Friday, 11 December 2009

Chanuka: Do we need Global Warming and Environmental Destruction in our future?

Dear all

It's Chanuka tonight.  The Jewish festival of lights.  Let's find a way to light up our world.

We have all been reading about Global Warming recently, especially with "Copenhagen" happening at the moment.

Ask questions at :

Mine is: "Depending on who one listens to climate change may or may not be happening, but environmental destruction is happening at an alarming rate. It is easy to see. It effects our lives, our health, our water, our living environment, our planet. What are our world leaders doing to address this problem?"

Some people I talk to say Global Warming is happening, and some people say it isn't happening.  Some say that it is a natural thing and others say that humans are contributing to it.  Some call it Global Weirding because although they say the earth will warm by 2% on average; some places will get hotter (perhaps much hotter in Paarl and Worcester) and some more rainy and some much colder.

So I choose to change my argument.

The following is irrefutable:
  • large portions of rainforests have been destroyed in the past 100 years;
  • mankind is using scarce resources such as fossil fuels which are getting scarcer and more expensive and it has been shown that on windless days cause a horrible smog over our bigger cities;
  • our sea fisheries are being depleted;
  • something called "acid mine drainage" is happening in mines and most of South Africa's new coal mines are in the sources of the Orange River system and if they are mined, there might not be any drinking water available in Gauteng in a few years time.  Acid mine drainage also causes horrible chemicals to enter the food chain.
Can anyone refute any of these statements?

Can anyone deny that mankind is having a devastating effect on our natural environment?

We need to take responsibility for our actions.

We still have time.  Maybe 2 to 5 years to really start making a very big difference - and it doesn't need to cost the earth!  Not much time when you consider that the earth is billions of years old and that mankind could go extinct just like many other species on the earth.  The earth will survive.

If we want to survive with it, we must change our habits and we must change our paradigm: successful people must be measured by how "off grid" they are and not by the size of their wallet.

Take charge of your lives.  Don't leave it up to the government to do it for you.  They will take your money to do it for you and they might not do it as well as you can.

I am working on a project to create electricity and sell it across the grid to the general public.  It might cost R3.50 per kwh in the first phase but there is already technology that might help us bring the cost down to R1.50 per kwh.  If you want to buy some of this clean, green, electricity, then email me and let me know what you'd be prepared to pay per kwh for your electricity.  Also let me know if you'd like this price to be constant forever?  Also let me know if you'll be happy if this price decreases from time to time?

I look forward to creating a better future with all of you.

Love and respect,

Friday, 27 November 2009

Hout Bay Green Faire

FLOE will be at the Hout Bay Green Faire tomorrow from 10am for the day.

Join us at:
Where: Kronendal Primary School, Andrews Road, Hout Bay
When: 10am till late
Costs: Adults R10 and kids R5

An 'eco-expo' featuring green products and services, wind and solar power, water saving devices, grey water, recycling and worm bins, Rubbels Recycle market, kids 'edutainment', info on how to grow veggie & herb seedlings, compost toilets, healing space, healthy food and juices, conscious cinema, talks, live music and more....

Thursday, 19 November 2009

David in Parliament - Summary and my thoughts

Dear all

Disclaimer: please note that the ideas and solutions presented below are my own and may not represent those of Free Life On Earth.

After two days in Parliament and feeling very tired, I feel the need to write a summary of what transpired - in  summarised form as I have 20 pages of A5 format notes - and a huge number of handouts as well as mailings from various presenters - and lots of ideas about what can be done.  (I see that this summary is 3 pages long, so I have put especially important bits in bold.)

There were about 30 presentations in Total.  We have been told that they might be available on the government web site at some point.  I'll let you know.  There were about 100 people in the Old Assembly Chamber each day and about 20 of them were MP's besides the portfolio committee chairpersons.

You can see me in action on our Free Life On Earth BLOG.  Scroll down to FLOE Speaks Up in Parliament.

I came away feeling happy that these events took place inside parliament considering that FLOE has attended these types of conferences before.  For example the Energy Caucus Conference.  These conferences have happened outside parliament and there was a suggestion at the June Energy Caucus conference that we present in Parliament and this has now happened.

The main points in FLOE's presentation were:
  • we need to consider internalising the externalised costs, eg costs to the environment, water resources, air pollution, etc;
  • we need to think about decentralising centralised electricity production and allowing private citizens and business to make their own electricity and easily supply the grid;
  • we need to separate Eskom into a Generating Division and a separate Transmission and Distribution Division.  We called this division the National Grid Company.
Many of the chairpersons of the parliamentary portfolio committees were there, for example, Finance, Agriculture, Environment, Energy, etc.  One of the presenters said that it was the first time in three years of presenting to parliament that there was such a great cross-section of representatives from the different portfolio committees who each have a serious concern about Climate Change.

My first learning point from this conference was that whether climate change is happening or not, environmental degradation and destruction is happening at a faster and faster rate.  Many scientists believe that man is not responsible for climate change, but what is a fact is that the following IS happening:
  • forests are disappearing;
  • fisheries are dwindling;
  • agricultural land is disappearing;
  • although crop yields are up, quality in terms of minerals and vitamins in the crops are down;
  • crop production and cattle production especially by formerly disadvantaged communities is down in many places.  One presenter, who lives in a "location" next to Sasolburg said that cows are now routinely sold for R4500 each whereas before they were sold for R6000 each.  And this isn't because of the recession.  It's because the cows are thinner;
  • health risks, especially in terms of deficiencies and mental health problems, are increasing;
  • pollution is increasing, not just air pollution, but environmental pollution;
  • pollution of water is scary, especially pollution from open cast mining, for example coal mines.  60% of rain water is trapped underground and under normal conditions runs off into river systems and dams slowly.  Mines can be as close as 100 metres to river systems.  If the underground or above ground water gets into the mine on the way to the river, it causes Acid Mine Drainage as the water becomes acidic.  Not only this, but the water is contaminated in many other ways;
  • Our country's security is under threat as more and more people leave drought stricken parts of Africa and make their way to South Africa.  I'm not xenophobic.  But if we are to support these people, we need to protect our water resources.
Whats the point of having a coal mine operational for 20 years and then have water problems for 100's of years afterwards?  One presenter said that environmental cost to repair our water resources in the mining areas is R14 billion per annum for the next 100 years!!  Eskom pays R18 billion per annum for its coal.  Eskom's external costs of water and air pollution are R16.5 billion.  So Eskom are telling us that they need to triple our costs in the next three years just to pay for their new build.  After that they will need to double our costs to pay for their pollution.  Our electricity bills, if left up to Eskom, could go up 6 times in the next 5 to 10 years.  How can we afford that?  Why should we?

Now you might say that the external costs are ok, but the EC and other areas are putting bills through their parliaments which will help them decide where they buy their goods from and they might not buy from high polluters!  What happens then?

40 New Coal Mines by 2020?  A presenter showed that many of the new coal mines will be in the major water sources of the Orange River system which feeds millions of people downstream including in Gauteng?  What's more important?  Electricity or clean water?  What is truly more precious? Water or Electricity?  Especially if we can make electricity using wind, sun, ocean currents and tides, rivers, geothermal, etc?  How long can we survive without electricity?  How long can we survive without clean water?  And why are the farmers up in arms?

We have a Feed In Tariff implemented in March 2009, but no process to allow Power Producers to connect to the grid legally.  NERSA's document says that Standardised Direct Agreements and Connection Agreements will only be available in March 2010.  Presenters from Deloitte and Touche and Nedbank said they have clients with 100s of millions of Rands to invest in projects, but the government is dragging its feet and not allowing these developments to go ahead!  Why not?  Maybe Eskom doesn't want competition.  Maybe they are scared that there really are cheaper forms of electricity than coal and nuclear.  Maybe?

We heard about "state of the art clean coal" from one of the ministers.  Simply put, Eskom finds ways of trapping the green house gasses and other noxious by products of coal burning and therefore the coal burn is clean; ie the air is clean.  Even if 100% of the dirty stuff is trapped, where will the dirty stuff (sulphur and other waste products) be stored?  And what of the coal mines and the acid mine drainage?

One presenter said that Eskom should pay for the roll out of solar water heaters instead of paying for a power station.  I have done some calculations: 100 Billion Rand for a power station equates to 10 million solar water heaters at R10,000 each.  That's at least one solar water heater for every house in South Africa.  And after this there are hardly any running costs and no raw material costs.  And many many jobs will be created.  And there will be less need for coal mines and less acid mine drainage.  It takes 8 years to build a big R100 Billion power station.  Imagine if 5,000 solar water heaters were installed per day all over South Africa.  How many jobs would this make?  How many solar water manufacturers would pop up?

We are told that the power stations take 8,000 people each to build.  And 1,000 people to run a power station.  Consider that the equivalent is 5,000 solar water heaters manufactured and installed per day!!  For 8 years!  According to ITS Solar, a water heater saves the equivalent of 2,900 kwh per annum.  At 8 kwh per day and assuming the heater is on for 4 hours using 2 kw to run, we are looking at a power station replacement of 2 000 W * 10 million which is 20 GW.  So if we roll out 10 million solar water heaters we get 20 GW of energy for the same "price" as 5 GW of coal energy.   We are talking about vastly different "prices" here.  One for a sustainable clean reliable generator of heat.  The other for a dirty, unsustainable, continuously increasing in price, source of electricity to make heat.  We have the heater.  It's called the sun.  It's much more efficient to use it directly to create heat than to create electricity to create heat.  (If you are thinking about buying a solar water heater, please email me for a competitive quote.)

If my calculations are correct, we would need to spend R400 Billion to heat the same amount of water using electricity as R100 Billion will heat if we use the sun.  Which is cheaper, more reliable, and efficient?

So to get back to the hearings.

A presenter said that if the taxi fleet was retrofitted with catalytic converters, we would have an instant "forest" as the emissions using catalytic converters are hydrogen, oxygen and water.  I haven't checked what it will cost to convert my car, but I intend finding out.  And this creates jobs for the catalytic converter industry in South Africa, which unfortunately uses Platinum, but I think a good cost benefit (including external costs) could be done especially as one doesn't need more Platinum once the converter is fitted.

So what do we need to be concerned about?

1) Eskom is owned by the government of South Africa which is elected by the people of South Africa.  It is therefore owned by the people of South Africa.  The people of South Africa therefore have a say in how we get our Energy.  With more jobs or with more money to a few already incredible rich people?  We can't the people take responsibility for part of their lives and not leave everything to the government?  If the government does something, they need to raise taxes.  We pay!
2) One of the chairmen said that "South Africa has the most cohesive policy with regard to climate change in the world.  See the National Climate Change Report of 2004."  Well if that's the case, then why aren't we rolling out massive solar water heater and photovoltaic and wind projects as is happening in Germany, Spain, China, and other countries?  Where is the problem?
3) Whether Climate Change is happening or not, Environmental Degradation and Destruction IS happening.  What are we doing to prevent it?

Lastly I wish to concern myself with a question that kept popping up at the conference: "Who Pays?"

The answer is that whether we pay now or we pay later, we all pay.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Someone pays.  At the moment the environment is paying, but the environment is getting cross and the environment is getting sick.  And we are getting more stressed and we are getting sicker.  We are popping more short term fix pills and hoping that one day we will find a "pill" that will solve our environmental problems.

So what to do:

1) Keep canvassing;
2) Keep lobbying;
3) Understand what is happening;
4) Reduce your meat consumption by half.  18% of greenhouse gasses come from cattle.  13% from transport!
5) Don't buy any more plastic toys for your children for the next three years.  (There are lots of other types of toys, eg township children make their own toys; and there are things like Meccano which used to be made out of metal.)  Don't throw away any plastic products unless they are being recycled.  This will send a message to the manufacturers that we are fed up and sick and tired of supporting industries that aren't kind to the environment;
6) Remember that the customer is truly king.  What we buy or we don't buy depends on us.  The suppliers want us to buy with lots of advertising.

So how to truly change:

Change your mind set.  Consider a paradigm shift.  "Successful people are environmentally neutral or carbon negative" instead of "Successful people having bigger cars or bigger houses or holiday houses or golf clubs or whatever."  I have huge satisfaction in knowing that my spending behaviour change has contributed to the sustainability industry instead of the car industry.  One could say that my new car is on my roof, making electricity and saving coal on a daily basis.  Helping to really make the world a better place in my own small way.

Join the revolution today.  Are you concerned that if changing your habits will mean job losses?  If so, you are wrong.  More people will be employed.  Car manufacturers will become solar panel manufacturers.  Fewer machines.  More job satisfaction.  More people working from home.  More fed people.  More sane people.  More money in the local communities.  More happiness.

Lots of love and I look forward to your comments,

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Free Life On Earth's Submission re the Parliamentary Hearings on Climate Change Nov 2009

Dear Ms Nyamza

Thank you for asking for comment from the public on this very important topic.

Although we have many ideas for changes regarding renewable energy adoption, we believe that one of the most urgent ones is the setting up of a National Grid Company enabling a "willing buyer - willing seller" or "retail wheeling" arrangement. This is outlined in the attached document.

Kind Regards
David Lipschitz BSc (Hons) MBA
Chairperson and Cofounder: Free Life On Earth

The attachment:

Retail Wheeling in South Africa

Written by David Lipschitz, 3rd November 2009
In preparation for the Public Hearings on the Political, Economic, Legal, Gender and Social Impacts of Climate Change, 17th to 18th November 2009 in the South African Parliament1

(i)A new National Grid Company which owns and operates South Africa's electricity grid infrastructure;
(ii)Private electricity producers which directly sell electricity to private electricity consumers or use the National Grid to do this.

Retail wheeling refers to the ability of an energy consumer to select their own electricity supplier, or “wheel in” energy from one of two or more different suppliers.

At the moment, Eskom controls the national grid and is 100% owned by the South African government. Eskom supplies 95% of South African's electricity and is a monopoly. Eskom is the only organisation in South Africa that is allowed to buy electricity from producers other than themselves. Other producers are called Independent Power Producers (IPP’s). As Eskom is a monopoly heavily invested in coal and nuclear, it seems reasonable to assume that it would always want to sell its own electricity generated in preference to electricity generated by third parties. It also seems reasonable to assume that it would always want to further its own profit making interests and not necessarily the interests of the country or the world, especially in terms of lack of promotion of efficiency, pollution control, reduction of climate emissions and wanting to stay the dirty polluting service provider it currently is. As Eskom is owned by the government, there is a further conflict of interest as the government has set targets in respect of reduction of GHG emissions and renewable energy generation (by 2013), however, it will be impossible to reach these targets if Eskom is the only buyer of electricity. It seems like government is trying to “have its cake and eat it too”. Eskom states it wants to become more sustainable, yet it also wants to reap profits from new-build unsustainable non-renewable energy generation plants (not having the foresight to predict that these dirty power plants will soon be nothing more than ‘black pits’ in which billions of rands will be wasted at the expense of the environment, the people of South Africa and our economy). They are prepared to increase our taxes in the form of electricity hikes by 3 times over the next three years to achieve Eskom’s goals. (45% compound increase for three years is equal to a 300% overall increase.)

It seems fair to me that if NERSA (the government appointed body whose duty it is to regulate the electricity industry) allows these massive increases by one supplier of electricity then in a democratic country, the government, elected by the people, should start the process of deregulating the industry and allowing a platform for the achievement of their 10,000 GWh of power from renewable sources by 2013. By making a National Grid Company a separate company from Eskom, the National Grid Company (NGC) can choose from whom it wishes to buy electricity and to whom it wishes to sell. [A big question that remains is who will be this NGC and how will we ensure that the NGC does not also take advantage of its position of power? As a starting point and to prevent Eskom or any one specific IPP becoming majority shareholder in the NGC, IPPs should be excluded from having any rights of ownership in the NGC. Also, any foreign interest in the NGC should be limited.]

This would enable something called retail-wheeling to occur country wide and is something that the City of Cape Town promulgated in a By-law in 2008. See for information about Retail Wheeling. See for the By-law.

The NGC's mission would be to enable customers to choose from whom they wish to buy electricity and customers who are happy to buy non-renewable fossil fuelled dirty coal and nuclear power can buy from Eskom and those who wish to buy clean renewable energy can buy from the myriad other Independent Power Producers (IPP’s) who would mushroom up. Initially most electricity customers would have to buy from Eskom, but having the NGC would enable a quicker shift away from this monopoly than if Eskom retain control of the National Grid.

After forming the NGC, its initial customers would be all Eskom's existing customers and its initial supplier would be Eskom and the existing IPP’s. Eskom would have to transfer to the NGC its grid operating costs and its grid value. The NGC would start with a capital value equal to the value of the national grid and a charge per kwh for using the grid. Customers would then be able to choose from whom they wish to buy electricity, Eskom or IPP’s. Not only this but "willing buyer-willing seller" agreements can then be set up between customers who wish to "buy green/RE" and suppliers who wish to sell green.

If a customer buys electricity from Eskom, then Eskom collects the fees and pays the NGC for using the grid. If a customer buys from an IPP, then the IPP collects the fees and pays the NGC for using the grid.

This grid would work in a similar way to the train grid in the UK where a private company such as Virgin Rail runs its own trains on the tracks and pays Network Rail. Click on About Us and Our History. Other similar grids are the telephone grid where MTN, Cell C and Vodacom pay for the use of the grid and also the aircraft grids where companies like SAA and BA pay for the use of the airspace through which they travel.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Why everyone should drive a small car

Take a look at:


Sunday, 1 November 2009

Climate Change Hearings; NERSA Feed In Tariffs; Electricity Price Hikes

Dear all

1) Government Climate Change Hearings

Please read the call for public comment document and have your say. Your submission must be in by 6th November. The hearings are on the 17th and 18th November.

2) NERSA's Feed In Tariff's Phase 2

Please see Engineering News for information about NERSA's phase 2 Feed In Tariffs.

They have added Photovoltaic energy production, but it is still only for systems bigger than 1MW thus excluding private houses and small and medium sized businesses. The rate is R3.94 per kwh.

3) Electricity Price Hikes

More information here.


Saturday, 31 October 2009

NERSA's REFIT phase 2

Dear all

Please see Engineering News for information about NERSA's phase 2 Feed In Tariffs.

They have added Photovoltaic energy production, but it is still only for systems bigger than 1MW thus excluding private houses and small and medium sized businesses. The rate is R3.94 per kwh.


Climate Change Hearings in South Africa - Parliament

Dear all

Please read the call for public comment document and have your say. Your submission must be in by 6th November. The hearings are on the 17th and 18th November.


Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Here is a message from FLOE, Free Life On Earth. I am the chairperson of this Non Profit Organisation. Ninette, our vice chairperson has written this for us.


Firstly, just a reminder about International Day of Climate Action taking place this Saturday. So far, 4227 actions are planned to take place in 170 countries across the world. Footage will be taken to the world leaders at Copenhagen in December. THIS IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR LIFE ON EARTH!

Find an action near you, here on


FLOE is endorsing two specific "350" actions which will take place in Cape Town this Saturday:
1. Human 350 to be Filmed From Air on Table Mountain [see ]; and 2. Cape Town City 350 Celebration [see: ] (paint yourself red and walk from Parliament to Gardens).

Ninette will be joining the latter action and hope to see you there!!! I (David) will be climbing the mountain.


We recently learned about a disturbingly biased poster that was distributed to schools throughout the City of Cape Town. Read more about it here on our newsblog:- . We will keep you posted regarding further developments. In the meantime, please warn your children about it.


We have set up a 'green' calender fo you to access. See:


You can either join us on our Facebook Group or email ninette at

As a member of our Facebook Group, you are automatically registered as a member of Free Life on Earth (FLOE). What does this mean? It means that you are FREE [For Renewable Energy & Eco-conscious Living] and it means that you are taking actions in your life to start living more eco-consciously (no matter how small the steps, as long as you are taking them)!

Because we offer different ways in which to join FLOE, it is now necessary for us to consolidate our lists of members. Because the Facebook Group does not allow us to see your email addresses, PLEASE COULD YOU SEND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO Ninette ON: ninette at so that I may add your address to our new mailing list. We will not send you spam and will only send you news updates/ info from time to time. If you do not wish to be a member or to receive these updates, simply deregister your name from this Facebook Group.


Please tell at least two of your friends who have not already joined FLOE, to join in support of the movement to live more eco-consciously. If you prefer, send their email addresses to us: info at We will then send them an introduction and ask them if they would like to join. The more of us there are, the more chance we have of making a difference! :)

Please see our website at for more information about us.

Thanks guys!


Ninette & David

Wednesday, 9 September 2009



It is 09/09/09.

9 is a lovely number to play with.  9 x 3 = 27 and 2+7=9.  9x9x9 = 729 and 7+2+9=18 and 1+8=9.

Have fun.


Monday, 31 August 2009

Monday, 17 August 2009

Genetically Modified Foods

This is from the Planting Season emails. Written by Scott Cundill.

What are GMO's?

Genetics are the software that determine how living things grow. It is the blueprint for our existence and, as such, it is almost as complicated as we are.

We have two strands of DNA. These strands come together in the middle like rungs of a ladder to create a sequence of what are called base pairs. There are about 3 billion base pairs in the human body. A group of these base pairs is a gene - some contain a few dozen base pairs, some a few hundred. There are about 60,000 genes in the human body - some are turned on and some off and nobody has the faintest idea what most of them actually do.

We do know that each gene within a living organism has a specific function. So, when a scientists discovers which gene in a glow worm is responsible for making it glow, they can then "splice" (or merge) this gene into that of a goldfish. The result - a goldfish that glows in the dark. If you think I'm joking, feel free to buy one right now at

So, what's the problem?

Genes (like everything in life) are interconnected. As soon as you manipulate one gene, research has shown that other genes around it start to switch themselves on or off in attempt to compensate. Nobody knows what effect this new combination will have and, as far as Monsanto and other GM food companies go, they don't seem to care. I'll go into this in more detail later, but a documentary called The World According to Monsanto aired on French TV and very quickly gave the country’s citizens a wake up call. You can watch it here:

Genetic modification is a bit like putting blinkers on a horse that's spent its whole life with his eyes wide open. Suddenly the blinkers go on and the horse goes nuts as it tries to come to terms with what's going on. It may run faster on the track from time to time, but the animal is never the same again.

Now, if you eat a horse with blinkers on, it’s not that different to eating one without blinkers. However, if you eat foods that have been genetically modified, research indicates that the abnormalities within those genes start becoming part of YOUR genetic makeup. In other words, if you eat GM wheat spliced with a gene that creates a natural pesticide, your own stomach could start producing that pesticide because it's now part of your genetic blueprint. GM foods given to rats also showed a sudden change in behaviour which greatly reduced their social interaction with other rats. The fact that GM foods can affect the brain like this shows just how connected and susceptible we really are to slight changes in our DNA.

Based on my research, there is so much negative research on GMO that only a corporation with a most vicious of agenda could be responsible for unleashing it on the human public. To me, it's pretty logical - we are all connected at a quantum level so a small change to our starting point (ie. our genetic blueprint) MUST result in a significant change to us as human beings somewhere down the line, even if this change takes years to manifest. However, my evidence is not conclusive and ironically that's exactly the whole argument against GM foods. There is simply no way this kind of food should be let loose to South Africans (or the world) without proper, independent testing. We cannot rely on the research conducted by the very companies that supply the stuff! Have we learned nothing from the tobacco industry who lied to us all those years ago to tell us that smoking was safe? Or thousands of other products for that matter?

Why would we let this happen?

For one, few people know about them. Also, GM foods have been dubbed the solution to world poverty. They grow better, their yields are higher and they are more resistant to disease than any other kind of farming methods, except proper organic farming. When applied correctly there is no higher yielding, higher nutrient content, healthier or stronger plant in the world than home grown organic food. This is why I am so passionate about this cause.

However, we are not growing our own food. Therefore, there is pressure on our centralised decision making powers to alleviate world poverty by using GM foods that grow well using conventional farming methods. Actually, growing our own food is the solution to world poverty, but there is not much money in it.

There are a couple of commercial reasons for GM foods to be used. Firstly, Monsanto (one of the main GM players) produces the most widely sold pesticide in the world called "Round Up". It just so happens that they also produce special GM seeds which ONLY ROUND UP WILL WORK ON! In fact, Round Up will kill just about every living thing that comes into contact with it EXCEPT for the specific plant that has been genetically engineered to resist it. Monsanto therefore controls both the seed and the pesticide which only that seed is immune to. Now that's marketing baby!

[By the way, ProNutro provides an example of a South African product made from Round Up Ready GM Soy. See here:]
Seeds with an expiry date

It gets worse. You see, GM companies have learned to limit the number of times a seed can germinate. So when you buy the seed, that plant can only reproduce say three times. After that, you are forced to go back to the company that supplied the seed (ie. Monsanto and the like) to buy more. This is a bit worrying considering that the most thing beautiful thing about nature is its ability to reproduce indefinitely. We mess with that and we mess with the perpetual survival of not only that species, but potentially any species that feeds on it.

It still gets worse. You see, GM seeds are patented by these companies, so their intellectual property is protected and enforced by the courts. Anyone found in possession of GM seeds without paying for them is therefore "stealing" and anyone caught selling the plant that was grown from these seeds is infringing their copyright. You laughing yet? Try not to because there have already been hundreds of cases where farmers have been successfully sued by Monsanto and others so badly that their farms, often many generations old, have been lost. Serves the farmers though for stealing patented seeds, right?? Well, wrong actually, because in many cases seeds were carried in from next-door farms by winds that blew them accidentally onto their land.

GM companies have serious legal teams in place to fight anyone that stands in their way. How is any little guy to survive an onslaught like this from the giants that seek to control the global food chain through genetic manipulation? The good news is that there are some who are fighting them.

Can GM foods be contained?

Most of the worlds grown food are used to feed animals, not humans. We then eat the meat. Already there are countless cases of farmers who conducted their own research on pigs and cows to see first hand the effect that GM foods have on their livestock. When they eat GM corn, the animals reduced in fertility. Once they go back to their original diet they eventually recover, but then there still is debate on whether they really DO recover now that their genetic makeup has been tampered with. Let's not forget that the vast majority of these pigs and cows that are fed GM foods have been bred specifically for human consumption.

Once the genetic change has occurred, how do we know this won't be passed to offspring? I personally think this is pretty unlikely, but still... is it worth the risk? Surely we should not be subjected to GM foods without even being told about it, or being asked to evaluate the research ourselves? Once they are let loose on the South African population (which is now gaining momentum as we speak), the genetic screw up could explode across our population like a virus and it could be years before we even know about it! This has actually happened before.

But we've been eating GM for years!

This is the counter argument which is rubbish. Yes, already we are drinking GM milk (or milk from cows who have been treated with a GM hormone) as well as other direct or indirectly modified foods and this fact alone is raising serious health alarms. But that's not the point and here's why: now read this carefully, because this is important...

You can argue that the nartjie is genetically modified and we eat them happily. You can say we breed certain types of funny shaped poodles too. But this is called "selective breeding". Selective breeding is at the far left on the scale of genetic manipulation because the process is far more natural. If you want to develop a cabbage that is resistant to a certain fungus, you grow a whole bunch of cabbages that are subjected to this fungus. Most cabbages will die out very quickly, but some will be more resistant. Take the seeds from those plants that are resistant and repeat the process again and again and again. The result is a much more resilient cabbage, although it takes several generations to work. The finest wines in the world are the result of modifying the genes within the grape using this method of natural refinement.

The other end of the scale is the short cut and this is where GM foods are. Here we simply "play" with the genetic code so, hey presto, like magic you have the plant that you "think" does what would have taken many generations of natural selection to do. It looks like a lovely, large, juicy red apple, but is it really? What if we're wrong? There is a very large grey area in this scale indeed and quite frankly, this is a grey area that we simply don't need to play in. For example, did you know that most white mielies found in South Africa are GMO?

Are GM foods necessary?

We simply don't need them. With a little education, we can grow our own food. The issue of soil density and quality is always a factor, but again, the right training with correct companion planting and rotation means that we can grow organic foods in our own backyard with up to 10-20 times the nutritional density of the fruits and veg that we currently buy at local shops. We don't need to wait for corporations to make GM foods the standard when we can start living healthier NOW! We need to take back the power we've always had: the power to grow ourselves.

Further reading: (American Academy of Environmental Medicine) (South African) (French documentary on the subject, in English)

Next time I'll be more "positive" I promise!!


Monday, 10 August 2009

Josephine Mill - talk on growing sprouts

In case you don't know about these regular talks at Josephine Mill in Newlands (next to the SAB Brewery), here is info on the one tomorrow night. See

David Lipschitz

Time: August 11, 2009 from 7:30pm to 9pm
Location: Josephine's Mill
Organized By: Peter Becker

Event Description:
Sprouts are the ultimate self-sufficient garden for anyone desiring a reliable supply of pesticide-free, high-fibre, vitamin, mineral and enzyme-rich energising fresh food.

Joseph Feigelson will share his knowledge about sprouting and how it brings the power of Mother Nature straight to the kitchen. No soil, no chemicals and no green thumbs required, only minutes per day.

Joseph has studied agronomy and horticulture, has been involved in reforestation of indigenous species in Hawaii and worked as a Botanical Research Consultant on Maui. He has extensive knowledge of the nutritional value of sprouts and is dedicated to informing people about the benefits of this low cost, high quality food production technique.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Stress Reduction - emails, etc

Dear all

I have decided to commit to reading emails at least once per day assuming that I am "in my office", i.e. not on holiday. This will usually happen first thing in the morning so any emails you send during the day may only be read the next work day morning. My automatic requests for emails to be delivered every 15 minutes have therefore been switched off.

The reasons I have made this decision are:
1) to keep my stress levels down;
2) to limit interruptions.

I have been trying this for the past week and it has been working wonders. One of the things I have noticed is that I now have mini-meditations and tea breaks! For example, in the past, when I was waiting for the computer to do something, or if I needed a break, I would read emails. This often messed up my concentration - and actually didn't speed up my work. It meant my mind was always "active" and never had a break.

IMHO, interruptions from phone, cell phones, Skype, Facebook, emails, etc, are the bane of our lives. They don't give us the concentration time we need and often reduce our effectiveness when we need to concentrate on other things. This doesn't mean putting one's head in the sand and ignoring these conveniences, but it means making use of these modern appliances at and for the appropriate time.

Also considering that I only have about 2 weeks of chargeable time at the moment, I am often not at my computer as I am spending my "free" time concentrating on building a Centre of Green Learning. This means that I often cannot respond to emails with the same speed as I used to as I am busy on other work. For those of you who don't know, the Centre of Green Learning will show "house scale permaculture" or "house scale farming", the idea being to take the "green" information that is available in magazines, newspapers, the internet, etc, and turn it into knowledge by having a place in Cape Town where people can see for themselves how to do these things. Permaculture comes from the two words Permanent Agriculture and is about "cradle to cradle" rather than "cradle to grave" food production, seeking to eliminate (by reuse) waste whilst at the same time growing organic food. The food includes fruit and vegetables, chickens, eggs, and fish production (aquaponics). "House Scale" refers to showing people what they can do in their back gardens or on their balconies assuming they live in flats.

If you are interested, read about aquaponics here. There is a good description of how the full recycling cycle works on "The Concept" page.

If you send me an email and you need a quick response, please sms or phone me and I will deal with the email as fast as I can.


David Lipschitz
Software Engineer at Orbital Decisions
Chairman and Cofounder at Free Life On Earth
Renewable Energy DIY Expert at Orbital Renewable Energy

Friday, 12 June 2009

Free Life On Earth - A Registered Non Profit Organisation

Dear all

I think most of you are aware that I am part of a Non Profit Organisation called Free Life On Earth (FLOE).

We are a group of like-minded individuals passionate about promoting the leading of lifestyles more in tune with our natural environment. We promote the use of renewable energy, recycling, reusing, reducing, stopping wastage, conserving natural resources and living "off grids". Support South Africa in its efforts to go green and free life on Earth by joining FLOE. At the moment the only way to join FLOE is via our FaceBook Group. We will add other methods of joining FLOE in the near future.

FLOE stands for "Free Life on Earth". This signifies our two tenets: 1. Life is energy, by harnessing sustainable renewable energy to meet our energy needs, we are freeing life on Earth; 2. Modern living has necessitated us placing a cost on living. We would like to show that it is possible to reduce one's cost of living, at no cost to the well-being of life and our natural environment, thereby offering a life with more freedom.

Our main objective is the promotion of, and education and training programmes / initiatives relating to environmental awareness, greening, clean-up and sustainable development projects.

Here are some links for further reading:
  • FLOE has a BLOG and newsfeed. Please see:
  • FLOE has a presence on Facebook. Log in and search for the FLOE (Free Life On Earth) Group or click here. Free life on Earth by joining FLOE.
  • Read our introductory document and see what we are up to.
  • Read our NERSA submission. NERSA stands for the National Energy Regulator of South Africa. FLOE's submission contains important information about why we believe that fossil fuels (coal and nuclear energy) and huge 34% annual price increases are not the only option and that there are cheaper and more reliable sources of energy available.

Please start considering how you can reduce your impact our our fragile planet. Every little bit counts. One drop of water doesn't make an ocean, but our collective drops of water will add up to a very big ocean.

If you wish to be involved in FLOE, please email me or phone me on 021 551 9935. I look forward to hearing from you.


Sunday, 31 May 2009

Renewables Global Status Report - and Funding and Sharing Request

I thought you might all be interested in the latest status about renewable energy worldwide.

Please see the REN21 Renewables Global Status Report: Energy Transformation Continues Despite Economic Slowdown. See

Here are some of the facts:
* Global power capacity from new renewable energy (RE) sources (excluding large hydro) reached 280,000 MW (280 GW) in 2008 - a 16% rise from 2007 and three times the capacity of the United States nuclear sector
* 73 countries now have RE policies
* the US will invest over $150 billion over 10 years in RE
* RE investment in 2008 was $120 billion, up 16% over 2007
* Wind energy capacity grew by 29% in 2008 to reach 121 GW. (South Africa's total electricity capacity is 44 GW.)
* Grid-connected solar PV grew at 70% to reach 13GW
* Solar hot water in Germany (which has less sun than South Africa) set record growth in 2008, with over 200,000 systems installed. (South Africa installed a few hundred in 2007)
* By August 2008, at least 160 publicly traded renewable energy companies worldwide had a market capitalisation of greater than $100 million
* Feed In Tariffs were adopted in South Africa at the end of March 2009, but they only apply to large producers called Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and they currently exclude Solar Photovoltaics.

If you know anyone who would like to talk to me about a business plan I have in the RE sector in South Africa, please let them or me know. The business plan is already 30 pages long and I am now working on the marketing plan and the financial plan, but I really need to share and I really need some people to be involved. I also need finance to cover my cost of living and additional capital that I have already laid out and to cover the (research and development) costs that are involved in making this kind of project happen in South Africa. I am also involved with: a Centre of Green Learning; helping a Joburg based company put together an RE conference; helping to put together a one week training course; the Lesotho Rural Renewable Energy project; finding low cost solutions for Africa. All this requires funding, eg for the development and writing of manuals and presentation material for conferences and training, my time, other peoples time, etc.  Any help will be appreciated, especially financial help or help from people who want to add value in terms of contributing their time.

If you would like to get your feet wet, then:
* read about a 630MW wind farm, take a look at London Array 630MW off shore wind farm
* read about a small scale system at
* look at photos of what someone is already doing in South Africa. If you decide to choose Andreas to do a design or installation for you, please let him know that the referral came from me.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Part 8: Renewable Energy System Design - "DIY Sizing"

Let's get around to looking at some calculations. I suggest that you sit down with a piece of paper and a pen so that you can work through this example with me.

The problem:
During a 4 hour Eskom power failure, you want to run your computer for 4 hours and it uses 300 Watts (per hour); you also want to run 4 lights for 4 hours. Each light draws 8 Watts. You don't want to use a noisy, smelly and pollution generating generator. You want to build a system yourself and one day add a solar panel or solar array to it. You are prepared to spend a bit extra to make that "start" in Renewable Energy.

Renewable Energy "Thinking" Notes: Eskom energy is still much cheaper than generator energy, so we'll start with charging the battery using Eskom energy. Eskom energy isn't clean, but we need a starting point. We can add solar and other technologies to this system later. My Eskom energy (electricity) at the moment is about 70 cents per kwh. This in May 2009. With an expected 35% increase this year, it will go to 95 cents per kwh. I understand that running a generator costs R30 per kwh although I haven't checked this. Can anyone who sells 4KW generators let us know what the cost is of fuel per hour? Plus maintenance and the cost of the generator.

Purists tell me that I shouldn't use Eskom's electricity in these systems. I am not a purist. I am a realist. I know people want to get started and I want to help them/you. I started with the kind of system shown below. Why shouldn't you? Note that my first system was a 12 Volt system with a 40 Amp Hour battery. It uses a 3.6 Amp Benton charger at R350 plus VAT, plus a 40 Amp Hour battery at R818 plus VAT plus a 1000 Watt modified sine wave inverter at R1000 ex VAT. Total cost of approx R3000 including cabling and a 60 Amp circuit breaker which acts as a fuse on the positive line between the battery and the inverter. These are prices that you can get at places like Yebo electronics in Bellville. I got this system going in May 2008. Note that with the wiring sizes and circuit breaker on this system we draw a maximum of 200 Watts from the system.

The solution (part 1: battery sizing; inverter sizing; electric charger sizing):

A) work out the total watt hours required during the power failure:

Computer: 300 Watts * 4 Hours = 1200 WattHours.
Lights: 8 Watts * 4 Hours * 4 lights = 128 WattHours.
Total WattHours needed from the battery = 1328 WattHours.
1328 WattHours = 1.328 kwh (kilowatthours).

B) What kind of battery do we need?

Note that for this type of system, one needs a Deep Cycle Battery, not a car battery. A car battery is designed to release a large amperage for a short amount of time and to be recharged immediately. A Deep Cycle Battery is typically designed to release its charge over 5 or 20 or more hours and to be charged relatively slowly over time. A Deep Cycle Battery should be fully charged at least every 4 days.

C) I've heard that Deep Cycle batteries should not be discharged less than 50% of their total capacity. So what's this about 50% of the battery life?

We don't want to take the system below 50% of the battery life, so if we calculate that we need 100 Amp Hours of time (see calculation in D), we would want 200 Amp Hours of battery time.

Although one can go down to 20% of battery life, it is recommended that one stay above 50% of the battery capability so that the battery's life is not diminished.

The 50% is achieved at a certain voltage. I will look at what the voltages should be in the next Part of this course, ie what voltage is shown on a 12 Volt or a 24 Volt battery when the battery is full. What voltage is shown at 50%, etc. I'll also look at Aborb, Float, Bulk and other battery terms.

The 50% is sometimes called State of Charge (SOC). Initially one can think of SOC in terms of voltage because voltage is easy to measure. If you are a purist, then SOC is measured as Amp Hours In minus Amp Hours Out.

D) What size of battery do we need?

Assuming a 12 Volt system: 1328 Watt Hours / 12 Volts = 111 Amp Hours. Note that one normally allows for an 80% efficiency which means that you would take 1328 / 10 Volts = 133 Amp Hours. (10 is approximately 12 Volts * 80%). The 80% efficiency factor allows for the inverter inefficiency (92% - 96% efficient) and the fact that we can't take 100% of the available charge out of the battery.

Now we don't want to take the system below 50% of the battery life, therefore we would want 260 Amp Hours of battery time. This would mean 3 x 100 Amp Hour batteries. Each of these batteries is about R1,000.

Assuming a 24 Volt system. 24 Volts * 80% efficiency is approximately equal to 20 Volts (I use the 10 Volts or 20 Volts when I do calculations in my head). 1328 Watt Hours / 20 Volts = 66 Amp Hours. Multipled by 2 = 132 Amp Hours. Two 100 Amp Hour Batteries in Series would give 24 Volts at 100 Amp Hours. Two sets in parallel would give 24 Volts at 200 Amp Hours.

Looking at this backwards: a) 200 Amp Hours at 20 Volts = 4000 Watt Hours. 4000 Watts / (1368WattHours/4Hours) = 4000 / 342 = 12.5 hours * 50% = 6.25 Hours. Or b) 133 Amp Hours at 20 Volts = 2660 Watt Hours. 2660 / 342 = approx 8 hours * 50% = approx 4 hours, ie what we wanted in the first place.

E) Charging the battery

Note that 12Volt 102 and 105 Amp Hour batteries are a "standard size". There are also 12Volt 60 Amp Hour batteries; 12 Volt 18 Amp Hour batteries, etc.

A battery should be charged at between 5% and 20% of its rated Amp Hour rate if possible. Therefore a 300 Amp Hour battery at 12 Volts would need at least 15 Amps of DC power to charge it at 12 Volts (300 * 5% = 15). A 300 Amp Hour battery at 24 Volts would need at least 15 Amps of DC power. I have found an excellent 24 Volt charger that works at up to 14 Amps DC and so am designing small systems using this charger. There are other cheaper chargers around and on one BLOG someone says he found one for under R500.

The CTEK XT14000 charger is R3750 ex VAT and one can buy them from Aztec batteries in Joburg. See [url][/url] Speak to Liz. Note that this is quite an expensive charger. For example a 3.6Amp Benton Charger is R350 ex VAT. This is 12 Volts and charges my 40 Amp Hour battery in about 12 hours. 40 Amp Hours / 3.6 = 11.1 Hours.

F) Series and Parallel: what does this mean?

Note that wiring in series increases the voltage of the battery bank.

Wiring the batteries in parallel increases the amp-hours of the battery bank.

In series the + battery pole on the first battery is connected to the - battery pole on the next battery.

In parallel, the + on the one battery is connected to the + on the other battery and the - is connected to the -.

4 batteries in series and parallel diagrammatically look like this:

+ 12V - ===== + 12V -
= ^^^^^^^^^^^^ =
= ^^^^^^^^^^^^ =
+ 12V - ===== + 12V -

The = signs show the cables. If the batteries are 100 Amp hours each and are 12 Volts each, then in this configuration we have 24 Volt "batteries" at 200 Amp Hours. The ^ characters are just fillers so that I could line up the = sign on the + and - poles on the batteries.

Note also that the higher the voltage the smaller the cable that is needed to wire the batteries. The thicker the cable the more expensive the cabling part of the system is. The thickness of the cable is essentially dependent on the amps going through the cable. The amps can be thought of as the flow through the cable. If you "force" more amps through a cable, there is more heat and the cable must be thicker. There is also something called "voltage drop". The longer the cable the thicker the cable must be.

G) But my system is 220 Volts AC and you are generating 12 or 24 Volts DC. How do I convert my system from DC to AC?

You need an inverter.

There are two essential kinds in this scenario:
1) modified sine wave
2) pure sine wave

A modified sine wave is ok for running a TV and a laptop (which has its own charger and battery inside), but a pure sine wave is needed for motors, fridges and electrical equipment like computers. A modified sine wave inverter produces a square sine wave, whereas a pure sine wave changes the voltage rapidly and produces a sine wave that looks smooth. See graphs and more descriptions at [url][/url] Energy Matters only sell Pure Sine Wave inverters and recommend that you buy one of these, but you need to make up your own mind. Note the important point about the lower efficiency with the modified sine wave inverter, especially once you have a solar system. In this case, you would want the most efficient inverter as all the different efficiency losses on the system add up and you wouldn't want to lose so much of the potential energy you have in your battery.

A 24 Volt 300 Watt pure sine wave inverter is R1786 ex VAT.

H) You also need a fuse and a switch on the line between the positive of the battery and the positive of the inverter. We'll look at what size switch another time.

In the meantime adding all this up, we have:
4 x 100 Amp Hour batteries at R1000 each;
1 x 24 Volt CTek battery charger at R3750;
1 x 300 Watt Inverter at R1786.

Total = R9536 + VAT = R10,871. This excludes cabling, the switch and fuse and my time if you want me to do it for you.

I) "I" is a good place to end. You are probably thinking that R10,871 is a lot of money and it is, so one could consider replacing their 300 Watt desktop computer with a 50 Watt laptop. This arrangement would give 2 hours of time from the big batteries plus 2.5 hours from the laptop battery. Second hand laptops are available for around R4000.

Total system cost approximately:
50+32 (for the lights) = 82 Watts / 10 Volts (12 volt system) = 8 Watts;
8 into a 40 Amp Hour battery = 5 * 50% (depth of discharge) = 2.5 Hours;
40 Amp Hour battery = R1000.
Benton charger = R350
Modified sine wave inverter = R1000.
Total system cost including the laptop < R7,000.
You use the charger for the first 1.5 hours and then use the balance of the battery time for the lights and the internal laptop battery for the balance of the 4 hours.

This shows that the place to start spending money in an RE system is often on efficiency. ie using a 50Watt laptop instead of a 300 Watt PC. It is much cheaper to save electricity than to make it.

Note: if you have a laptop, it might only draw 50 Watts and it also has its own "UPS" built in, ie it has its own battery backup.

Note 2: A full DIY system design costs about R2,500. Prices excl VAT and must be paid up front. The design includes looking for equipment but excludes installation time. A typical design (for a house) takes between 2 and 3 days.

In part 9, I'll look at how to connect the solar panels as well as solar panel costs and solar charge controller costs.

In part 10, I'll look at battery terms; In part 11, I'll look at cabling; In Part 12, I'll look at efficiencies; In Part 13, I'll look at shading and site analysis; In Part 14, I'll look at Grid Tie vs Off Grid Systems.

If you want me to look at anything else or discuss anything else please let me know.

Systems like this are complex and if you don't know what you are doing, please get help from an experienced system designer and installer.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Designing your own electricity system - part 7 (fridges)

Here are some specifications regarding energy saving fridges.

Tafelberg sell some of the Ardo range of fridges.

The Ardo rating is: 130KWH rating per year. Even if it really uses 165KWH per year, that will be amazing as an A++ energy star fridge is rated at 380KWH per year and a normal fridge much higher than that.

My normal fridge (which I still need to replace) uses approximately 660 kwh per year which at 70 cents per kwh (my rate) is about R40 per month. Note that this is only based on one day's usage. After a few months, I will have a more accurate number.

The Ardo fridge uses about 40Watts when it is on and is so quiet that a friend on mind has it in his passage outside two of the bedrooms.

At 165kwh per year , the Ardo fridge costs R10 per month.

A normal fridge is about R2000 and an Ardo fridge is about R8000.

The difference is R6000, so R6000 / R30 (saving) = 200 months = 17 years. Not a very good payback period, but remember what I said in an earlier part of this blog series. The R6000 is locked in, ie there is no inflation. If electricity goes from 70 cents to 91 cents (30% increase), then the payback period is R6000 / R37.50 = 14 years. On so on.

The saving becomes clearer once we start looking at the costs of generating electricity compared with saving electricity.

Note that there are going to be paradoxes in this discussion. Whilst it is more expensive to buy an energy saving fridge, the more people buy them, the more the price will come down. If one adds in the environmental savings, then the total environmental costs are even lower.

If I have made any mistakes in my calculations please let me know so that I can fix them. In these cases, please let me know if I can publish your name as the person who found the mistake?

Designing your own electricity system - part 6 (energy efficiency)

See for my initial efficiency saving list.

Here are some more notes:

1) Turn off everything at the wall when the appliances are off so that nothing runs on standby.
2) Don't leave computers on when they aren't needed.
3) Try to use laptops where possible.
4) Playstations use a lot of electricity and should not be left on standby.
5) Is your house properly insulated. Are there gaps between windows and doors where hot or cold air can escape?
6) Use CFL lights instead of incandescent (normal) lights. Incandescent lights were designed 100 years ago by Edison and Tesla. CFL globes do contain mercury, but so do fluorescent globes. And the fillings in our teeth. All need to be disposed of properly.
7) If you have an airconditioner on and you need to put on a jersey, then you are wasting resources. Turn up the airconditioner. A minimum setting of 21 degrees should be cold enough.
8) If it is a very hot day, set the airconditioner temperature to less than 10 degrees below the outside temperature. You will feel the cool air and will save a lot of electricity; eg outside air temperature is 35 degrees celsius; minimum air conditioner temperature should be 25 degrees celsius. This excludes data centres and computer rooms and other rooms which need to be kept at a constant and lower temperature than this.

Designing your own electricity system - part 5 (where to find money for an RE system)

1) Once you have purchased an RE system, inflation is locked in. The more you use the system during daylight (sunny) hours or during windy house (if you have a wind turbine), the cheaper the cost is per kwh.

2) If you take your pension money and use if for an RE system, you are making a better investment than otherwise. This is my believe. It has not been proven.

3) Your house will be more valuable if you reduce its reliance on Eskom. If there is a power failure you might not even notice!

4) Many countries have 30% rebates on these kinds of systems. South Africa should have this kind of rebate program as well. It has been determined that a fossil fueled power station costs 30% of the cost of an RE power station and therefore the government would have spent this in any case to give you power and therefore should pay this back to you.

5) South Africa implemented feed in tariffs on 31st March 2009, but they don't include electricity made from Photovoltaic panels and someone has said that they are for Independent Power Producers only. ie not for private people who wish to supply the grid!

6) I know someone who has 3 water turbines on his farm. He produces 22kwh of power per day and powers 14 fridges on his farm as well as the rest of his equipment. He is on a river which flows all year. Small water turbines are the most efficient way of making electricity and they work in a similar way to a water dynamo.

Designing your own electricity system - part 4 (how much electricity are you using?)

1) Make a summary of how many kilowatt hours (kwh) you are using per month and how much it costs you. Calculate your cost per kwh. If you have a service charge remember to include this as part of your kwh charge.

2) To find out how much electricity you are using, buy a Voltage and Current metre from me. You can plug your equipment into them and they will tell you how much watts you are using. R500 cash before despatch price each plus postage and packing.

3) This metre tells you per plug what you are using. If you'd like a metre that shows what your house is using, then I have one for about R950. It has a special plug that goes into your electricity distribution board and a wireless screen that you can have with you anywhere in the house. This allows you to see your total consumption and to look for "ghost consumption" ie consumption you don't know about. This could be a geyser that you don't know about or devices that you think aren't using electricity, but which actually are using electricity.

4) Do you know how much electricity you are currently using? If not, buy a metre and find out.

Designing your own electricity system - part 3 (measuring success)

Here is my first thinking point.

What is more expensive?

1) Buying a new car for R150,000 or spending the same amount of money to take part of your house off the grid?

2) Spending R20,000 on the annual family holiday or the same amount taking your TV room off the grid? (note that this R20,000 makes some assumptions - we will look into this when we get to design).

How should we redefine "success" in the "green age"?

Should we continue to measure success as the Rolex watch or the fancy car or should we change our measurement to "successful people live off the grid"?

Designing your own electricity system - part 2

I am heartened by the amount of correspondence that is I have received since I started this process. I have received some private emails that will be difficult to respond to individually as I do not earning anything for answering them. If anyone wishes to pay for my time to design a system for them or help them with their installation, please let me know. I am prepared to do this at R450 per hour - ex VAT. Note that this may seem like a lot, but I have put over 1200 hours of time into my learning over the past year as well as over R500,000 of investment.

I am also thankful for the amount of support I am receiving, but am in the unenviable position of helping people free of charge for the past 6 months and now I need to convert that into income. I will be starting a training centre, so if anyone wants to come on a training course, please let me know?

So feel free to make your general points and ask your general queries here. If you wish to pay me to do research for you or to help you design and install a system or to help you design and install your own system, then please feel free to email me directly.

ok, now that that is off my chest, I think we need to start with the first ideas.

See separate reply about myths and costs and how our thinking needs to change before we can go green.

Designing your own electricity system - part 1

Dear all

I have started a new business called Orbital Renewable Energy. See

I would like to know if you would like me to run a thread on how you can size your own electrical systems using solar panels, wind turbines and water turbines?

This would give you an idea of what you need to run either your house or your critical loads, eg loads you want to run when there is a power failure.

There are lots of entry points into Renewable Energy and my company can provide you with a kit from as little as R3500 right up to full sized off grid houses in the millions. Note that we are working hard to reduce the price of our entry level kit. The kit comprises 3 LED lights, a solar panel, a battery box, and a cigarette lighter charger that has been designed to charge a cell phone, but which we are busy testing with running a laptop.

Please let me know if you are interested in this?


Saturday, 21 March 2009

Living off grids - taking responsibility for ourselves

Dear All

Believe it or not we live in a communistic World. It might not be "Communist" in the original sense, ie where a small group of people own everything, but today in our western world, a relatively small group owns everything. This is called centralisation and is supposed to be good and efficient.

But is it?

Most of us are slaves with "no free time" in a centralised world with centralised farms providing food to centralised organisations withcentralised warehouses. The centralised warehouses send their produce to centralised supermarkets and shopping centres. We get into our transport bought from centralised manufacturers and pay for fuel from centralised oil companies. We maintain our transport (cars) by using centralised (in many cases) maintenance organisations. Once we get our food, we refrigerate it and store it and pay centralised utilities for our electricity. Until the 1980's much of our electricity was made locally and in some cases businesses made their own electricity.

Until the 1960's many houses had septic tanks and french drains, but then the utilities (and councils and governments) said that they could take all this sewerage away cheaply and save us space and money.

This they did initially, but once we lost our choice they started increasing our taxation to the point where we are dramatically taxed in every sense of the word and have very little left over to better ourselves and our lives.

Here is an example of waste and inefficiency in big business. Instead of their being maybe 20 types of cars with maybe 100 options, there are 100's of cars some of which have 1000's of options. It is only in the last few months that General Motors has said that their processes are hugely inefficient and that they will start reducing the options and their range of cars. In the meantime they want the taxpayer to pay for their excesses. Why should we?

If we want to be capitalists, ie to be truly free, we need to take responsibility for ourselves instead of handing over our hard earned capital and cash to others to manage for us. For example instead of looking after our own interests for retirement we hand over up to 20% of our income to "retirement specialists" who "look after our money." From the 1880's to the 1980's I would agree that these mutual funds did look after their members interests, but then things changed and they became beholden to their shareholders and their management - who demanded huge returns on investment - the kinds of returns that yield booms and busts. So just when millions of people are retiring from the baby boom years and wanting access to their funds, they are told that there "is no money." Yet these specialists lived fantastic lives, worked in incredible buildings, and basically spent our money. I canceled all my retirement policies in 1999 when I saw what was going on.

After this I got phone calls asking me to invest my capital with long term people who would "look after it and grow it." I asked for the following guarantees:
1) at any time I wanted to be able to withdraw 100% of my capital, perhaps with 30 days notice;
2) at any time I wanted a guarantee that my capital would be worth at least its value taking inflation into account and additionally 5% over inflation.

Not one organisation was prepared to accede to my request. I didn't want 100% returns per annum, just 15 to 20% returns until I retired at whatever age. Yet many of these companies paid massive bonuses, grew their "assets" at 30 to 60% per annum and had the highest paid and "cleverest" economists, accountants, lawyers, actuaries, scientists, financiers, etc working for them. How could they have allowed this crash to happen? Why did they allow it? Why didn't they see it coming? Why didn't they have fail safe investments to cover themselves if something unforseen went wrong? Why didn't they take their money out of the stock markets in 2007 when the subprime crisis started? Why did they wait? The answer: greed. Pure and simple. I don't want people to be greedy with my money. I only want them to be prudent.

We are told that there is a "cost of living", but why should there be a cost of living?

If we make our own electricity, heat our own water, make our own food, find out own water, work from home (where possible - eg only maintenance type people should be on our roads - like plumbers, electricians, builders - the rest of us should work from home) and save on transport costs, use our waste to generate manure and gas for cooking, then at some point we don't need money anymore. If when we start working at the age of around 25, we take 15% of our income and invest it in "getting off grids" then by 55 we should be off all the grids no matter where we live and then any money we make is surplus.

We still need to make some money because it is a form of exchange, a promise to pay later, a way of valuing our work. We can also use a barter system and so in Milnerton we will be using our "growers association" to exchange food and ideas.

One of the joys of investing in yourself, eg your own energy, or your own farm at home, is that once you have made the investment you have locked in your costs for the next few decades. There will be maintenance costs, but there will be zero inflation. Your capital is protected. You have electricity, water and food when others around
you don't. You aren't better than them. You simply believe in the slow, safe, prudent approach. The approach that doesn't require large coal burning power stations to help you live. The approach where "instant gratification" is not in your vocabulary and where you can see the long term investments you are making in your family and life blossoming before your eyes.

I look forward to reinvigorating a new capitalism which is based on earning what we need to live and sharing all our excess with each other to create a more vibrant, interdependent world.

See my mindmap at for a visual representation of this essay.


Thursday, 5 March 2009

How South Africa can take advantage of clean energy

Dear all

(I'm sorry that this blog entry got so long (it took me most of today (8th March) to write), but there is so much to report on after my trip to the USA. I have left it as it is and will try to answer any questions you may have as a result of reading this email as best I can.)

Here is an index of the email:
1) Introduction
2) My Visit to the USA
3) South Africa's Goals And My Needs
4) Clean Coal (and Pea Soup Fog)?
5) Cape Town's Population Explosion
6) R1 Trillion
7) The technology is already available
8) What can we do?
9) Turning DREAMs into Reality

1) Introduction

"Even if all greenhouse gases stabilised at today's levels, the global climate would change for several decades because of the presence of these gases in the atmosphere." Environment Writer; Cape Times, 4th March 2009; page 4.

The government says it wants our "carbon emissions to peak between 2020 and 2025." Melanie Gosling; Cape Times, 4th March 2009; page 4. This might be too late as in the next few years huge wars may ensue (due to lack of water and other scarce resources) which may kill billions (these words from the leaders who spoke at the Retech 2009 conference that I attended last week in Las Vegas). I believe that this is why President Barack Obama has called for the USA's Renewable Energy productive capacity to double in the next three years (DREAM) (see; and

"By 2020, climate change will decrease agricultural yield by 50%." Professor Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as reported in the Cape Times on 4th March 2009. This shows that we don't have until 2020 or 2025 to start making changes. We have to make changes NOW. Dr Hermann Scheer (more further down) says that the reason for central governments resistance to Renewable Energy (RE) around the world is because of BLAME. They feel they will be blamed for their past decisions. I understand that the main reason that central planners don't want to change is because they don't want to be seen as wrong, i.e. that perhaps they made the wrong decisions in the past. My personal opinion is that the past is the past. We need to make the decisions NOW for the future. We need to remember that we are not given the world by our parents, but lent it by our children. Our faith in the future and in G-d demands that we take responsibility NOW and do something to fix our small and fragile planet NOW. Mental blocks in the form of "baggage" and "vested interests" remains. Rich people (countries) can afford to buy their way out of trouble whilst the poor (developing countries) bear the brunt of bad energy management policies that should not be allowed to continue.

"Climate change and global warming are already effecting our health and it will get worse." "Heatstroke related deaths" are increasing. "Raging fires" are increasing. "Diseases associated with climate change and global warming include cardiovascular disease, diarrhea, malaria, fatal accident injuries, malnutrition from the unavailability of daily calorie intake." "The International Panel on Climate Change talks about the health effects of temperature change: wind, storms, floods, drought and nutrition, food security and food safety; water and disease; vector-borne, rodent-borne and other infectious diseases; and finally occupational health and ultraviolet radiation." "The solution will require unprecedented human co-operation." All quotes from Dr Wilmot James's article in the Cape Times on March 5th 2009 (page 9). Dr James is executive chairman of the Africa Genome Education Institute and UCT Honorary Professor in the Division of Human Genetics.

"2.5 million homes are without electricity" in South Africa. Cape Times, Thursday March 5th, 2009. Most burn wood and use paraffin. It is estimated that there are currently 1.6 Billion people worldwide without access to electricity. Note that in the next 20 years the number of people without electricity is set to increase worldwide due to population growth although the percentage of people with electricity is expected to increase.

2) My Visit to the USA

I have just returned from three very exciting weeks at 3 Renewable Energy Conferences and a one week training course on grid-tie photovoltaics. I met some incredible people including some very high up politicians in the UK and German governments. For example Dr Hermann Scheer. See and South Africa MUST become a member of IRENA and must have its application in by the end of March 2009. I attended an ACORE ( international meeting where Dr Scheer spoke and was fortunate to sit at the table with him during the ACORE members day conference lunch in Las Vegas. He has been instrumental in getting Renewable Energy into Germany as well as being the person who created the German Rebate and Feed In Tariff (FIT) legislation. He travelled with Andrea Ypsilanti, a member of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) party in the German parliament and I am able to make contact with her. IRENA wants "to be the voice of RE worldwide and wants to be used to overcome the mental barriers that exist in some of the world's cleverest people." Dr Scheer says "success demands leadership." Where is this Clean-tech / RE political will and leadership in South Africa?

Germany changed the law to provide:
* priority access to the grid for all RE providers;
* a guaranteed Fee (FIT) guaranteed for 20 years.
This revolutionary one page law was drawn up and implemented in the German Bundestag (parliament) in 1990!!!

"It was simple and precise, based on three main pillars: free access to the grid, guaranteed fixed prices, and the obligation for utilities to purchase. The implementation of the law has resulted in an incredible 200-300 percent yearly growth in wind energy in Germany, and implementation of the 100,000 solar roofs programme. So, this unique renewable energy law has made Germany the world leader in production of wind energy with 7,000 megawatts (one third of the total world wind power capacity), and reached as much as 50 percent of the total European capacity." See Note that South Africa has much more sun - and perhaps much more wind - than Germany, yet we fall way behind this great nation. Note that South Africa has just embarked on a wind energy study, but this data is already available in a number of different places. I believe that all these South African studies are delaying tactics designed to make the public ignorant of the state of RE and give the huge fossil fuel groups more say in our future. Note that the stats above are slightly out of date as in 2007 the world added 15GW of wind power (and only 1.4GW of net nuclear power).

There is so much precedent. South Africa doesn't need to invent anything. It is all there ready for us to use. Just as Germany is using South African thin film technology, so we can use German technology and law as a precedent for what we need to do. At the moment we are buying Siemens products for peaking power stations, but there is so much better German technology available.

Note that FITs are not unique to the RE industry and are offered to Nuclear providers (see the Amory Lovins report handed out at the 19th November 2008 FIT tariff meeting at Cape Town's parliament).

South Africa is about to make a time consuming mistake by following the British lead in changing South Africa's fledgeling FIT legislation to rather be like the failed British tender system. If you need a report showing that Britain has already reached this conclusion, I can probably get it as I met the British Vice-Consul in the USA who is the top guy in the USA regarding British Clean Energy (Renewable Energy (RE)) policy and commercial business development in the RE space between British and American companies.

We are constantly told that using sun and wind and other renewable energies is unbelievably expensive compared with coal, but Germany has reached a point where it has shown that wind energy is cheaper than coal energy for the first time. Not only this, but South Africa has a number of mines that are 5km deep, a depth from which one can drill a little further into the earth at very small incremental cost to use the heat from earth in geo-thermal power stations and in other heat exchange applications. Not only this, but the true cost when health and other pollution effects from fossil fuels is added to the total cost of living is huge and possibly immeasurable.

3) South Africa's Goals And My Needs

My main problem now is that I need to divide my time between my new Renewable Energy business and helping South Africa reach its goal of low carbon emissions and reducing climate change. Perhaps someone knows someone who can fund my time for helping one of the political parties or one of our NGO's achieve South Africa's goals?

According to the newspaper and web site, I have read that South Africa's goals should be reinforced by an ethos which has been written by our politicians:
* "The South African government regards climate change as one of the greatest threats to our planet and to our people. The South African government also believes that climate change, if un-mitigated, also has the potential to undo or undermine many of the positive advances made in meeting South Africa's own development goals and the Millennium Development Goals." See (Climate Change Summit 2009)
* Helen Zille and others have said they will be "Unashamed Ethical" (see They subscribe to "a culture of good values, clean living and good business practice." This, together with Cape Town's wish to be Africa's first "green city" means that our politicians will force themselves to put their words into practice. And it will be much easier than they think.
* A process was started at the Wind Energy Conference in Cape Town, South Africa in November 2003 at which Dr Hermann Scheer made recommendations. These recommendations had been implemented by Germany in 1990 and revised in 2000. Germany now has the highest number of off grid houses worldwide. Although the conference took place in South Africa, South Africa didn't implement its recommendations. See Click on Conference Committees for an interesting list of people who attended the conference. Note that Hermann Oelsner was at this conference. He is now the CEO of Darling Wind Farm which has a 20 year FIT agreement with the City of Cape Town. If big business can organise FITs why can't fits be provided for private individuals in South Africa?

At the same time that decentralisation and deregulation are required we find Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica calling for a new law "forcing the consolidation of the electricity industry." (see Cape Times, March 4th, 2009, page 20 Business Report). This is another mistake at a time when the world sees the need for decentralised electricity generation and smart grids which very quickly reduces peak load and thus reduces the need for more base load power stations.

4) Clean Coal (and Pea Soup Fog)?

At the same time as this, "SA was moving into a new era of carbon taxes" with a target for emissions peaking "between 2020 and 2025". "State led policy intervention will play a key role ..." There is also a reference to "clean coal", i.e. cleaning the output emissions of a coal powered power station. We are told that it is ok to build coal powered power stations because one can clean the fumes! This from the articles on page 6 of the Cape Times on 4th March 2009. There is no such thing as clean coal, however there is a massive advertising campaign showing in the USA trying to persuade voters that coal is clean! Their advertising refers to You need to make up your own minds.

However, if one looks at Satellite images of China where a new coal power power station opens every week, one will see a huge plume of smoke covering many cities and I understand that this plume is now moving out over the Pacific Ocean towards Japan and the USA. I haven't checked, so it would be interesting to see if anyone can get hold of these satellite images. I do know that China did a massive close down of all the power stations near Beijing for the Olympics last year and that Beijing hadn't been so clean in years. I also know that Beijing isn't the only city in China that suffers from this "fog" and that in the 19th Century London (England) suffered from this "Pea soup fog" (

5) Cape Town's Population Explosion

At the same time as all this we learn that Cape Town will have twice as many people in 2030 as it has now. The only way to sustain this kind of growth is through decentralisation of energy, of farming, of water conservation. I believe that one way to support this is with my "living off grids" process. I will be happy to explain why this is much cheaper than any other alternative.

6) R1 Trillion

We have been told that in its initial phase Eskom will borrow R343 billion, yes billion Rand and for its overall expansion it will need R1 trillion. With prime at 14% and with credit currently being tight and interest rates for big loans being about 3% over prime at the moment, borrowing at 17% means a huge repayment of R170 billion per annum just on interest. Repaying these loans over 30 years means that at least 20% of South Africa's GDP will be spent on repaying loans, possibly to foreign creditors, for years. There are easier, simpler and cheaper ways of solving our problems. I think that if (just) R50 billion per annum was made available in tax incentives such as rebates, tax credits and FIT's that within 2 to 4 years, we would have such a massive explosion of Renewable Energy in this country that the government would not need to build any new base load power stations again - EVER.

FYI, the total revenue of the electricity distribution industry in South Africa is currently R33 billion per annum. How does one repay R200 billion per annum from a R33 billion per annum revenue? High taxation is required! Note that after the 50% increases in electricity last year, electricity in South Africa is relatively the same price as in the USA; e.g. a South African electrical team comprising an electrician and two helpers charges approximately R550 per hour. In Georgia, USA, the fee is $95 per hour, almost twice the price. Doubling the price of electricity in South Africa will make the cost of electricity to South Africans twice what it is in the USA in real terms, thus making South African's ability to do business and compete on a world platform that much less. The real way to solve our electricity pricing crisis is to charge foreigners who wish to put huge energy-hungry businesses on our shores the same price they are charged in their home country for electricity; e.g. I've heard that it is currently cheaper for Australia to ship its iron ore to South Africa to be smelted and then to ship the steel back to Australia to be made into cars etc than to do the same in Australia. The same goes for all the other smelters in the Richards Bay area. The same goes for all the other foreign companies who are using power stations built with South African blood to maximise their profits and maximise our losses.

7) The technology is already available

Please be aware that all the technology that we need is already available. The problem is the lack of political, business and private willingness to make the change. I have done the numbers for myself and have found that removing my house from the grid is cost effective over the long term. You should also make this decision.

The time to act is NOW. Let's work together to make our lives better. Start NOW.

8) What can we do?

Here are some ideas to think about. This is the sequence in which I would implement changes if I was responsible for Renewable Energy government policy in South Africa. They are listed in order of zero cost upwards.

1) Net Metering;
2) Tiered Rates Structure (like water rates) for private houses;
3) Accelerated Depreciation for RE investments: preferably 100% in the first year, but otherwise 50% in the first year, then 30%, then 20%. Rather than straight line for 6 years;
4) Feed in Tariffs: reviewed every 5 years. Existing (if working) FITs left alone. Taking the money which is being made available to Eskom over the next few years will more than cover Grants, FITS and Rebates;
5) Tax Credits (for people who owe tax: 30% in some US States);
6) Grants & Rebates (50% in Germany; already 30% in some US States);
7) Time of use tariffs (require electricity meters to be upgraded);
8) Extending the grid to sunny and windy and wave energy places in South Africa thus allowing private industry to create power stations. German calls this "giving access to the grid as an absolute priority." Private industry can pay the government a fee (say 10 cents per kwh) for using their grid.

9) Something to do at the same time as the above is "demand management." In the USA, they are calling this "smart grids." For example the South African government has already gone some of the way by giving us CFL lights instead of Incandescent Lights. And geyser blankets. But we need more; for example: on Mondays all houses with even numbers can do their washing and on Tuesdays all houses with odd numbers can do theirs. Or with meters that measure time of use, one can plan to do their washing and cooking at low rates. Or the central utility (Eskom) can put special electronics in our appliances such as washing machines and cookers so that they control when they are switched on, e.g. when there is spare electricity.

Note that I have done some research which shows that it costs R4.20 per kWh (kilowatt hour) to run Koeberg and R11.20 per kWh to run our peaking power station in Atlantis at full capacity (using 25,000 litres of diesel a minute). Our electricity cost is about 75 cents per kWh which means that the majority of the cost of nuclear and peaking power comes from taxation. If this is the case, then FIT's in South Africa could easily be R4.20 per kWh instead of the currently proposed 70 cents (which is going to reduce every year!). South Africa has much more sun than Germany. It should be an easy decision of what must be done.

Jobs at an unprecedented rate are being created in the RE space worldwide. This industry is growing at over 30% annually and this will increase over the next few years. Does South Africa want to be left behind? We have some of the brainiest people in the world. For example Professor Vivian Alberts from Wits who invented a viable thin film technology and Elon Musk, a former South African and now CEO of the USA's premier electrical sports car company: see

9) Turning DREAMs into Reality

Barack Obama gave 3 minutes of his State of the Nation speech on 24th February 2009 to RE See ( ). He wants the USA to get to 20% renewable energy by 2020 and 25% renewable energy by 2025. Why should South Africa wait until 2025 before it gets serious about implementing RE? It is estimated that over the next 20 years, US$20 Trillion will be spent on RE worldwide. We should not be left behind.

If you need an explanation of any of the terms used in this email, please let me know.