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Can South Africa embrace renewable energy from the sun?

Source: BBC

Coal is still South Africa’s primary source of electricity, despite the fact that many areas of the country average more than 2,500 hours of sunshine a year.

By contrast, the UK averages just 1,500 hours of annual sunshine – so, for South Africa to make better use of this abundant energy source to generate its own electricity would make a lot of sense.

Over the next decade this energy supply picture could change quite radically.

In June it emerged that South Africa’s state power utility Eskom, Africa’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, is putting forward a $10bn (£7.4bn) plan to close the vast majority of its coal-fired power stations by 2050 and embrace renewable energy.

During the COP26 climate summit, the US, EU, UK, Germany and France pledged $8.5bn over the next five years, to assist South Africa’s big plan to go green.

Eskom’s chief executive André de Ruyter says the COP26 announcement will enable South Africa to meet its “new and ambitious” targets.

But many question whether Eskom is capable of delivering such a huge transformation.

The company is staggering under a $27bn debt burden, which has hampered investment in its already ailing infrastructure. Rolling blackouts, known as “load-shedding”, are a common occurrence across the country.

It is clear something needs to be done. South Africa is the world’s 12th highest emitter of carbon dioxide and the highest emitter in Africa, according to the Global Carbon Atlas.

Even if Eskom decided to stick with coal, the company says it would need more than $20bn to make its ageing coal power plants compliant with South Africa’s current minimum emissions standards.

So, some kind of move to renewables seems inevitable, but industry insiders agree with Mr de Ruyter that his plan is ambitious.

Sharief Harris, head of development at Red Rocket Energy, a private green energy firm says that if there is any hope of transitioning to renewable energy, Eskom first needs to address its failing infrastructure and financial challenges.

Mr Harris also points out that as well as building solar plants and wind farms, Eskom would have to spend more money to connect them to the electricity network.

“Serious upgrades to the electricity grid will be required to connect any capacity to the grid and $10bn will not be sufficient,” he warns.

The power giant has acknowledged that, and recently estimated it would need around $35bn over the next 15 years, to make a successful transition to renewable power.

The hope is that there will be a ripple effect from the initial commitment of $8.5bn from the US and Europe, encouraging future investment from foreign private investors.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s transformation to greener energy might get some help from independent energy firms.

Until recently, restrictions and regulations on private power production hindered the solar industry’s growth in South Africa. But this year regulation changes have allowed commercial power firms to build much bigger power stations – up to 100 megawatts.

Red Rocket currently has two solar plants in operation in Africa and is planning further expansion.

The company also helped build one of Africa’s biggest solar power plants, the 75 megawatt Kathu plant in South Africa’s Northern Cape, which covers 800 hectares (2,000 acres) – it can produce enough electricity for 73,000 homes in the surrounding communities.

But South Africa will need hundreds more solar power plants, if it is to end its reliance on coal.

The switch to solar also faces significant political challenges. In a country with an official unemployment rate of 34%, there are questions over whether a transition to solar will be good or bad for the country’s workforce.

South Africa’s Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, has raised concerns about job losses resulting from the shutdown of multiple coal power plants. He referred to the switch to solar as “economic suicide”.

Eskom has challenged this assumption, and Mr De Ruyter says that rolling-out the solar infrastructure could generate over 300,000 jobs in South Africa.

In an attempt to address these uncertainties, the nations investing in South Africa’s green transition, say a task force will be established to create “green and quality jobs”.

It is hard to compare the jobs generated by solar power versus coal. Coal power stations provide job opportunities throughout the facility’s operational life, while renewable technologies see large numbers of jobs created during the initial construction phase, but require fewer workers once operational.

Yet, a more stable energy supply would benefit the country’s economy as a whole and might encourage more foreign investment, which would be good for employment.

The Solar Green Academy, which has five training centres across South Africa, has already seen an uptick in demand for its courses in anticipation of further investment. The academy provides technical training for people hoping to build a career in the solar energy industry.

Amanda Dzivhani from the Academy says that solar is increasingly important because it has “opened up space for people to create their own job opportunities, or for people to create job opportunities for others”.

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Sustainable Workplaces – A Prerequisite for the Future

By Thirumala Arohi, Senior Vice President and Head of Education, Training & Assessments, Infosys

In the last few decades, there is growing awareness about the dangers of climate change caused by the rising levels of greenhouse gases. As a result, enterprises are including sustainability best practices in their operations. Creating workplaces that meet sustainability goals can go a long way in achieving a carbon-neutral future.

Enterprises at large are contributing to workplace sustainability by ensuring eco-friendly campuses and buildings.  But sustainability can be achieved at a much larger scale when every single contributor to a business’s ecosystem makes sustainability practices a way of life.  This shift in the way we approach sustainability can be defined as workplace sustainability. 

The three pillars of workforce sustainability include the organization, the business eco-system, and most importantly, its people.

Organizations use technology to meet their sustainability goals

Most if not all sustainability changes are driven by technology. For example, in Europe, steel and chemical industries are using smart technology to monitor their energy use and use the data to optimize their production processes. Innovative mobility solutions are being developed for cleaner modes of transport. At Infosys, we have switched over to electric buses for our employee transportation.

Summarizing the role of technology in sustainability, Glickman and Kavanaugh in their book,

` Practical Sustainability’ say, with the explosion of new digital technologies such as big data and machine learning, the scope to solve environmental problems becomes much larger. The book recommends a framework that focuses on building a regenerative future and a circular commerce. It recommends employing technology to understand and contextualize the world through data-driven insights and finally to ensure that the sustainability initiatives are focused on elevating the human experience.

Business Eco-System as a Sustainability Driver

Committed enterprises are actively practising sustainability by extending expectations to their eco-system of customers, vendors, and partners. To take Apple’s example again, it commits to be 100 percent carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030.Technology enterprises such as Infosys have outlined sustainability best practices and tailored learning programs on sustainability for vendors and partners.

Workforce Integral to Sustainability

The central force in sustainability practices is people because technology is only a tool in the hands of people, and when the workforce uses it effectively it results in dramatic changes.

To ensure that workforce sustainability is not just a high-level vision, but a practical approach to business processes, the workforce requires to be trained and made aware of the need for sustainability. This is where the learning department plays a crucial role. 

Why Learning & Development is Crucial to Sustainability

Sustainability should be an integral element of all training – whether it is related to technology skills, professional skills, or leadership development. Every leader in the organization must be trained to imbibe the value of practical sustainability in their daily work and people interaction. The learning department can create campaigns and act as a powerful influencer in driving behavioural change in employees to align better to sustainability practices. Leaders can be trained to act as change managers to lead the shift to new sustainability-centric processes and best practices.

People, be it employees, customers, suppliers, or business partners can play an influential role in making a shift from performance to fulfilment. A change from generic learning to personalized learning can go a long way in helping employees understand the various elements of a sustainable organization. Keeping pace with the work from anytime, anywhere model that the pandemic brought about, the function of learning also has moved beyond the physical classroom to anytime, anywhere hybrid learning which is helping reduce carbon emits.

The learning and development teams are investing in technologies and creating smart eco-systems, making sure that the learning offerings are tailored to each role. The training is to enable employees to spot those areas of improvement or change that they can bring in their jobs to align with the broader organizational goal for sustainability.

For example, a well-trained engineer will learn how to optimize and reduce the number of lines of code to reduce power wastage required to run longer processes. Operations teams could learn how to leverage or reuse existing assets rather than build new assets. Designers and developers could create sustainability solutions using AR, VR, and digital twins that reduces the use of scarce physical resources.

The learning and development function can also champion and implement knowledge management practices in an organization. We are doing it at Infosys by identifying internal best-practices and creating micro or nano learnings out of them. Creating a knowledge eco-system can encourage employees to share and learn from colleagues on new ways of being more eco-friendly.

Organizations must provide learning and development not just to employees but all the stakeholders who have a role to play that impacts the environment. At Infosys, we have created the Infosys Wingspan, which is a versatile cloud-based learning solution that helps us provide training to our employees, suppliers, and partners. This helps spread the sustainability best practices among our clients too.

Digital transformation has enabled democratization of technology, where employees have access to IT systems to create new solutions and drive values. Their actions influence the environment. With learning and development, employees can be more aware of their responsibilities towards the organization and the world at large.

In the future, it isn’t the largest or the fastest organizations that will succeed, it will be those who are continuously adapting to change that will be able to thrive and contribute to a sustainable world.

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Is now the perfect time to install a heat pump?

With homeowners increasingly looking for new ways to minimise their energy use and lower utility bills, we spoke with Jordan Brompton, co-founder and CMO of myenergi, to discuss whether or not heat pumps are the answer.

At a time of volatile energy prices and deepened environmental awareness, keeping a close eye on clever ways to maximise energy efficiency has become essential. Domestic solar panels have historically been the go-to energy-saving technology of choice, but in recent years the popularity of heat pumps have soared.

Offering numerous advantages and high availability, both air- and ground-source heat pumps provide a low-carbon alternative to more traditional heating solutions. Across Europe, there are now 19.3 million heat pumps installed,[1] with figures rising 11% year-on-year – driven, in part, by increasing policy support and incentives.[2]

It comes as disappointing reading, therefore, that the UK is falling far behind many of its European neighbours. Around 55,000 heat pumps were sold in the UK in 2022 – that’s fewer installations than 21 other countries in Europe, such as Norway, where two thirds of all homes are fitted with heat pumps.

But while the picture may seem bleak, change is coming. Indeed, in a bid to accelerate heat pump adoption to 600,000 installations per year by 2028[3], the UK government recently increased the grants available for both air- and ground-source heat pumps installations to £7,500[4] – presenting homeowners with the perfect excuse to finally take the plunge.

But what exactly is a heat pump, and how can it contribute to both energy savings and a lower carbon footprint?

A quick guide to heat pumps

Heat pumps are flexible climate-control devices that function as both heating and cooling units, dependent on the ambient temperature. Unlike traditional heating and cooling systems, such as gas boilers or air conditioning, heat pumps have the function of two-way heat transfer, with the ability to direct heat energy between indoor and outdoor environments. This allows for more effective and consistent temperature control with greater energy efficiency than many heating systems.

Heat pumps work by circulating refrigerant through a cycle of evaporation and condensation. On hot summer days, heat is removed from the house and transferred to the outside air, whereas during the cold winter, the little heat available is taken from the chilly air outside (good heat pumps still work in ambient temperatures of around -15°C) and transferred into the home. This cycle makes heat pumps extremely effective at regulating indoor temperatures year-round.

A big advantage of heat pumps is their passive nature, meaning they are much more efficient than their traditional counterparts. The end result is a noticeably cheaper energy bill and around a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions when compared to a gas boiler – a highly attractive solution for domestic temperature control.

But as efficient as modern heat pumps are, they still need electricity to run. This reliance on mains electricity can possibly be seen as counterintuitive when looking to curb carbon emissions, but fortunately there’s a solution.

Eco-smart home solutions are key

As home energy and heating technologies evolve, we’re seeing a growing demand for tech which synchronises devices that generate, store, and use electricity, as well as smart home devices that offer a simple way to make home energy systems greater than the sum of their parts.[EW1] 

Innovative power diverter technologies, such as myenergi’s eddi, are proving hugely popular with homeowners, and the best ones one the market are even compatible with both air- and ground-source heat pumps.

Rather than exporting surplus self-generated electricity back to the grid, a good power diverter redirects energy to a designated heating appliance, such as a heat pump or an immersion heater, to other devices, or into energy storage if heating and cooling are not needed at that time. They can even be configured to send energy to multiple heating appliances in sequence, automatically switching between them to provide the greatest energy efficiency.

While it’s not a necessity for households to utilise solar PV to power their heat pumps, for households with both technologies, a power diverter from a trusted manufacturer is invaluable. When PV is generating low volumes, such as on a cloudy day, the tech can automatically ‘trickle charge’ energy to heat water when their water heater is inactive – offsetting the need for power from the grid. Once panels reach a higher load, power can be diverted directly to the heat pump. With the ability to make intelligent decisions every second, the best power diverters can help homeowners maximise the value of their self-generated renewables.

The future of domestic heating

As we continue to target net zero and cut bills, innovative energy technologies like heat pumps will be crucial. Not only do they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they also help slash rising energy costs while delivering year-round temperature control. When integrated with technologies like solar power and eco-smart devices, homeowners can boost efficiency from their self-generated renewables, maximising energy savings while minimising their carbon footprint.





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Green Energy Legislation – How Your Business Can Keep Up

Britain’s commitment to its net zero targets has been called into jeopardy in recent weeks. Internal divisions within the Conservative party have seen Rishi Sunak look to weaken some of the nation’s commitments to reaching net zero emissions.

However, evidence shows that customers remain more environmentally conscious than ever. A Deloitte survey found that 35% of UK adults were more likely to trust a business with a transparent, accountable and socially and environmentally responsible supply chain.

So, what can your business do to maintain or grow its sustainability credentials whilst staying in line with green and traditional legislation?

Why operating sustainably is more important than ever

In spite of the Conservative party’s stance on the nation’s net zero targets, strong green credentials remain crucial for businesses to appeal to an increasingly eco-conscious public. 29% of UK adults are likely to prioritise a business with a strong public perception, record and reputation around climate change and sustainability over a business without.

It’s not just B2C businesses that have grounds to be concerned. UK companies operating internationally should also be watching the situation closely. The new proposal threatens to undermine UK investment from abroad and weaken our international standing with clients and business partners alike, leaving business leaders furious and investors ‘spooked’.

The EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism came into play in October 2023, creating a further divergence between the UK and Europe’s green legislation. EU companies are now responsible for compiling reports on the carbon emissions attached to certain goods, such as steel, aluminium and fertilisers.

So, though the British government may be content with relaxing our net zero commitments, UK businesses operating in Europe cannot be. The onus has been placed upon UK businesses to increase their sustainability credentials or risk being left behind.

Interrogate your operating practices

Companies looking to operate more sustainably are often faced with the initial challenge of identifying exactly where and how the company can become greener. Modern software solutions, however, are making this simpler.

Products such as Microsoft’s Sustainability Manager have given businesses the tools to interrogate their own working practices, acting as a hub for data intelligence from across the organisation. Allowing business owners to precisely calculate the sources of their emissions, this tool enables organisations to record, report and actively reduce their environmental impact.

This level of visibility is a huge benefit to businesses operating in a range of different countries. Even before the Prime Minister’s latest comments, concerns persisted about the UK’s failure to align its sustainability rules with the EU and US.

With the implementation of the EU green tax, international alignment of your business’s green policies is more important than ever. Sustainability Manager allows total visibility over emissions in an international supply chain, allowing your company to strengthen its foothold in the green economy.

Maximise your impact with collaboration – safely

This month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) released new guidance to help businesses better understand how they can collaborate to meet sustainability goals without falling foul of competition law. The Green Agreements Guidance explains how competition law applies to sustainability agreements between firms operating at the same level of the supply chain.

Such examples might include farmers aiming to improve or protect biodiversity by reducing usage of pesticides, or fashion companies agreeing to stop using certain fabrics that contribute to microplastic pollution.

The impact that multiple businesses can have on the environment outranks that of a single business in isolation, so collaboration can be a strong route to improve sustainability practices – but it’s important to do so legally. The CMA has adopted an ‘open-door policy’ regarding business collaboration in the name of sustainability, so be sure to consult them before carrying out a project like this.’

Avoid greenwashing – or pay the price

There’s no substitute for real, meaningful change. Given the importance of sustainability to the consumer, some less scrupulous businesses have been caught out by greenwashing – using unproven environmental assertions to sell products or enhance their public perception.

Earlier in 2023, the CMA were given new powers to impose direct civil penalties on companies who have been making misleading environmental claims. Your business could face fines of up to 10% of global turnover for breaches of consumer law in this manner – so any claims related to your business’s sustainability credentials must be thoroughly investigated before going public.

Support the sustainability push with external funding

In many cases, making your business more sustainable is an endeavour which requires significant operational change – and implementing such change can be a costly investment. Businesses should not be afraid of utilising external facilities like green loans or bonds to realise these changes.

Green loans and bonds are subject to an international standard known as the Green Loan Principles, which ensure the transparency of your borrowing and the environmental impact of your changes. This can protect your business against accusations of greenwashing and keep you focused on the task at hand.

Global green finance increased tenfold between 2012 and 2022, indicating just how many businesses are utilising external funding to become more sustainable. Don’t be afraid to explore your options – improving your sustainability credentials could be more achievable than expected.

Charlotte Enright, Head of Renewables at Anglo Scottish, commented: “In light of these changes to the UK’s renewable commitments, it can be difficult for UK businesses to keep informed on their responsibilities. That’s why it’s more important than ever for these companies to be proactive and drive change from within.”

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