Financing renewable energy

Busy researching different models for financing domestic renewable energy generation. The ultimate aim of the climate change demonstration shop and event etc is to get Kleinmond self-sufficient in energy. So I’m looking at the longer-term, top-down picture, too. Thinking about how to finance installing PV for householders and how the Municipality (kind of like the town council) could help achieve this vision. There are over 800 other municipalities in South Africa so if it happens in the town of Kleinmond there’s great scope for replication.

The Municipality actually buys electricity from the utility company and sells it on to householders (for a profit!). So while having a local council that makes energy decisions at the town level could be useful Kleinmond’s transition to solar PV, on the other hand I guess the Municipality may be reluctant to support initiatives that reduce energy consumption. There are some technical obstacles, too. Apparently it is impossible to fit 2-way meters and put energy into the grid here.

Open day

So we’ve been thinking more about how to demonstrate energy saving and generating devices at Mthimkhulu Village Centre. We’ve decided to try and hold an open day event at Mthimkhulu, where we could demonstrate climate change solutions large and small, from LED lightbulbs to solar PV and from water-saving taps to greywater recycling systems, plus have some entertainment to draw people in. So as well as the climate change ‘shop’ we can show off what’s already on-site, which is quite impressive: biodigester, bore-hole, rainwater butts, solar PV  & solar hot water. And it’s a big site! Check out the website at www.grailprogrammes.org.za if you don’t believe me…

Development dumping

A little while ago the Grail Centre successfully lobbied the Municipality to install solar hot water and PV systems in new government  housing that was going up in Protea Dorp, the area of town where ‘coloured’ people live (yes there is still such an area even though it may not be official. It’s strange to read if you’re British, I know). Unfortunately whoever installed it neglected to leave any kind of instructions for how to use the systems, so the new residents are unable to understand or use their hot water and electricity properly. So today I’ve been trying to not just removing jargon from a technical manual, but actually compose a manual in the first place. And trust me, I’m no solar expert. There’s a name for this apparently – ‘development dumping’ . So-called improvements are just ‘dumped’ on people with little thought for how they’ll actually use it.

I went to one of the houses and, strangely, it seems that the hot water does not come out of the shower but out of a tap underneath it…I’m not sure why…

But on a sunnier note, check out this lovely video I found about using the sun’s energy elsewhere in South Africa to power a farm. It’s even called Transition. 

http://ecobuzz.co.za/videos/transition-episode-1/

Climate change shop

You can read more about the work I’ll be doing to help set up a climate change shop in Mthimkhulu Village Centre in Kleinmond, SA in an article posted on the Grail Centre’s homepage here

Learning to use solar power

On the drive out of Cape Town airport a sprawling patchwork of tin shacks lines the freeway for 20km. This is Khaletshiya, an informal settlement housing thousands of people.

 Even the small holiday town of Kleinmond, where the Grail Centre is located, has an informal settlement. Kleinmond is not cramped and winding like so many UK towns and villages: rather, it is made up of orderly grids of streets and avenues where the white people live. And then in an area a tiny fraction of the size, the shimmering tin roofs house the same number of African people as the neat squares of houses do white.

 One task I will be helping with next week is re-writing user manuals for solar panels, so that they can be understood by the people who will be moving into new government-built houses with solar hot water and/or PV. Many of the people who move into these houses will never have lived in a brick house before.

Transition in South Africa

Sorry it’s been so quiet on Inclusive Transition. The reason is that I’ve been busily preparing to go to South Africa and Namibia. We’re spending the first eight weeks at the Grail Centre, a community leadership training centre near Cape Town. We’ll be helping out with some of their activities around climate change. My reflections on tackling climate change and building resilience as it relates to this town will be the focus of Inclusive Transition for the next little while. I hope you’ll find it interesting to compare the challenges of transitioning a town in South Africa with those in Europe.

Shakespeare’s Residents Association

SRA invited TTSN to come and talk about what we’re doing at their meeting this week. It was good to see what they are already up to – thyey were very friendly and welcoming and they’ve got lots of projects on the go, including tree planting and other ‘green’ things. Hopefully we’ll be able to work together more in the future now that the link has been established.  They have a quarterly newsletter which they put through  letterboxes in the area and said they would be willing to include relevant TTSN news or events. That’d be a great way for us to reach people in that area, particularly those that aren’t online, which we always find challenging.

Craftivism

And as if to demonstrate the multi-faceted nature of Transition that I commented upon in my last post, a couple of other Transition ladies and I have started planning a get together next month for a knitting and crochet session. ‘But what does that have to do with Transition’ I hear some of you cry (along with the sighs of despair  from my nearest and dearest at the prospect of yet another wonky knitwear gift). ‘Surely you won’t change the world with wool?’

In my opinion knitting, crochet and in fact any craft is not just about useful skills for a low-carbon lifestyle. That is, of course, part of it. But I also like to think it is about people coming together, linked by a common interest. It can be an activity that is productive, sure, but which also requires mindfulness. A backdrop for conversation and sharing of stories while creating something new and unique with our hands.

Back in November Resurgence magazine published an issue on crafts, which inspired and reinforced my sense that working with my hands in this way is in some way a sacred and important act. Through it I discovered the wonderful craftivism website of Betsey Greer, which features her series of anti-war cross-stitches. These were yet another reminder of the link between crafts and activism, which my own experience has mirrored. It also reminds me of the many formsTransition can take, and the many diverse activities that can be a part of it.  

So apologies if I don’t post for a while. My hands may be busy with wool and needle, giving shape to my activism one stitch at a time.

Yeah, but what is Transition anyway?

The answer should be simple, right? I’ve been going to Transition meetings for two years. I’ve read the handbook. I’ve browsed some of the new ‘ingredients’. I even went so far as to write 15000 words on the topic. So why is it still so damn hard to explain?

I’m frequently flumoxed when friends ask why, for example, I’m busy singing carols on a winter’s evening. ‘Oh, it’s this, er, sort of local environmental thing I’m part of…’ just doesn’t seem to cut it. And neither, it seems, was it cutting it for one lady who came to our Transition diversity training at the back end of last year. She’d been to the socials, she’d talked to people but still whenever she asked what Transition actually was, she failed to get a straight answer. Eventually she didn’t bother to come back.

Embarrassed and slightly ashamed of this abject failure to communicate what we are about (yes, I was one of those people who she’d spoken to at the socials. I could remember, but I’m not sure our conversation had made such an impression on her!), I was relieved when Raymond suggested we should put something together that explains what TTSN is. In his words: TTSN made simple.

Hoorah! My chance to find the words to actually tell people why I’m hanging out of trees reaching for crabapples one weekend, and making kites in the park the next. Brilliant. A couple of hours discussion in the cafe down the road and we should have it sorted, right?

Well our couple of hours on Monday night did get us started. But as we realised just how many facets there are to Transition, we also realised it wasn’t going to be so simple. Like a lens to view the world through rather than a thing itself, it can mean different things to people based on their different points of view, interests and contexts. Sometimes Transition is practical projects that reduce energy consumption. Sometimes it’s facilitating a change in consciousness. Sometimes it’s joyful, sometimes sombre, exciting, fun or maddening. But the one thing that it is, is flexible, and I wonder whether this flexibility can also make it hard for people to understand what it’s about.

I think if I’d walked into my first Transition meeting without a good grounding in the Transition concept, I might’ve found this ambiguity frustrating. The emphasis that we put on doing projects that there is energy and inspiration to do (rather than working to a set plan across the movement), on organising in a flat way (so there’s no source of authority to ask why we do or don’t do x, y or z) and on individuals being involved as much or as little as they want, in only the activities they want to do (rather than slotting into predefined roles) are features of TTSN that I would argue are strengths and make it so unique. But they might also make it quite hard for people who are new to the idea to get it. Might some people be more at home in a movement that rests more explicitly on shared beliefs, values and ideology, rather than on empowering individuals to take action? I think it could be hard for some people to understand ‘joining’ a movement which isn’t asking anything of you except that you do what you want to.

So for now it’s back to the cafe. We don’t just need to communicate the many facets of TTSN, but actually address how and why it  can be so many things to so many people. Hopefully we can come up with a response that that explains TTSN in terms of both individual action and a communitarian movement. And then maybe we really will have TTSN made simple.

A shameless plug!

Yes, you read it here second. The latest Transition Newsletter signposts a few inclusion-related things, including (beware shameless plug coming up) a short article I wrote for the Transition Diversity blog.