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Earth Day 2024: Smart tech solutions can pave the way towards a more sustainable & energy-secure future in SA

by Mark Allewell, CEO of Sensor Networks

Differences between cultures, social rules and norms exist in all societies and across all communities. For the most part, these unspoken social rules keep societies well-oiled and functioning smoothly – having an implicit understanding of what is required from one another, even if arbitrary and annoying at times, makes life just a little easier. We absorb these norms and ideas into our everyday lives through osmosis and imitation, with the fear of possible embarrassment or uncomfortable and awkward silences pushing us to buy into their use. Of all the unspoken rules of conversation (avoid politics if you want things to remain civil, don’t monologue, don’t brag, etc.), turning the conversation to the topic of the weather is a surefire sign that the conversation is sickly. At least, that is how it used to be.

Now, discussions about the weather are commonplace – not because we are so devoid of creativity and curiosity that we cannot hold a conversation, but because our weather has become more than interesting: it has become worrying. While we are all very used to commiserating when faced with a week of sweltering 35-degree days (and oppressive and sleepless nights), these occurrences have become more frequent and more intense.

While the politics of climate change are depressingly held hostage by self-interest and those with their heads in the sand, South Africans (like many places around the world) have already faced several devastating consequences of changes to weather patterns. Capetonians are all well aware of what water scarcity looks and feels like, whereas flooding in Durban has left thousands homeless, businesses damaged, and infrastructure destroyed.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that can rescue us from erratic and intense weather. Fortunately, however, we – as a species – recognise the threat and are increasingly working together for our collective benefit. Efforts to curb (and potentially reverse) the effects of climate change are a long-term project that will only bear fruit if the adoption of greener practices is taken up on a global scale; thus, governments, private sectors, households, and individuals all have a role to play in our salvation.

Realistically, change will be slow and imperceptibly incremental as major disruptions and bans to dirty industries and practices risk endangering societal harmony and stability. Instead, small steps have been taken—for example, legislation aimed at reducing waste and pollution by industry or the limitations placed on the use of certain types of light bulbs. Beyond bans and decrees on certain behaviours and products, small steps are also being taken daily by citizens and businesses without being impelled by the coercion of government.

Being a conscientious and eco-friendly citizen, however, is easier said than done given that we all have limited time, concentration, and energy to be perfectly green at every moment in our daily lives. Some of the resistance to change stems from the misunderstanding that green practices will negatively impact our quality of life, be too costly to adopt, or require a significant and unrealistic overhaul of our behaviour. This, however, is not true – any small change is not only beneficial for all of us (as the cumulative effect of small gestures carries great weight), but can produce a positive impact for the individual as well.

Take the example of a household geyser: being able to access warm water promotes sanitation, comfort, and warmth for most people. But any appliance that requires the ability to heat or cool (whether an oven, a geyser, or a freezer) requires, by default, significant amounts of electricity. A geyser can account for up to 45% of monthly household energy consumption, making it among the most wasteful of household amenities (particularly as we do not use them at all hours of the day).

So, if we were to live a greener and more eco-friendly life, it would make sense that we should sacrifice some of the convenience afforded by our geysers, right? A few decades ago, this may have been true; but as South Africa’s energy landscape continues to devolve (since 2007), innovators and out-of-the-box thinking offer us some alternatives.

Instead of foregoing the benefits of a geyser, or committing to the manual process of turning it on or off, we are now able to manage its use efficiently with smart technologies. These achieve much of the same outcome as manually operating the unit but minimize energy use and are easily accessible via a smartphone. Instead of foregoing convenience and comfort, this ensures it; instead of being too costly, this promotes lower energy bills; and instead of a major overhaul to your plumbing, this works in tandem with already-existing systems.

The geyser example is but one of many such advances that are now available and make being eco-friendly convenient, good for your bank account, and easy on your conscience. It is also a perfect example of the small steps taken by citizens and households, which, together, can lessen our impact on the environment and make a tangible difference.

Solar power, electric vehicles, the recycling of cans, or even just opting for the use of less plastic are all viable and meaningful steps we can take to lessen our impact on the environment and combat climate change. If we all want to revert back to a time when our weather was less confrontational, then we need to heed the messages and spirit of Earth Day and embrace the role of green practices and technologies throughout all aspects of our lives.

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