Appliances19 Sep 2013 11:51 am


True countertop cooking

What’s wrong with this photo? My egg is cooking on the granite, not on the stove. I don’t normally fry my eggs this way, but I did successfully cook this one entirely on the countertop to prove a point: turning off the electricity only after you are finished cooking is a waste of energy. My approach to cooking is like coasting in a car or on a bicycle. If an egg bubbles vigorously when cracked into a pan, I always turn off the electric hob right away, knowing that the residual heat in the pan and the stove plate will provide sufficient momentum to cook it through. The countertop experiment was an extreme case in which I had an overheated, heavy-bottomed pan.

The trick is not just for eggs. I often turn off the oven or the gas braai five minutes before removing food. (Don’t open the oven prematurely.) And the other day I brought Tiger Oats to a rolling boil on the stove and turned it off. The instructions said to leave the oats simmering on low heat for 15 minutes, but I ignored that advice and coasted my way to breakfast.

Heating and Cooling &Lighting &Pool &Solar11 Aug 2013 02:33 pm


The table above is a brand-new effort to show the results of everything I have done to make our house more energy efficient. It demonstrates that my family has slashed our annual power consumption by 74 percent over the past 16 years.  Taking this long view only became possible when I managed to get my hands on records for electricity use at this house all the way back to 1989. From that year until 1997—the year we took over the house—the average daily consumption was 52.5 kilowatt hours. This year, we are on track to use an average of 13.6 kWh per day. (If you want make your own comparison, every municipal utility bill in Johannesburg—and in most other cities—shows average daily kWh used.)

Moving under the 16.7 kWh/day mark has been a long-term goal for me. Households that use fewer than 500 kWh per month (16.7 kWh/day) qualify for the Lifeline tariff in Johannesburg. The main benefit of the Lifeline tariff is not the very small reduction of about 6 cents per kWh, but the total elimination of R362 in monthly service charges. These annoying fixed fees were often higher than the amount I owed for power used. The municipality has now approved my house for the Lifeline tariff, though I’m told “system problems” have delayed switching the account over. Assuming this is sorted out, I will be paying approximately R5000 total for electricity in the coming year, about R415 per month. If this house were still using 52.5 kWh per day, the annual bill at the latest Jo’burg tariff of  R1+ per kWh would add up to R25,850,  so I am now saving more than R20 000 per year.

What did it take to get here? There are a hundred small, permanent changes and at least a dozen actions I take every day to be vigilant. But I think the bulk of the saving come from a few major changes.

  1. Solar geyser in conjunction with Geyserwise timer. The chart shows a big drop in 2005, the year we installed our solar hot water panels and 2010, the year we connected the tanks for that solar heated water to a Geyserwise timer. There were other changes in 2005 and 2010, but I have no doubt that the investment in this system is the No.1 reason for our 74% reduction in consumption. For more information on my solar system, read here, and for more on the Geyserwise, read here.
  1. Non-electric heat. We have gradually weaned ourselves from electric heaters, and now rely exclusively on wood burned in a closed-combustion fireplace insert and a Rinnai gas heater in the lounge and dining room. For the rest of the house, we have warm slippers, down duvets, hot-water bottles, and passive solar heat through the windows. Click on any of the green links above to read more.
  1. LED lighting. The drop in consumption from 2012 to 2013 is almost entirely because of our switch to LED lighting. We had already been reducing consumption over the years with compact fluorescent globes and IRC Energy Saver halogen lights, but LEDs made the most dramatic impact.
  1. Variable-speed pool pump.  My .75 kW pump stopped working in early 2010, the same year I installed the Geyserwise and saw significant improvements at the electricity meter. I eventually replaced it with a Viron P300 variable-speed pumpthat uses a fraction of the power consumed by ordinary pumps.


I’m not satisfied yet. I think that 10 kWh per day is a reasonable goal for the next couple of years, if I can improve the efficiency of my solar hot water system, replace the last few incandescent globes with LEDs and perhaps start cooking on gas. When I reach that goal, I may just frame the chart and hang it on my wall.

Heating and Cooling19 Jun 2013 04:44 pm

Twin Draft Guard

The draught stops here

As a son of the American snowbelt, I have always been mystified by South Africans’ ideas about “fresh air.” I put these words in quotes because what a South African calls, “fresh air,” an American calls a “draught.” I see doors left wide open for minutes or even hours on frosty mornings. Friends sleep with their bedroom windows cracked open through the winter. When I first moved into my Johannesburg house, I was dumbfounded to discover that every room had a ventilation brick with holes to let in the breeze. My house was intentionally draughty.

I suspect that living in a house filled with fresh, bracing, 10 degree air is marvelously healthy for a family, as long as they are dressed warmly enough to prevent hypothermia. But this doesn’t seem to be how it works, because at the same time that people are letting all of this cold air into their homes, they are trying to keep warm with some sort of heating.

My nieces, who live in a home filled with north-facing windows and even underfloor heating in some rooms, say that they like my warm house. But the only advantage my home has over theirs is that I try to keep it sealed up like a submarine. I plastered over the ventilation bricks long ago. Windows are basically locked shut for the duration of the winter. Curtains are opened as soon as the sun strikes a window, but closed at sunset. Anyone who leaves a door open for more than five seconds knows they will hear me bellowing, “I can feel a cold draught!” from a room away. And I really do feel it. A door left open for just 30 seconds can drop the temperature of a house by several degrees.

I will acknowledge that at some point on a highvelt winter’s day, the outside air may be warmer than the inside. But this window of opportunity for open windows is shorter than you might think. Standing in the sun or driving in a car gives a deceptive impression of the outside temperature. This week, the temperature is predicted to reach 20° just once. On that day, the outside air may be warmer than the inside from about 1 pm to 3 pm. By 4 pm, the temperature chart falls off a cliff.

My latest victory as a draught resister was to purchase and install draught stoppers to plug the large gaps under my house’s front doors. I bought mine in America, but I have seen them sold by hawkers in Johannesburg at traffic lights. They consist of of two fabric channels, each filled with a long foam cylinder, one to block the two sides of a door. The foam can be cut to size to fit the door’s width.They have made a big difference in keeping my lounge warm through the night.

I’m not blind to the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you heat your home with anthracite in an open fireplace, you need to ventilate. (Reasons not to heat this way can be found here and here. Likewise, inexpensive rollabout gas heaters should be used with a window cracked open. For the rest of us, if you need some fresh air in the winter, slip out the door quickly and take a walk.

Vehicles02 Apr 2013 10:06 am

Honda Jazz Hybrid Badge

The green has faded only slightly

I have very little respect for motoring journalists. To my mind, their obsession with horsepower, acceleration, maximum speed, torque and displacement encourages automobile manufacturers to build the wrong cars for a warming world. They never fail to test the time it takes to race from 0-100 kms, something no one should be attempting in the real world.

And their impressions of fuel consumption—when mentioned at all—usually consist of a figure calculated from a single half-day of hard driving, a number that is useless for comparing one vehicle to another. It is always much higher than the official consumption figures.

I like to do things differently. I have given myself a year to get to know my Honda Jazz Hybrid. I drive it gently, and have measured fuel consumption tank by tank more than 40 times. (I don’t trust the consumption reading given on the dashboard.) These are my impressions:

I am a big fan of the Honda Jazz line. We own three in my family, and the oldest is still going strong after 9 years and 150,000 kms. I find them to be solidly built, a perfect compromise between the masses of tiny and tinny subcompacts and the larger, more luxurious vehicles that seem to me to be suited neither to modern parking lots nor to the air I would prefer to breathe. The seats fold down like origami, so my bicycle fits in the back.

The Jazz Hybrid is the best appointed of the cars I have owned, and the interplay between the electric and petrol motors is generally seamless. The car’s special engine only announces itself clearly at red lights, or in traffic jams, when the engine shuts off instead of idling. It took my wife a while to get used to this, but more and more non-hybrids are being built with this auto-stop feature, and in the future we will find it a disturbing aberration for the engine of a stopped vehicle to idle. I’m only bothered when the hybrid’s engine occasionally fails to cut out at a traffic light.

The hybrid is only available in automatic, which suits my family’s aversion to clutch pedals. The Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT is an ultra-efficient and very smooth automatic that is used in most hybrid cars worldwide, and in our first Jazz as well. Motoring journalists sometimes complain about CVT response in quick acceleration from a dead stop. After 9 years of driving one, I couldn’t even tell you what they are talking about.

One drawback relative to our other Jazzes is that the boot space—with the seats in their normal position—is compromised slightly to make room for the unseen battery pack. Three medium-sized suitcases will fit, but no more. I used a roof-rack and car-top luggage carrier for one long trip with four passengers.

None of this has mattered as much to me as the chief consideration: Is this car as green as its metallic paint suggests? I keep track of my fuel consumption on a spreadsheet that you can download for yourself here. The calculations tell me that I average 5.8 litres per 100 km driving the hybrid. (In American: 49 miles per gallon.) When my wife, son or daughter are driving, consumption drifts just above 6 l/100 km. You can get a sense of how I drive by reading my 10 Unconventional Tips for Saving Petrol.

It’s all relative, of course. We bought the hybrid when downsizing after two children moved out of the house to attend university. Since our FRV used nearly 10 litres per 100 kms, our fuel bill is way down. Compared to the other Jazz, the hybrid’s improvement is less dramatic. I average 6.9 l/100 kms on that vehicle, about 20 percent more than the hybrid. All of this promises a meaningful reduction in the environmental damage wreaked by our driving, and as I have pointed out in a previous post, hybrid emissions are far lower than mere consumption figures would indicate.

Still, one calculation leaves me puzzled. Compared to the official consumption figures, my average on the old Jazz is 20 percent worse, but actual consumption on the hybrid is 32 percent worse than the official rating of 4.6 litres/100 kms. I’m not the first hybrid driver to notice that real-world driving is different from the testing conditions used for the advertised figures. I suspect that many of those drivers never bothered to pay close attention to their litres/100 kms until they bought a hybrid, however. Their actual fuel efficiency with non-hybrids was undoubtedly also much worse than the official ratings. But I am constantly measuring, and my driving habits are consistent.

A dark suspicion nags me. The battery charging indicator suggests that the car stops drawing on the batteries when they are still holding a half charge, and begins to charge them from the petrol motor. If so, I’m not deriving the full benefit of the electric motor, especially up long hills. The charging regimen is controlled by software, which can easily be reprogrammed. Is it possible that the cars used for testing fuel consumption were set to maximize the use of the batteries, but the cars sold to customers are programmed to use the batteries more lightly in order to improve their lifespan? I can only wonder.

Still, if I put those suspicions to the side, I am left with the undeniable fact that in 32 years of driving, my Honda Jazz Hybrid is the cleanest, most efficient, even the most enjoyable vehicle I have ever owned. As to those vehicles I have never owned, I couldn’t say. The Toyota Yaris hybrid was introduced in South Africa only a few months after I bought this car, with even more impressive claimed figures for emissions and consumption. Again, I can only wonder . . .

Garden &Global Warming &Lighting &Pool20 Feb 2013 12:03 pm

Discovery Magazine

GreenerHouse in the post box

The latest issue of Discovery magazine has arrived in my post box, and I was pleased to see that my insurance company has been perusing GreenerHouse. A cover article titled 31 Ways to Make a Difference to our Earth quotes liberally from GreenerHouse, especially in the section giving suggestions for what you can do to make your home “more ecofriendly.” It’s clear and compact, so I have reprinted it here. If you want more detail, the information is extracted from more comprehensive posts on composting, LED lighting and pool pumps.

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.

Vehicles19 Jun 2012 11:23 am

Honda Jazz Hybrid Badge

Reduces emissions, increases questions

People notice when you drive a hybrid. And they tend to ask questions—skeptical questions, mostly. A lot of people have heard something from a friend of a friend that has given them doubts about the wisdom or the virtues of owning a hybrid car. Here are the three most common questions, and my responses.

Do you save enough on petrol to pay for the extra expense of a hybrid car?

It all depends on the alternative car, of course. In my case, I was downscaling from a Honda FRV to a Jazz Hybrid. The Jazz cost less than a new equivalent of an FRV—which is no longer available—and consumes about half the petrol. By that standard, it was a win-win purchase. A more realistic comparison would be to the Jazz Executive Automatic, which costs about R18,000 less than the hybrid version. My calculations show that for urban driving, with an average petrol price of R13 a litre, the Hybrid can make up that difference at the pump within two years of driving 20,000 kms per year. (I didn’t take the time value of money into account in this calculation; you wouldn’t charge Mother Earth interest, would you?) Personally, I got such a good deal on a hybrid demo that the hybrid cost less than the Executive Automatic.

Savings on your petrol bill will not overcome a very large price differential, however. If you are choosing between an inexpensive, efficient non-hybrid and a new hybrid, the reduced consumption will probably never compensate for paying an extra R50,000 or more.

Purchasing a hybrid is not purely about saving money at the pump. In fact, if that’s all you hope to get out of a hybrid, you’ve sort of missed the point. Hybrids use a little less fuel and create a lot less pollution. For an example, I took a look at the British government’s wonderful Car Fuel Data website. Comparing a 2013 Honda Jazz 1.4 i-VTECH with the latest Jazz Hybrid, it shows that the hybrid creates less than 1/5th of the carbon monoxide, the gas that gives headaches to drivers stuck in traffic jams and impairs breathing. The hybrid cuts emissions of smog-producing hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides by a 1/3rd and a 1/6th, respectively. None of these benefits offer any payback, of course, but neither does a sunroof or leather trim. The personal benefits are psychological. I feel a little better knowing that my car is fouling the air less.

That doesn’t mean that I think everyone has to drive a hybrid. Many new technologies are improving the efficiency and emissions of non-hybrid petrol cars. Simply check the carbon dioxide emissions on the windscreen sticker of all new vehicles to compare. The easiest and cheapest way to reduce fuel consumption and emissions is obviously to choose a smaller car or a smaller engine. It costs nothing up front. The savings are instantaneous and ongoing.

Can’t you accomplish the same thing in a diesel?

If you mean making the air safer to breathe, definitely not. Information on the ugly side of diesel in South Africa can be found here and here. Diesel cars are appropriate for rural, open roads, but they are a problem in cities. Just watch the tailpipes of vehicles pulling away when the traffic light turns green and you will know why. Diesels also take longer to warm up, making them less efficient for short hops. In urban driving, a hybrid is far superior in emissions and often better for fuel consumption.

Don’t the batteries wear out, costing you a fortune?

This is a very reasonable question, given the experience we all have with failing car and cellphone batteries. But current hybrids use nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, which have far greater longevity than the lead-acid starter batteries in cars or the lithium-ion batteries in cellphones and laptops. A good article on the durability of hybrid batteries comes to the following conclusion: “Even with the first round of hybrids reaching their tenth birthday, those big batteries are still hanging in there.”

My hybrid is brand new, so I have no personal experience on this subject, but if you want to read the appraisals of those who have driven their Toyota Priuses for more than 160,000 kms, you can check out the 100,000-Mile Club on It’s difficult to find complaints about battery longevity on that forum.

Regarding the cost: yes, a full set of new batteries is very expensive. For that reason Toyota offers long-term warranties to ease the concerns of buyers. The hybrid Toyota Yaris, for example, comes with an eight-year/195,000 km warranty on the batteries. In other countries, Honda has also been very generous with hybrid battery warranties, even retroactively extending the guarantee on some previously purchased vehicles to an astounding 11 years or 220,000 kms, after some bad press over battery failures in the 2009 Hybrid Civic. Disappointingly, Honda South Africa does not offer its hybrid customers anything more than the standard three-year/100,000 km warranty, unless they purchase an extended warranty.

Vehicles10 Mar 2012 04:47 pm

Honda Jazz Hybrid Badge

Unmistakably green

How much extra do you have to pay to buy a hybrid car? A lot less than I expected.

Looking at sticker prices in South Africa, the difference is rather scary. Honda’s new Hybrid Jazz lists for R245,000, a full R20,000 more than the top-of-the line non-hybrid equivalent, the Executive Automatic Jazz. But for the moment, at least, the real difference is far smaller. I just purchased a bright green 2011 Jazz Hybrid demo for R181,000, considerably less than the Executive and approximately the same price as the basic Jazz Comfort automatic. (The Executive and the Hybrid are not exactly comparable—the Executive has a glass roof, for example—but they have many similar features.) Yes, my Hybrid has 6,000 kms on the odometer, but I hardly consider that used; it’s barely broken in.

I know I made a good deal, but you can get the same bargain right now, especially if you live in Durban. The Umhlanga Honda dealership has three demo Hybrid Jazz cars on the showroom floor, left over from the COP 17 conference. None of them has been driven more than 15,000 kms, and one of them was offered to me for the same price I paid in Gauteng.

And why look only at new hybrids? It’s almost always greener to buy a used product than a new one, especially a car, since manufacturing a new vehicle accounts vast quantities of energy and emissions. Manufacturing the average new car creates about three tonnes of carbon emissions according to Chris Goodall’s excellent book, How to Live a Low-Carbon Life. A quick look at shows that a low-mileage, used Toyota Prius can be had for about R150,000. Hybrids are only expensive if you lack imagination.

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