Solar Powered Desalination Plant Brings Relief To Muni

Image: Stock

By: Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl

South Africa is set to commission its first solar powered desalination plant at the end of October 2018 in Witsand, Hessequa Municipality in the Western Cape.

The project, initiated by Prof Erwin Schwella, Professor of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch and Tilburg Universities together with the municipality, is co-funded by the Western Cape Government through the drought relief fund, and by the French Treasury, through a fund dedicated to the implementation of innovative green technologies.

In this municipality 250km east of drought-stricken Cape Town, several coastal villages are suffering from a structural water deficit, even outside of drought periods.

The plant will produce 100kl of fresh water per day powered solely by solar energy to address the normal local water requirement. The plant offers the possibility to supply drinking water besides sunlight hours through the connection to the local electricity grid.

The desalination plant will be specifically used to address the December holiday peak period with a daily production capacity increased to 300kl.

Zero Emissions for Desalination Plant

The technology, OSMOSUN, is developed by French-based Mascara Renewable Water and brought to South Africa by their local partner TWS-Turnkey Water Solutions. It is the world’s first reverse osmosis desalination technology coupled with photovoltaic solar energy without batteries, designed to supply coastal or borehole-dependent communities, with drinking water at a competitive price and without CO2 emissions.

An intelligent system of membranes enables the plant to cope with variations in solar power availability: all parameters are instantly optimised to ensure the best energy performance and simultaneously to guarantee the maximum lifetime of both installation and membranes.

Hessequa municipality’s Executive Mayor, Grant Riddles, said: “The shortage of water in the Western Cape is a harsh reality and only by implementing preventative measures, Hessequa municipality will be able to create water resource stability in our region.

“The Municipality is utilising innovative ideas in combating the effects of climate change, by taking the frontrunner approach in establishing public-private intergovernmental relationships and joint ventures. These partnerships will ensure a green economy that aims at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”

The project not only constitutes a highly innovative model in terms of Franco-South African cooperation, but its sustainable and decentralised production of drinkable water could be replicated in a highly cost-effective manner for communities along the South African coastline, as well as inland, anywhere with sufficient brackish water available.


‘Green’ Concrete Could Be Game-Changer For Construction Industry

Microscopic flakes of graphene add strength and durability — but also raise cost and safety concerns.


By: Kate Baggaley

Adding graphene to concrete makes it stronger and greenerDimitar Dimov (University of Exeter and Cast)

Scientists have been tinkering with concrete in an effort to improve upon the world’s most widely used construction material — and they’ve notched some notable successes.

New forms of concrete can trap and store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, break down pollutants from exhaust fumes, and help protect aging infrastructure by sealing cracks as they form. And now scientists in the U.K. have developed a “green” concrete that they say is more environmentally friendly than the ordinary stuff, as well as more durable and more than twice as strong.

“We were not expecting it to be that strong,” said Prof. Monica Craciun, a professor of nanoengineering at the University of Exeter and a member of the research team responsible for the new material. She called the material an “absolute game-changer” in a written statement and said a university-affiliated startup to sell it could be launched by year-end — although other experts gave a more measured assessment of the material’s immediate commercial potential.

The new form of concrete looks like ordinary concrete but gets its special properties from the addition of microscopic flakes of graphene, a form of carbon that is one of the world’s strongest materials. Greater strength means less of the stuff would be needed to construct walls and other structures. That’s significant since making cement — concrete’s principal ingredient — accounts for 5 percent of global emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

And if walls and other components of buildings can be made thinner, new design possibilities open up for architects and builders who work with concrete.

Craciun said the concrete-graphene composite is four times more resistant to water infiltration than ordinary concrete — suggesting that buildings and infrastructure made of it might stand up better over time, especially in flood zones. The composite material is also more elastic than ordinary concrete, meaning it might be a better choice for construction projects in areas prone to earthquakes.

And as a better conductor of electricity than its conventional counterpart, the composite material might find surprising new applications. Craciun envisions roadways whose surfaces could be electrified so they heat up to melt snow and ice.

Dr. Franz-Josef Ulm, faculty director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT, thinks walls made of electrically conductive concrete could serve as batteries to store electrical energy captured by solar panels. “Concrete is everywhere in your wall systems and floors,” he said. “Why not use that as an active battery?”

But Ulm expressed doubts about the commercial viability of the concrete-graphene composite, predicting that because of the high cost of graphene it was more of a “concept material” than one that would soon come to market.

Dr. Rackel San Nicolas, a civil engineer at the University of Melbourne in Australia and an expert on advanced construction materials, echoed Ulm’s assessment. “I don’t believe it is something that is ready to go right now,” she said of the new material in an email to NBC News MACH. Additional research is needed, she said, including studies to determine whether the tiny graphene particles would pose any health or environmental risks.


Kings County Farmer Has Largest Private Solar Panel Array in Maritimes

By: Ian Fairclough

Greg Gerrits and hs son James stand in front of solar panels on the family farm near Canning. The 100 kilowatt system is the largest private system in the Maritimes. IAN FAIRCLOUGH • THE CHRONICLE HERALD – The Chronicle Herald

ATLANTA, Kings County — As a farmer, one would expect Greg Gerrits to enjoys seeing the sun. It’s important to the growth of his crops atElmridge Farm, after all.

But the sun also — if it cooperates — provides power for the third-generation family farm in Atlanta, near Canning.

Last fall, Gerrits finished installation of a 100-kilowatt solar energy system which produces enough electricity to cover almost all the farm’s needs. There are no batteries, with the power going right to the grid through a meter. If the farm produces more power than it uses in a year, it gets a credit.

It’s the largest private system in the Maritimes.

Gerrits said it took three years to design and install the system while cutting through some red tape.

The $500,000 project is economically viable, he said, and the payments on the system are close to what his monthly power costs are.

“In the short term it’s costing just a little bit more, in the medium term it’s even or better, and in the long term I’m way, way ahead,” Gerrits said.

“I figure the next time the power goes up we’re even, and the time after that we’re making money. The whole thing should pay for itself in about 15 years, and it has a 30-year predicted life span.”

But money wasn’t the primary factor for Gerrits, who grows the majority of his crops without pesticides. The environment is.

“When it comes down to it, it’s the right thing to do,” Gerrits said. “(The environment) is the main driver. I always tell everybody, if money was important to me, I wouldn’t be farming.”

He said that in the first week, when the skies were cloudy, the system produced a third of its maximum generating capacity but still offset the pollution that would been created by burning 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

“You’re looking at, when it’s sunny, almost 25,000 litres of diesel-worth of pollution offset in a week, so that number really hits home.”

Gerrits said he has wanted to use solar power for about decade now.

The panels have new technology that can gather energy from both sides of the panel, and prevents them from degrading as fast as older models.

The biggest power needs on the farm are for the coolers for the harvested crops, but there is also regular welding in the garage, along with lights, and electric heat in the bunkhouses for workers.

“We’re trying to be as efficient as we can be,” Gerrits said. “We switched everything out to LED lights, and this and that and the other thing, but we still use a fair bit of power.”

The 350-panel system was installed by M.B. Eye Electrical of Prince Edward Island. Owner Matt Eye said it is the largest privately-owned solar system in the Maritimes and was the largest overall until a month ago, when a 200-kilowatt system went online for the City of Charlottetown.

Eye said he has been pushing solar energy systems for nine years while running his electrical contracting company, but without government incentives it was initially a hard sell.

“With power rates on the rise, in the last four years it has become full-time employment,” he said. “It’s definitely changing.”

He said public interest has increased so much that solar has become its own division of his business.


Nissan’s Following Tesla Into Solar Power and Home Batteries

By: Jack Stewart

The maker of the Leaf is now offering UK homeowners rooftop solar panels and big batteries for a clean ride from generation to acceleration. Courtesy: Nissan

GIVEN THE WEATHER in the United Kingdom—that cloudy, foggy, drizzly country—it doesn’t seem like the best place to launch a business that revolves around solar power. But this is where the builder of the world’s best-selling electric car just started selling Nissan Energy Solar, a generation-to-acceleration scheme that equips customers with roof-mounted panels and a battery to store some of the electricity they generate. If they drive a Leaf, or Nissan’s e-NV200 electric van, they can combine the whole process and drive from Scotland to Wales to wherever, guilt-free, fog lights on, windshield wipers whisking away.

Despite the weather, solar works well in the UK. Panels can do their thing even with indirect sunlight, and the country’s northerly position makes for 16 hours of daytime during the summer. Nearly a million people there already use solar panels, according to Nissan. Adding batteries to the mix will help them stay powered up even when the weather turns, well, normal. “It enables UK homeowners to make significant savings on their household electricity bills, and become champions of sustainability and green technology,” says Gareth Dunsmore, electric vehicle director for Nissan Europe.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Nissan is biting at Tesla’sheels. A decade after CEO Elon Musk said he wanted to offer zero emission power generation options, Tesla acquired Solar City. Now, its customers can buy an entire clean energy stack: roof panels, a Powerwall home battery, and of course, a car. (Tesla also created a sleek design for solar panels that look like a normal roof, and that does away with that ugly flat black glass look.)

Nissan says its all-in-one system will start at $5,200 for six solar panels, or $10,300 for panels and a 4-kWh battery, including installation. Customers can choose between a brand new battery, or a “second-life” pack made from cells that have been retired from electric vehicles but remain good enough for the more gentle demands of daily storage. Tesla’s powerwall, which can store 13.5 kWh, costs $5,900, but installation is extra.

While Nissan’s solar scheme is only available in the UK for now, it’s easy to see how this sort of setup could improve life in the US. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 28 percent of greenhouse gases came from transportation in 2016, and 28 percent from electricity. Get more people to combine renewable energy with zero emission driving, and you can start to chip away at more than half of US emissions.

An average US household uses around 30 kWh of electricity per day, so these batteries aren’t meant to take you off the grid or keep you Netflixing through a lengthy power outage. The smaller systems are designed to smooth out the peaks in electricity demand, storing solar generated power during the day for use in the evening, when the sun goes down and the lights, TV, and stove go on.

This kind of local storage takes some of the pressure off over-taxed electricity grids. It also pairs well with the time of use tariffs providers in the US and UK are starting to introduce, where rates vary with demand—climbing at peak time, but lowering overnight. Instead of paying more at peak times, just draw power from the battery your solar panels spent the day filling up. And when prices drop overnight, tap into the grid to charge up your EV. Nissan is also experimenting with the idea of making use of the large battery in electric cars (40 kWh in the Leaf) to power homes, which, with smart controls to maintain adequate driving range, could provide an even more integrated infrastructure solution.

Other solar panel companies offer home batteries, but it makes sense for automakers to jump into this game. They’re increasingly the biggest global customers for batteries, and can control supply chains and prices. Tesla has taken on projects in Australia, Puerto Rico, and Belgium, where racks of batteries help balance demand across the entire grid and reduce the use of natural gas power plants when demand spikes.

For now, Nissan’s has no firm plans to bring the system to the US, but a spokesperson says “we’re always looking at ways to bring new, interesting technology to our customers here”. And these products are still niche, without a proven market. BMW has has been quiet recently about a plan it once promoted to sell recycled i3 car batteries. Mercedes-Benz reportedly pulled out of the home energy storage market completely, which in 2016 it said it wanted to develop along with electric cars.

Even if this energy business thing doesn’t work out, automakers are eager to tout their green credentials. Displaying shiny solar panels alongside sparkly vehicles in showrooms is a nice way to do that. And if the EV market does pick up as fast as they’re predicting, inserting themselves into the power supply business could secure them a place in a very sunny future.


Kiskiack Golf Club Goes Solar

Kiskiack Golf Club installed 88 solar panels to help provide electricity to the golf course with the help of the Hampton Roads Solar Co-op. (Jack Jacobs)

By: Jack Jacobs

Eighteen holes of golf. And now, 88 solar panels.

Kiskiack Golf Club celebrated the installation of solar panels at a ceremony Tuesday.

“We wanted to figure out ways to make Kiskiack a sustainable golf course for many years,” said Carl Zangardi, owner of Kiskiack Golf Club.

The solar energy system possesses 29 kilowatts of power and consists of 88 panels. The solar panels are expected to offset 25 percent of the golf club’s power usage and save $5,000 on electric bills annually, according to a Solar United Neighbors news release.

Solar United Neighbors is a nonprofit dedicated to solar energy advocacy.

Kiskiack Golf Club arranged the installation of the solar panels with the support of the Hampton Roads Solar Co-op, a regional solar co-op open to homeowners and businesses from Virginia Beach to Newport News and Williamsburg areas. The co-op is a regional arm of Solar United Neighbors, which has facilitated 650 installations statewide. The co-op provides guidance to members on financing and installation of solar panels, which are bought in bulk to lower costs.

Kiskiack Golf Club is the first business to utilize solar power through the Hampton Roads Solar Co-op, said Aaron Sutch of Solar United Neighbors of Virginia. The project cost $54,000.

“It’s something that’s gaining traction,” Sutch said of solar energy in Virginia. “Here, on this golf course, Mr. Zangardi has made the decision to be an energy producer.”