By Karl van Eck, Regional General Manager Africa at Johnson Controls Global Energy Solutions
29 November 2011
Improving sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of properties has become an important issue over the last few years, particularly within the commercial sector, due to a combination of social and economic pressures. Internationally, laws around carbon emissions are driving businesses to become more environmentally friendly or risk facing large financial penalties, and this combined with the ever increasing cost of energy using fossil fuels is accelerating progress towards creating and maintaining greener, more efficient buildings and properties. There are many ways of doing this, including looking towards alternative renewable energy sources and the far easier option of simply incorporating a few changes that can improve energy efficiency and significantly reduce energy consumption.
In South Africa, while we currently do not have any legal requirements around carbon emissions and reducing carbon footprint, this is likely to come into effect in the near future. With the national energy provider having to hike up the cost of electricity due to supply and demand challenges, organisations and property owners in South Africa are following the international trend of reducing one's carbon footprint and are beginning to examine renewable energy technology as an alternate source in order to improve sustainability and drive down costs.
Renewable energy technology itself has evolved dramatically over the years, and while it currently remains an expensive option due to lengthy return on investment (ROI) times, as fossil fuel energy costs rise and technology matures it is becoming an increasingly viable option, particularly for new property developments.
Solar energy is a real possibility for South Africa, given the amount of sunlight experienced throughout the year and the large number of buildings that have the potential to be efficient solar collectors due to their large roof footprints. Solar geysers are also becoming increasingly common, replacing one of the most energy-hungry devices in both commercial and residential properties.
Wind power is another renewable energy technology that can be used to good effect in the country, as wind turbines can either be connected into the grid or used to charge batteries and supply electrical energy to buildings that are not connected to the grid.
There are many more renewable energy technologies, such as landfill gas power, hydroelectric power, biomass energy which creates renewable energy from plant and animal waste and geothermal energy, as well as options for reuse and recycling such as grey water irrigation systems, all of which can be used to decrease the carbon footprint of properties. However, while these technologies are available now, the cost of implementing them has proved prohibitive in the majority of cases. The major driver behind the move towards renewable energy will always be financial, and until these solutions become more viable in terms of payback times and return on investment they remain out of reach for the majority of property owners.
While renewable energy technology may not currently be financially viable, the first step in reducing carbon emissions should always be to reduce and optimise current energy usage.
Working with a consultancy to audit energy usage and examine areas where improvements can be made now and in the future is vital for reducing carbon footprints, meeting carbon reduction targets and ultimately preparing buildings to take advantage of renewable energy sources in the future.
The reality is that wasteful energy consumption will further hamper the feasibility of adopting green power, so becoming more energy efficient now will not only lower energy costs, it will pave the way for renewable energy sources to be harnessed. Making buildings more efficient now, which in many cases is financially viable, will ensure that they can take advantage of renewable technology in the future and harness the benefits of reduced energy usage now, including lower utility costs.
Green properties that use renewable energy to generate power and reduce carbon footprints are a vision for the future and are something that people and organisations are working towards due to economic, social and environmental pressures.
Johnson Controls is a global diversified technology and industrial leader serving customers in more than 150 countries. Their 162,000 employees create quality products, services and solutions to optimize energy and operational efficiencies of buildings; lead-acid automotive batteries and advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles; and interior systems for automobiles. Their commitment to sustainability dates back to their roots in 1885, with the invention of the first electric room thermostat. Through growth strategies and by increasing market share Johnson Controls are committed to delivering value to shareholders and making their customers successful. In 2011, Corporate Responsibility Magazine recognized Johnson Controls as the #1 company in its annual "100 Best Corporate Citizens" list.