green energy leads way
A "green village" is the last thing one would expect to find in Johannesburg.
But nestled in the bustling city is the Greenhouse Project in Joubert Park. It was initiated in 1993 by EarthLife Johannesburg to promote "environmentally friendly" living in the city.
In recent weeks, the facility has attracted attention because of its promise of economically friendly practices, and use of alternative energy products.
Soon, the organisation will be able to produce bio-diesel from used cooking oil, says executive director Dorah Lebelo.
"We are collecting used cooking oil from restaurants, which we will turn into environmentally friendly diesel.
"The facility has been 'off the grid' for the past 10 months and is unaffected by power outages because it is run almost entirely by solar energy.
"We use a generator only for our computers, though it is not the best option for the environment," says Lebelo.
A shiny, dome-like structure facing the sun greets visitors as they walk into the green village. This is a parabolic solar cooker, explains Lebelo.
A pot of beans on this ecologically friendly appliance can provide a wholesome lunch for the staff at the centre. Made of stainless steel, the dome can be moved to face the sun to make the most of the natural heat.
Heat collects on the sides of the cooker. It then concentrates in the centre where the pot is placed. The temperature rises high enough to boil water or even cook a pot of beans.
"A meal of pap 'n vleis for five people can be cooked in two hours," says Tumelo Ramolefi of the centre.
Lebelo says a black or dark green enamel pot is the most suitable kitchen utensil for this method of cooking because it absorbs more heat.
"This doesn't cost anything, it's free. Even the poor can benefit from this type of technology," she says.
But at R1800, the parabolic cooker does not come cheap. And, it does not work on overcast days.
The centre also stocks cheaper alternatives to cleaner cooking and heating such as mobile cookers, gel stoves and portable solar water heaters.
These mini-geysers on wheels hold up to 20litres of water, which is heated in less than two hours on a clear sunny day.
The gel stoves are powered by odour-free and non-toxic ethanol gel, a by-product of sugar cane.
"It is available in liquid, gel or gas form. It is safer than paraffin. Ethanol puts itself out when it comes into contact with oxygen, and therefore eliminates the threat of fires," says Lebelo.
Lebelo says the gel stoves and the gel fuel are available in most retail shops, but might be slightly expensive compared to ordinary electric stoves.
The centre also produces its own vegetables and herbs which it sells. The herbs are also used to make organic skin-care products.
The project also includes a recycling initiative that employs 11 people, who collect glass, cans, paper and plastic. These are later sold to recycling plants to generate income for the workers.
"We need to find other forms of renewable energy. It's the way to go," says Lebelo.