South Africa: our Next Sustainable Champion?

South Africa may not be the first to come to mind in matters of sustainability and yet, the last United Nations climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico which failed to resolve key issues, leaves South Africa, host of the 2011 conference, with a lot of hard work to do.

Outlining the outcomes of the Cancun conference, South African Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the conference had been unable to answer many (SIC) “difficult political questions.”

These have now been forwarded to the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will take place in Durban, South Africa from 28 November to 9 December 2011.

Meanwhile, in the background, and perhaps not coincidently, some developments are taking place.

German-based Concentrix Solar has inaugurated in late 2010 its first facility in South Africa, commissioning a 60-kilowatt solar power plant at Aquila Private Game Reserve in Touwsrivier in the Western Cape. “CPV systems are perfectly suited for the use in South Africa with its energy shortage, water scarcity and high temperatures. Our systems can be easily and fast implemented, they do not need cooling water and do not suffer from heat degradation at hot ambient temperatures,” said Hansjörg Lerchenmüller, CEO of Concentrix Solar. “In addition, this facility will initiate the transfer of know-how and serves to develop local skills in South Africa with immediate effect.”

Ubuntu Sustainable center also exemplifies what is possible is South Africa.

Located in Port Elizabeth’s Zwide Township, and based on the Bantu concept that no human lives in isolation, the Ubuntu Center features various sustainable components such as locally-sourced materials,passive design and renewable energy sources.

Developed by the Ubuntu Education Fund with California-based Field Architecture’s, who received the Architect magazine Progressive Architecture Award in 2009, $6 million were devoted to the new sustainable education and health center.

Inspired by Zwide’s footprints, Stan Field designed a space for people to walk through, not to. Born in Port Elizabeth during the apartheid era, he felt that long footpaths through a loosely aggregated center could transform how the community sees itself. Ngonyama Okpanum Hewitt-Coleman Architects, a local, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) registered firm, oversaw the building’s construction.

Along with passive cooling and heating design, the building’s thermal mass reduces its reliance on mechanical systems. Thick concrete walls radiate heat back into the building, while large spaces outside maximize solar penetration for additional heat gain. Also included are photovoltaic panels that collect and convert solar energy into electricity.

For cooling, carefully placed windows create a convection effect. Low, ventilated windows circulate cool air, while hotter air is released through higher, stacked windows.

The large windows not only let in plenty of natural lighting, but also create a convection effect that regulates the building’s temperature.
Irrigated with grey water, the rooftop garden further insulates the building. It also encourages once disenfranchised people to reconnect in a healthy, positive way. The Center opened in September, 2010, and includes a pediatric HIV clinic, a community theatre, an education wing, and office space.

Ubuntu center feeds 2,000 children each day, provides holistic support to 3,500 clients and their families, delivers after-school education to 250 students, and issues HIV counseling and testing to 6,000

Sources:; Inhabitat; Field Architecture;


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