November 2012

Lighting23 Nov 2012 06:13 am

Karebo installs Philips LEDs

I didn’t even have to climb a ladder

If you’re tired of Eskom taking your money, I have good news. The national electricity company want to give you a gift worth at least R10 0000.

The gift is in the form of LED downlights, and these freebies are already lighting up my house—and saving electricity. If you have halogen downlights in your ceiling, or tracklights that use the small halogen reflectors, and if you live in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban or Port Elizabeth, this present is for you.

Until this week, when I wrote about the program for the Mail and Guardian, Eskom’s Residential Mass Rollout was actually a well-kept secret, marketed quietly to avoid long waiting lists. That is changing rapidly, however, so if you want these bulbs in a hurry, I suggest you sign up right away. Tell your friends about it only after you’re already in the queue.

For this year, Karebo is the only service provider, and will keep installing until they run out of approximately 1.7 million LEDs. From next year, Eskom promises to expand the rollout and enlist more installers as partners.

If you are interested, here are the steps:

1. Count how many downlight bulbs you can use. The maximum number you can get for free is forty. Note separately how many of those bulbs are on dimmers.

2. Consider whether you would also like free CFL bulbs, low-flow shower heads, a pool timer or geyser timer. (More about those below.)

3. Go to and click on “sign up” in the box that should pop up in the upper-left corner of the screen

4. Fill in your details.

5. Make a deposit if you are paying extra for dimmable bulbs. (More on that below.)

6. Wait a week or two to be contacted for an installation appointment.

And here’s what you will get:

LEDs: These are top-of-the-line, warm-white, Philips bulbs rated at the same light output as 50 watt halogen downlights. They would retail for R250 to R300—if you could find them. The LEDs come in four flavours. The mains voltage, non-dimmable bulb has the lowest consumption, just 5.5 watts. That’s barely 10 percent of the 50 watt bulb it replaces. It also has the longest lifetime: 40,000 hours. They carry a three-year warranty, but I’ll consider myself lucky if I outlive these bulbs. The mains voltage, dimmable bulb is the same, except that it uses 6 watts and costs R25 extra. (For a bulb worth more than R250, it’s a steal.)

The low-voltage, non-dimmable bulb uses 7 watts, and is rated for 30,000 hours. The dimmable low voltage LED uses 10 watts. In addition, the low-voltage transformer draws some power, again proving that low-voltage is not the same as low wattage. The low-voltage LEDs not only draw slightly more power and have shorter lifespans, but they also bear the risk that a small number of transformers are incompatible with them.

Three years ago, Greenerhouse predicted that the best way to prepare for the LED revolution was to only install mains-voltage downlights. Unfortunately, I put the lights in my ceiling before I knew that. So to get the very best free LEDs, I ripped out my transformers in advance of the installers’ arrival and rewired the fixtures using R30 kits that I bought from Lighting Warehouse. (Radiant brand, models HG10 or HG11) But I’m hard-core, deep-green. If you have low-voltage lights and don’t want to fuss, get the low-voltage LEDs. I didn’t succeed in removing two of my transformers, and the two low-voltage LEDs I installed work perfectly.

Dimmers can also raise compatibility issues. Of the three dimmers in my house, two—Clipsal 2000 series—are working flawlessly with the new LEDs. One is not. At various points in the rotation, the lights will flicker and even go out. For now, I’ve learned how to position the dial so that the lights work as they should, but Karebo offers a R250 dimmer for the LEDs, and I plan to purchase one.

One final limitation: Eskom only wants working, 50 watts halogen globes. For years I have paid extra for the most efficient halogens, 20 and 35 watt IRC, energy-saving bulbs. Even if I had kept all of my old low-voltage sockets, I would have had to buy 40 new bulbs, just have to have Eskom destroy them. Buying new bulbs for no purpose other than to have them crushed felt like the most wasteful thing I’ve done all year. But in the end it has saved a lot of electricity.

CFLs: Eskom has been offering free CFLs for years, but if you missed the opportunity last time, these globes will cut your electricity consumption in fixtures that use ordinary screw or bayonet bulbs. Karebo will install a maximum of twenty.

Shower heads: I already have a low-flow shower head that I love , so I didn’t accept this gift. Karebo claims that this shower head is used in some five-star hotels. I have spoken to one homeowner who years ago removed low-flow shower roses from his home because during his showers he had to “run around chasing drips of water.” This same fussy person is very happy with the low-flow heads Karebo recently installed for him. Karebo does admit, however, that a few customers have asked for their old shower heads back. As with the lights, the installers have to keep the originals to prove to Eskom that they did their job, but, amazingly, they keep track of each shower head for a period of time in case customers want Karebo to reinstall them.

Geyser Timer: Again, I’m happy with my Geyserwise, so I said “no, thank you.” Eskom may soon insist on installing geyser timers for those who want free LEDs and do not already have their own geyser timer or solar hot water system. The timers are installed on your DB board and have four pre-programmed settings, all of which keep the geyser off during Eskom’s peak times: 6 to 8 in the mornings and evenings. This is definitely good for the country and good for Eskom. It plays a part in reducing the risk of load shedding. But is it also good for your electricity bill? Well, if you only use hot water at limited times of the day, a timer could save some electricity by keeping the geyser off while you are at work. And if Eskom carries through with its promise to charge varying rates according to the time of day, the timer could one day save you significantly more.

Pool timer: The intention here again is to keep your pump off during peak hours. Otherwise, it has only a few advantages over ordinary timers. It knows to reset the time after a power outage, for example. Karebo’s managing director says that the main opportunity for savings is that the installers will calculate for you the optimum running time for your pool and pump size. Since most people run their pumps for too long, these savings could be significant.

And the end result? Nearly every room in my house is filled with warm, beautiful, bright light. No one in my family has made a single complaint about the quality of the light. And I still marvel at the fact that my TV room is lit up by a mere 11 watts and one rather large bathroom by 27 watts. My electricity consumption, which I check almost daily, has been 12 kilowatt hours or less for 11 of the last 20 days, something that has never happened before. I would estimate that my savings now in the summer are at least 3 kilowatt hours a day, which should cut my monthly utility bill by at least R100. The savings will be much greater in the dark of winter. And the cost-benefit analysis has never been simpler: all benefit, no cost.

Pool11 Nov 2012 12:46 pm

Viron P300 variable-speed pool pump

Giving the green light to variable-speed pumps

For more than a decade, I’ve been gradually improving the efficiency of my appliances and driving down my electricity consumption. One device had defied me, however. As hard as I looked, there did not seem to be a greener alternative to my 750 watt pool pump. Until now.

For the past 12 months, I have been testing the Viron P300 variable-speed pool pump, courtesy of the South African distributor, Fluidra . What makes this pump different is that it operates on a DC motor, so it can run at different speeds as needed. At the slowest setting, Eco, my Watts Up meter tells me the pump is using a mere 175 watts, less than a quarter of the consumption of the old pump. (A sixth, compared to the widely used 1.1 kw pumps.)

But does it work? The principle of a variable speed pump is that because a slower water flow is much more efficient, longer hours at lower speeds are the most economical way to pump enough water through the filter each day. But I have not significantly increased hours. For my 31,000 litre pool, I leave the Viron P300 on the Eco setting 8 hours a day, spring, summer and fall. And my pool stays clean. (As I have written here before, I radically cut back on pumping hours in the winter.)

The flow on the Eco setting is somewhat weaker than that of the old pump, but my Zodiac Genius still climbs the walls as long as the weir basket is clear. I think the slightly lower flow does make it more sensitive to a leaf-clogged weir, so I check it more often now. I am told that the Gemini and Kreepy Krauley pool cleaners might work even better with the lower flow because they use a hammer action, rather than a diaphram. I have not tested them on on this pump, however.

The Eco setting is not strong enough for backwashing, but that is the joy of a variable-speed pump. Just push a button and the Clean setting sends a surge of water through the filter. My measurements indicate the Clean setting uses 505 watts, still significantly less than a 0.75 kw or 1.1 kw AC pump, and with a stronger flow than a 0.75 kw can create. Beyond Eco and Clean is the Turbo setting, more suited to a fire engine than to anything I need to do with my pool.

I calculate that I am saving 4.6 kilowatt hours every day and R150 each month with the Viron P300. For someone like me who was sitting on a daily consumption just a little above Johannesburg’s magic cutoff point of 16 kWh a day, the savings could be much greater. The municipality offers a Lifeline Tariff as well as affordable rates for prepaid meters for those who keep their average consumption below 500 kWh hours a month, or 16 kwh a day. Qualifying for the lifeline tariff could save me about R3000 a year.

These savings come at a cost, however. A new Viron P300, manufactured in Spain with an Australian motor, sells for about R8300. By comparison, an ordinary AC pump from Speck costs about R2200 for the 0.75kw version. Leaving aside the Lifeline Tariff, it would take a few years of savings on utility bills to cover the difference, but there is no doubt that it is a good long-term investment. With a larger pool requiring more hours of cleaning per day, the DC pump would pay for itself more quickly.

Unfortunately, I did encounter one unexpected cost replacing my dead AC pump with a more environmentally friendly version. The Viron pump is larger, a few centimetres too large to fit in my existing pump box. A larger enclosure set me back R1800. If your box has little room to spare, check the measurements of any pump you might buy.

The Viron P300 is not the only variable-speed pump available now in South Africa. The IntelliFlo by Pentair costs more than double the price of the Viron P300, but has an extremely sophisticated controller. The pump can be programmed to run at different speeds at different times of the day. I have spoken to pool owners who splurged on the IntelliFlo pump and they were completely satisfied. Zodiac has also introduced the variable-speed FloPro ePump, which is worth investigating.

All of these pumps are astoundingly quiet compared to ordinary pumps. Standing at the far side of my pool from the pump box, I can only be certain the pump is operating if I can see the hose is pulsating.

I would love to say that I am finally at ease with the energy consumption that goes into my pool, but alas, I am a perfectionist. The ideal solution is so obvious, and yet no one offers it. A major expense of solar photovoltaic systems is the batteries that store the power for evenings and cloudy days and the inverter that converts the DC power produced by solar cells and batteries into household AC current. My pool pump has a converter to change AC current into DC for the motor. DC-AC, AC-DC—let’s call the whole thing off. Why shouldn’t solar panels send DC power directly to the pump’s motor, eliminating costly and troublesome components? (And getting Eskom out of my pool entirely.) It won’t worry me that the pump operates fewer hours under the winter’s low sun; that makes perfect sense. And if the pump slows down on cloudy days and stops at night, that’s fine too.

I’m not resting by the pool yet.

Global Warming06 Nov 2012 04:08 pm

I’ve just finished reading a book called the Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. This wonderful novel has everything to do with baseball and absolutely nothing to do with environmental issues, except for one page or so, which includes a gem of a quote. I’ll set aside the fact that the character who says it, Owen Dunne, is probably being facetious; it’s still worth pondering:

If there’s any kind of exclusionary, private-club-style afterlife, St. Peter won’t be asking questions at the gate. You’ll just be lugging all the coal and oil you’ve burnt in your life, that’s been burnt on your behalf, and if it fits through the gate you’re in. And the gate’s not big. It’s like eye-of-a-needle-sized.