The EnerKey to the future

Soweto and Stuttgart, not two places you would normally associate with one another. Nor would you associate schools from each region teaming up to tackle sustainable development of Gauteng. But they have, discovers GAVIN MYERS.

The Gauteng province is well on its way to being the world’s 14th largest urban region. Together, the Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane metropolis has a population well in excess of 10 million, and a population growth rate of around 2,4% per annum. This means that by 2015 the projected population will hover around the 14,6 million count.

Scary figure, that. Especially when you consider the 2001 census for Gauteng as a whole, which measured the population to be ‘only’ 8,83 million, and put the population density at around 520/km².

At this rate of expansion, some serious questions are raised about the province’s capacity to develop while adequately sustaining its environmental, social and economic aspects. More importantly, questions are raised about who will ensure what will be done to make sure it is sustainable. This is where the EnerKey project comes in.

EnerKey is a South African and German collaboration, comprising researchers, city administrators and businesses from both countries with the aim of tackling Gauteng’s energy challenges. The name ‘EnerKey’ comes from the focus of the project: “Energy as a key element of sustainable transformation”. The project was started in 2005 (phase 1) and in June 2008 the main phase took effect.

One of the project’s objectives is to develop and implement energy projects as pilot studies, such as mass solar water heating implementation and schools retrofit and education campaigns. The foundation is now in place for schools to develop energy-saving strategies. The PACE College in Jabulani, Soweto, has been identified as the preliminary contact school for Gauteng, along with the Uhlandeschule German School in Stuttgart for Germany. Scholars from each school will set up energy monitoring and energy efficiency programmes in their respective schools.

Launched on 16 March 2011 at the PACE College, the EnerKey Schools project consists of experts from the University of Johannesburg, the University of Stuttgart, the Gauteng Government and Metros, the City of Stuttgart and energy suppliers and organisations in South Africa.

In addition, the EnerKey programme has various other energy efficiency and development projects underway, including a solar-powered water heating project at Cosmo City in Johannesburg; an extensive business plan for large-scale rollout of domestic solar water heaters; residential thermal energy devices for residential buildings; safer paraffin stoves, lamps and fire-proof bedding and curtains; and a method of starting a fire in braziers – usually used for cooking – that maximises energy use and reduces pollution at grassroots level by up to 90%.

“At the moment South Africa’s economy and energy system is driven by coal-produced electricity and the country has a carbon dioxide emission per capita as high as that of Germany. Energy is the key technology of sustainable megacities,” says Prof Harold Annegarn, principal investigator of the EnerKEY programme at the University of Johannesburg’s Sustainable Energy Technology and Research (SeTAR) Centre. “Renewable energy resources would be the departure point, with innovation a key aspect. The project is about developing new knowledge and applying new knowledge,” he concludes.

And that’s exactly the sustainable thinking a developing region, with a population rapidly exceeding 10 million inhabitants, needs.

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