, Eskom’s role could be crucial as the company serves as network operator and distributor, and often arbiter of what can and can’t happen. Many are arguing for a greater role for Independent Power Producers, and this is high on the political energy agenda.

For some of the householders visiting the exhibition, the simple answer to ‘what brings you to a solar event?’ was ‘Eskom’. There was a lot of interest in solar water heating – not surprisingly perhaps given that electrical water heating accounts for over 43% of domestic electricity consumption.

There is plenty of awareness of the bigger picture. Much of the discussion at the Congress looked forward to the COP 15 meeting in Denmark at the end of this year. The conference approved a text to send to delegates at the COP meeting, which stressed that ‘rapid transition to a renewable energy world is the key to climate recovery’.

The COP 15 text reaffirmed ISES’s willingness to work with partner organizations, including the newly formed International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), whose interim Director General Helene Pelosse spoke via video at the opening ceremony. She reminded delegates of the need to reduce the barriers to wider deployment of renewable energy by addressing the expertise gap, the human capital gap and the financing gap.

5000 MW of Solar for South Africa

There was also a welcome for the announcement the day before the Congress opened of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Clinton Climate Initiative and the South African Ministry of Energy for support to examine the establishment of a 5000-MW Solar Park. A feasibility study is being commissioned, and the Ministry explicitly expects this to include ‘significant solar generation by different Independent Power Producers’.

One of several impassioned speakers was Harry Lehmann from the Federal Environment Agency of Germany. He stressed the need for the goal of 100% renewable energy. As he pointed out, nobody doubts that we will need to achieve this in a few decades, so why, he asked, are we considering such side roads as nuclear power and clean coal, when we can head straight to the necessary target. This theme was also then picked up in the final congress resolution which stated firmly that ‘the global target of 100 percent renewable energies is both attainable and necessary by the middle of the current century’ while also noting that ‘the unacceptable backlog in energy supply in the third world countries can only be covered cost effectively and in time by the use of renewable energies’.

Maybe the gold from the sky can be harnessed after all.

Edward Milford is currently the Chairman of Earthscan, and a former publisher of Renewable Energy World magazine.

Reprinted with permission from Renewable Energy World

South Africa Softens Tone on Climate Change

September 23, 2009 by  


(Reuters) – South Africa appears to have softened its stance on carbon emissions, saying on Wednesday it would support cuts to prevent global warming.

The apparent change comes against the backdrop of international meetings designed to set targets to cut harmful emissions, and that have pitted poorer nations against Western countries on how best this could be achieved beyond 2012.

South Africa, which relies largely on coal-fired power stations, said earlier this month it would not agree to any emission-cutting targets if it hurt economic growth.

President Jacob Zuma, who urged that a “just and equitable” settlement be reached at December’s climate change talks in Copenhagen, is currently at a U.N.-backed climate summit where negotiations are centered on the role of developing nations can play with developed nations to reduce emissions.

“On global warming, cabinet would like to correct the wrong impression that had been created that South Africa was opposed to targets being set on global warming,” cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko told journalists.

“The correct position is as follows: South Africa was not in favor of supporting targets that are imposed by developed nations on developing nations to reduce carbon emissions,” he said.

South Africa, often commended for being most active among developing countries in fighting climate change, set a target to cap emissions by 2020-25, and to reduce them by mid-century.

China laid out a plan to curb emissions by 2020 as U.S. President Barack Obama called on all countries to act now to tackle global warming.

Maseko said South Africa, in its first recession in 17 years, would take responsible and measurable action to reduce the country’s future emissions.

He said the country, which has embarked on a new multi-billion coal-power station building program to meet rising electricity demand, has already approved energy and long-term climate mitigation policies.

“South Africa’s strategic framework is based on the fact that our emissions are to peak between 2020-2025, stabilize for a decade, before declining in absolute terms toward the mid-century,” Maseko said.

Reprinted with permission from Reuters

Mobility Hubs to Help Reshape Urban Transit

September 17, 2009 by  


In Cape Town, South Africa, as well as in many U.S. cities, wealthy suburban dwellers choke roads driving into the city, eschewing the public transit that shuttles blue collar workers. The addition of bus and rail lines in the city’s center in anticipation of hosting the 2010 World Cup has city leaders increasing efforts to get people out of their cars and on to public transit.

In Cape Town, most white collar workers drive themselves to work, fearing crime on trains and on the 20-seat shared taxis that shuttle one-third of inner city commuters. Business leaders from the Cape Town Partnership, along with the University of Michigan and Ford, are working with the city’s largest employers to get more of the 400,000 daily commuters moving by alternative modes of transportation by establishing mobility hubs.

The mobility hubs will enable people to seamlessly switch between transportation modes, including getting off of trains and private cars and on to buses, green taxis, and bikes. These transfer points with heavy commuter populations will provide information to show the locations of the best transportation options for reaching their final destinations.

“The (transportation) grids are not aligned,” says Susan, Zielinski Managing Director of the Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation (SMART) initiative at the University of Michigan, and a consultant on the project. Zielinski says commuters don’t have the ability to synchronize their traveling between buses and trains, and many don’t know that services like car shares and bike rentals exist.

The Cape Town project, which has involved 200 people from the public and private sectors, will identify 4-5 hubs that are critical transfer points with a bounty of commuters. The hubs will include signs to aid people getting around, and the city wants to add bike rental programs and car share programs nearby to encourage reduced-carbon commuting.

A proposal has been drafted to provide communications through a website to kiosks and mobile phones that would provide all forms of transit schedules and traffic information. Zielinski envisions creating a single payment system via a debit card for taking public transit and renting cars or bikes by the hour.

The problems of too many cars and underutilization of public transit are common across the globe, and Zielinski says the knowledge gained from Cape Town could be applied in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Atlanta or Los Angeles.

Ford, which has provided funding for the Cape Town project, as well as others in Bangalore and Salvador, Brazil, believes it can play a role in solving the IT and logistics challenges in better organizing urban commuting. David Berdish, Ford’s Manager of Sustainable Business Development, says the company will apply its experience in logistics in moving vehicles and freight to urban mobility.

Ford is using the pilot projects to understand the business opportunities and see where it can play, because “cars aren’t always the answer,” according to Berdish. Ford’s SYNCH technology could potentially play a role in sharing mobility information between vehicles and the built environment.

Ford will gather information from the projects about traffic patterns, the concentration of commuters, and where they change cars for other forms of transportation. Berdish says that “NYC has a lot more in common with Bangalore than it does with Wyoming,” when it comes to urban transit.

The Cape Town project leaders are working with some of the city’s largest employers to create group transportation solutions. One of the options is to provide security guards on trains and to escort workers on a “walking bus” to their office that would address safety concerns. “It’s totally out of the box thinking for business people in South Africa to take public transport to work,” says Claire Janisch, of the Cape Town Business Partnership. So far employers Investec, Woolworth’s, Nebank and BP have expressed interest in changing commuting behaviors for workers who live in the suburbs, she says.

The Partnership is developing a website to provide information about the various transport options, many of which have been recently added in preparation of the World Cup. But it has been slow going to get funding from the city or federal government for the SWITCH website. “Cape Town is called the mother city because it takes nine months to deliver,” says Janisch.

Urban mobility presents a unique opportunity that crosscuts IT and automotive industries, and that’s why Ford, IBM, Cisco and others are eyeing the space. As vehicle ownership per capita stabilizes or even goes down in North America, auto companies need new methods to remain relevant. Urban mobility projects can also minimize the congestion from introducing more vehicles to emerging metropolis by keeping the cars out of high trafficked areas. It may be a bit out of Ford’s comfort zone, but learning urban transit so that you can assume a new role is much smarter than thinking that the world of transportation isn’t changing.

Andrew Russell, who runs Rikki’s green taxi service in Cape Town, says the first meeting about mobility hubs took place in 2007. Russell, whose company runs a taxi service for students who stay out late (aka the “Drunk Bus”) sees public transport as an effective means for reducing congestion and carbon emissions.

The project team is also recommending other ways to reduce carbon emissions, including encouraging employers to put bicycle lockers in their buildings, and to use video conferencing instead of flying to meetings. “White collar workers cause 90 percent of the (transit) problems,” says Russell.

John Gartner is the editor in chief of Matter Network and an Industry Analyst at Pike Research

Developing Nations’ Carbon Conundrum

December 18, 2008 by  


World leaders have reached consensus on the need to go on a carbon diet to combat climate change, and most are acting to reduce their respective greenhouse gas emissions. Global emissions are expected to continue to rise, however, with much of the net increase coming from developing nations that are not subject to the landmark Kyoto Protocol agreement.

While G-8 nations may want developing countries to follow their lead in pledging to cut emissions within the next decade, the distinctive energy environments in South Africa and other growing nations make it much more challenging to make similar commitments.

Like its developing counterparts of China and India, South Africa, from where I recently returned after a 10-day tour, wants a first world standard of living, and therefore a first-class power grid that encompasses the entire nation. Unlike the U.S.’ patchwork of utilities, South Africa has one major utility, Eskom, that is wholly-owned by the government.

You might think that having a single entity providing more than 95 percent of its power would make it easy for a nation to transition to renewable power and to introduce energy-efficient technologies. However, the economics of cheap energy from coal, a lack of competition, and government inaction are impeding South Africa’s desire to cut carbon emissions.

Eskom is expanding service to many of South Africa’s rural communities that have little to no power for homes. According to a 2006 ">report by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, 41.9 percent of South African households were “unelectrified” in 2001.

The utility is having trouble meeting existing demand, which has been increasing by approximately 3 percent per year. Providing power to new customers, many which are great distances from the coal-rich areas where power is produced, requires not only more coal power plants, but also significant investments in transmission infrastructure to reach them.

In January 2008, Eskom resorted to rolling blackouts because it could not produce enough power. “We effectively shut down the South African economy because of concerns about a national blackout,” said Steve Lennon, Eskom’s managing director of corporate services.

Keeping the power on and affordable for the industries that are driving South Africa’s surging economy — gold, diamond, and platinum mining, telecommunications and auto manufacturing — is a federal priority, even if it means further tapping into the nation’s abundant coal reserves. To meet the expected demand, Eskom is building additional coal power plants and bringing shuttered plants back online.

More than 90 percent of South Africa’s electricity comes from coal, and that energy mix (which includes one nuclear power plant) is highly unlikely to change anytime soon. The country has among the cheapest energy in the world, with customers paying about one-fifth as much as those in developed nations, and the government has no intention of derailing the country’s hard fought economic progress by substantially raising the cost of power.

However, keeping the price low, and therefore limiting Eskom’s revenue stream, means there’s less money to invest in clean energy projects.

Even with the rapid advancements in energy efficiency and recent mass production of wind and solar power components, renewables can’t come close to competing with coal’s average price of 2 cents per kilowatt hour, according to Lennon.

Only a hefty carbon tax could help to tilt the playing field towards clean energy. The South African government is taking its first steps in that direction, as Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk announced a “small” carbon tax this summer that would likely begin in early 2009 and increase in size over time.

The South African government is also expected to pass feed-in tariff legislation in 2009 that would pay producers of renewable energy an incentive for delivering power to the grid. While Eskom will receive wind and solar power from these “independent power producers,” the company is not likely to develop its own wind or solar farms in the immediate future, according to Lennon. He does not believe in subsidies, saying that clean power needs to “stand on its own two feet” and only be undertaken when it is cost-competitive with coal power. Lennon expects several years of lag between when the feed-in tariffs are passed and when any renewable resources go online.

First Steps Towards Improving Sustainability

Because of South Africa’s continued industrialization and expansion of residential electrification, Eskom expects to double power production by 2025, which because of the country’s use of coal, makes a reduction in carbon emissions impossible. After that time, Eskom, which is among the top 20 entities in greenhouse gas emissions, expects to slowly start reducing emissions, according to environmental manager Dave Lucas. For now the focus is on reducing demand and the carbon intensity of electricity generation, he said.

However, South Africa has a relatively modest carbon footprint compared to developed nations, according to data from the United Nations. The country ranks 41st in the world in per capita CO2 emissions, with less than half (9.19 metric tons per year) the output of the U.S. However, its reliance on coal for both electricity and transportation (through coal to liquids fuel that powers a majority of vehicles) places the country well ahead of China (91st) and India (133rd).

Eskom, which has more than 500 people working in its climate change group, is working to clean up its coal operations and to change customer behavior to be more energy efficient. Lucas said the company can shave off about 3000 megawatts of demand by 2011 by working with customers.

Instead of preemptory climate change tactics that would begin to reduce emissions by phasing in renewable energy, Eskom and the government are focusing on “long term mitigation strategies” to prepare for the anticipated fluctuations in temperature and water availability in areas that are often starved of precipitation.

While richer nations are aggressively building renewable energy plants despite the higher cost, in South Africa, the coal economy will likely give way to a nuclear era, according to Lucas. As cheap coal reserves dwindle in future years, Eskom anticipates expanding its nuclear power program as a “carbon-free” alternative. Eskom recently put on hold plans to build a nuclear reactor because of the global financial situation, but that is expected to be a short term delay.

Barry Macoll, Eskom’s technology manager, said his personal opinion is that the country will be powered “by coal for the next 50 years, then by nuclear for 50 years, and then switch to renewables.”

Therefore, with Eskom and the South African government’s philosophy of maintaining cheap electricity rates and the need for clean power to be cost-competitive, it is not surprising that Eskom has no wind or solar plants delivering electricity to the national grid. Its functioning renewable power assets are limited to hydro-power plants, which currently provide less than 2 percent of its overall electricity.

Eskom is taking its first steps towards a goal of building up to 1,600 MW of renewable power by 2025. South Africa currently has just two small wind farms — an Eskom pilot plant of three wind turbines totaling 3 MW in Klipheuvel in the Western Cape, and a privately run 5 MW wind farm in Darling.

However, ample wind resources are available to South Africa. A 2003 study concluded that up to 5,000 MW of wind energy could be added to the national grid, and rural and small off-grid wind farms could add up to another 27,000 MW of power.

Eskom is currently studying the feasibility of installing a pilot 100 MW concentrating solar power (CSP) plant in the Northern Cape Province. The company is preparing an environmental impact study for the plant, which would use a series of heliostat mirrors to focus solar energy on a central tower, which transfers the heat to molten salt that is used to create steam to power a turbine. The CSP plant could be in operation by 2012.

Another as yet untapped renewable resource in South Africa is geothermal power. Lennon said Eskom has not yet “seriously looked at it.”

Eskom is more likely to reduce its carbon footprint by increasing the energy efficiency of its coal power operation. The company is hopeful that by burning coal where it lies underground it can cut CO2 emissions by up to 30 percent. Eskom’s Lennon said the underground coal gasification technology (UCG) “can revolutionize the way we produce energy around the world.”

The UCG process sets fire to coal seams, and uses the escaping gas to power a turbine and produce electricity. This also saves money because it eliminates the steps of mining the coal, bringing it to the surface, and then crushing it before burning it to produce power. Another benefit of UCG is that the fly ash resulting from the burning would also be kept underground, reducing the overall environmental impact.

UCG technology has been tested elsewhere, but Eskom engineers are “perfecting the process,” according to Lennon. Safety studies are still underway, but Lennon said the fires can quickly be put out by controlling the flow of oxygen. If all goes well, the plan is to begin an initial UCG project in the city of Majuba with a 1,200 MW capacity.

Going Forward

While action on climate change within the country may be limited so far, both the South African government and Eskom profess urgency in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this month government minister van Schalkwy urged world leaders to proceed with combating climate change despite the global financial crisis. Eskom’s 2008 annual report highlights the need for reducing carbon emissions, and outlines the plan for gradually reducing the amount of emissions relative to energy output during the next two decades.

Eskom also acknowledges that it has work to do to become a sustainable organization. An independent study of corporate sustainability for 2008 found that Eskom failed in all four areas of evaluation (technical, economic, environmental, and social) with the scores falling across the board relative to 2007.

South Africa may have good intentions for becoming more sustainable as it modernizes, but the internal economic forces and a lack of impetus to immediately embrace renewables indicates there will be no significant shift in energy policy in the coming years. Developed nations shouldn’t expect South Africa to reduce its carbon footprint, unless they provide significant financial resources (such as investing in wind and solar IPP projects), or unless they can exert sufficient international political pressure.

Read more about South Africa

Leaving Footprints in South Africa

December 11, 2008 by  


I’ve just returned from spending ten days touring South Africa as one of nine U.S. bloggers who were brought in to write about the experience.

While the country certainly left an impression on us, we left a LeBron James-sized footprint on the world. I was invited to write about the plight of South Africa as it tries to be more sustainable, and it feels a bit hypocritical to have contributed so much in carbon emissions in the process.

The flights — including back and forth to Johannesburg, plus one commercial and two charter flights within the country total and three rides in a helicopter — total about 25,000 miles logged.

And then there were the bus rides — about 30 in all to hotels, restaurants and various travel destinations — for another 1,200 miles of road travel. By my rough calculations using TerraPass’ carbon calculator, that’s about 4 tons of carbon emissions for each of us, not including the impact of the energy burned in preparing the wonderful buffets and staying in hotels that are out of my normal travel budget.

Al Gore has been slammed for jetting around the world and preaching about climate change, and I expect some of you might also think our excursion was not worth the energy expended. But I hope that trying to enlighten myself and the world about how South Africa is striving for sustainability will get people thinking and eventually offset my travels.

We were exposed to a rich, proud and diverse culture, as you can see in my photo gallery, as well as in the pictures from my fellow bloggers. South Africa wants to become a first world nation, but with AIDS, poverty, and an economy based on the mining of natural resources, that won’t be easy.

In case you missed it, here’s what I wrote during my travels, with more analysis to come:

Following South Africa’s Past

Finding Diamonds in Rough Seas

South Africa Has Joule of An EV

Cradle of Mankind’s Grave Lesson

Game on at Plumari Conservation Reserve

Project Runway

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