South Africa aims for ‘zero carbon’ buildings in green push

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CAPE TOWN, May 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Bulelwa
Makalima-Ngewana knows how much cash going green can save.

Four years ago, after signing up for “My Green Home” – an
effort by the Green Building Council of South Africa to make
buildings more energy efficient – her family saw their house in
the middle-class suburb of Pinelands retrofitted with energy
saving LED lights, low-flow showerheads and roof-top solar
panels, as well as winter insulation.

As part of the green makeover, the family also learned to
cut their energy use by hanging laundry out to dry rather than
using a tumble dryer, switching off appliances that aren’t being
used, and switching to washing laundry with cold water.

“My children were very excited as we got to do this as a
family,” Makalima-Ngewana, a consultant at the University of
Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, told the Thompson
Reuters Foundation.

Better yet, since joining the programme, her family’s energy
costs have fallen by nearly 90 percent, she said.

As South African cities aim to battle the effects of climate
change, from drought in Cape Town to the threat of rising seas
and flooding in Durban, four cities have banded together to try
to create zero-carbon buildings, which produce no contribution
to climate change in their use of energy.

Working in conjunction with the C40 Cities initiative – a
group of major world cities trying to cut climate-changing
emissions – the plan is to require new buildings in
Johannesburg, Cape Town, eThekwini (formerly Durban) and Tshwane
(formerly Pretoria) to become much more energy efficient, to cut
electricity bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

Tim Pryce, who runs C40 energy and buildings programmes
worldwide, said the effort seeks to help South African cities
rapidly scale up low-carbon building efforts and share what they
learn with other cities.

Buildings make up the largest single source of emissions in
C40 cities globally, with over half of the total emissions, he
said.

“If we are to avoid hugely damaging impacts from climate
change – impacts that will make the current water shortage in
Cape Town look minor – we need to drive these emissions down as
rapidly as possible, towards net zero carbon all around the
world by 2050 at the latest,” Pryce told Thompson Reuters
Foundation.

 

‘NET-ZERO’ FUTURE

Cities that achieve “net zero carbon” would produce very few
climate-changing emissions, with those still produced offset by
means such as planting carbon-absorbing trees.

Ensuring new buildings are highly efficient and run largely
on renewable energy is crucial to try to limit global warming to
relatively safe levels, Pryce said.

“Our target is to work with the four cities to bring
policies, such as better building codes or more ambitious
planning requirements, into effect by the end of 2020,” he said.

Building experts from Sustainable Energy Africa, an
organisation that promotes equitable and low carbon clean energy
development, will work with teams in the target South African
cities to make that happen, he said.

“It is indeed a good thing,” said Thulani Kuzwayo, a
marketer with the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA),
which has certified over 300 “Green Star” buildings since 2009.

To achieve the certification buildings must be energy
efficient, comfortable, handle waste responsibly and contain
spaces that contribute to the health and well-being of their
users.

The effort “can shift paradigms in planning, design,
construction and building operation,” said Kuzwayo, who is also
chair of World Green Building Council’s African regional
network.

Because many buildings are made to last up to 50-100 years,
building them for efficiency can result in a huge savings in
climate-changing emissions over time, Kuzwayo said.

However, South Africa is still at the early stages of
adopting green building standards, he said.

“The problems encountered include the common perception that
green buildings are expensive. They can be but they don’t have
to be,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Perceived elitism associated with green buildings also can
be an issue, as people tend to view them as expensive, he said.

He said changes in how buildings are created must be led by
governments “for the desired scale and impact”.

“If government leads in constructing and operating
energy-efficient buildings, it will propel the adoption
drastically,” Kuzwayo said.

 

FROM POWER TO WATER

Sometimes, the worries each city faces can help drive
action.

In Cape Town, the “My Green Home” effort launched “right
after the power utility, Eskom, had problems to provide adequate
electricity in the country,” remembers Makalima-Ngewana, whose
household was chosen as one of the programme’s pioneers.

“People were challenged to come up with alternative ways to
save and use power,” she said.

Now Cape Town has a new worry: water supplies, in the face
of longer droughts linked to climate change.

Makalima-Ngewana’s family is now adapting to that as well,
through things like reusing household wastewater as part of the
city’s home greening efforts.

“Though the initial focus was strongly focused on energy
saving – we still do it up to now – due to water problems we
also now utilise our grey water at home,” she said.
(Reporting by Munyaradzi Makoni; editing by Laurie Goering :
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