More and more people, businesses, and organizations are looking for sustainable solutions when it comes to products, processes, and systems and with good reasons. Some of the challenges facing today’s society include shortages of resources such as water and energy, pollution and wastage from inefficiencies, and different health and climate change concerns when it comes to fossil fuels. In South Africa, sustainable engineering plays an important role in increasing access to resources, reducing the costs, and creating an efficient society for us both now and in the future.
What Exactly Is Sustainable Engineering?
There are different ways to look at sustainable engineering. It is about designing systems and processes in a way that is conscious of the environment and of future generations. Sustainable engineering brings together different disciplines and considers environmental, social, and economic factors. Its goal is to ensure that resources are used responsibly.
Sustainable engineering stretches into areas such as energy efficiency, waste reduction and management, materials management, pollution prevention, green building, and process optimisation. Sustainable engineering asks the questions about how efficient processes are, what materials are used and whether they are recyclable or toxic, and how our current activities will affect those who come after us. It is also important in how we adapt to dynamic conditions such as climate change, unemployment, inequality, and economic challenges.
Applications of Sustainable Engineering in South Africa
When it comes to resource use and management, South Africa’s challenges are clear. With a population of around 54 million and a population growth rate of 1.20% in 2018, the country needs creative solutions and sustainable approaches to address today’s issues. These include drought and water crisis in the Western Cape, infrastructure and development deficiencies, and the energy crisis leading to load shedding, to name a few.
A sustainable engineering approach requires that we explore alternative energy sources, improve the generation and distribution efficiency, and explore new ways to conserve and preserve our resources. Some of the issues concerning energy, water, and waste in the country are looked at in a little more depth below.
Energy & Resource Efficiency
Incorporating efficiency measures in new-build design as well as in retrofits are key components of a sustainble engineering approach. This include electricity efficiency measures such as efficient lighting selection & control, building envelope optimisation, heating ventilation & air conditioning selection, pump & fan motor control to name but a few. Water efficency considerations include grey, black, red-water & rain water harvesting. It is common that energy & resource efficiency optimisations initially produce the quickest returns on investment (ROI) and should be the first port of call prior to investigating alternate or supplementary energy & resource supply.
Energy Generation in South Africa
Eskom, as the country’s electricity public utility, operates 23 power stations to meet the country’s growing energy demands. The majority of these are coal-fired thermal power stations, but there are also a number of hydroelectric power stations, gas power stations, one wind, and one nuclear power station as shown on the South Africa grid map below.
Of the total nominal capacity of 42 090MW of the country’s power stations, approximately 85% comes from the coal-fired power stations. This heavy dependence on fossil fuel energy is a cause for concern because of the rate at which these resources are being depleted, the impact on the environment in terms of pollution, global warming, and climate change, and the public health concerns. The government’s push for more renewable energy generation is commendable. A sustainable engineering approach means looking at alternative clean energy sources such as wind, solar, and biomass energy and how to cut the costs of it to make it accessible to more of the country’s population.
Water Management in South Africa
The Western Cape water crisis has brought to the forefront the need for more effective water management and planning, risk assessment, and ability to respond and adapt to climate change and other eventualities. It has opened our eyes to the importance of water conservation, eliminating inefficiencies in the system, and maybe more importantly to the need for alternative water sources. A sustainable engineering approach is required to provide the foresight needed to address similar challenges and provide more than just temporary fixes.
Waste Management in South Africa
There is indeed a global push to reduce waste and improve waste management. Too much waste may or may not be a reflection of inefficient processes. Some of the challenges of waste include pollution when it comes to industrial by-products and disease prevention when it comes to residential waste. For sustainability, it is important to look at alternative materials which are environmentally-friendly and possibly recyclable, improve waste management, and promote recycling. One of the exciting aspects of waste reduction and management is the opportunity it presents for entrepreneurs to provide creative business solutions that address the challenges facing our communities.
Closing Thoughts on Sustainable Engineering
Another important area for sustainable engineering is in the area of green building design as advocated by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). Our homes and offices need to be built using the best materials and designs to provide energy efficiency and reduce waste, pollution, and any other adverse effects on the environment, the land, and the communities that reside there.
For more information on sustainable engineering, you can visit UNESCO’s page to learn about their initiatives. Transforming systems and processes towards sustainability is not one person or institution’s sole responsibility. It demands the combined effort of government regulators, policymakers, companies and businesses, and all citizens. We are all stakeholders.
Zero Point Energy (Pty) Ltd is a proudly South African sustainable engineering company that provides professional engineering consulting & turn-key solutions in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, off-grid and energy storage solutions, water efficiency and responsible waste management. The company is a 100% black youth-owned, 30% black female-owned EME achieving a Level 1 BBBEE Contributor status, and has a passion to transform the energy industry without compromising on safety, quality and client satisfaction. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.zpenergy.co.za