SU spinout company ensures school receives first ever energy efficient certificate in SA

[Article by Ms Petro Mostert]

Stellenbosch University (SU) spinout company GreenX Engineering’s initiatives to help equip Cloetesville Primary School in Stellenbosch with energy-saving technology ensured that it became the first school in South Africa to receive an Electrical Performance Certificate (EPC). The school received an A rating for electrical consumption of 17 kWh per m².

The EPC is the culmination of hard work and dedication, a great team effort and leaping over the final hurdle in completing his PhD, says Managing Director of GreenX, Jason Samuels.

Under the supervision of Thinus Booysen, professor in electrical and electronic engineering (Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) and Saartjie Grobbelaar, associate professor in industrial engineering (Department of Industrial Engineering), Samuels is doing his PhD focusing on schools and their energy usage; creating methods to reduce their consumption and systems to manage the school more efficiently. Samuels, Booysen and Grobbelaar, together with entrepreneur Mario Roos established GreenX Engineering with the help of Innovus Technology Transfer, SU’s innovation division. Booysen and Grobbelaar are both non-executive directors of GreenX Engineering.

“GreenX Engineering’s creation can be traced back two years ago when I heard Prof Booysen on the radio talking about his involvement in projects to help schools in and around Stellenbosch and Paarl save water and electricity. I realised that my specialised lighting and electrical maintenance company could become an essential partner to Booysens initiatives at schools,” said Roos, and the conversation started.

Roos said that when the amendment to the National Energy Act of 1998 was proclaimed in December 2020 by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy – requiring building owners to publish the electrical consumption per square meter by 2022, they saw a gap in the market for establishing a company that can ensure that buildings adhere to this new regulation.

As GreenX’s technical director, Booysen brings the company his technical expertise and experience with assisting schools to become more energy-efficient and reduce their electricity and water bills. “There are many schools with no financial or technical means to manage their energy and water resources efficiently. We initially started with thirteen schools, and this number has grown to 25 schools in the Stellenbosch and Paarl area. Thanks to funding from the Western Cape Education Department, as well as from SU’s social impact and transformation department, we can equip these schools with energy savings technology to help them reduce their energy bills,” says Booysen.

For Roos, the dream is to ensure energy efficiency at all South African schools and actively reduce their carbon footprint. “Our calculations show that we can take out 120 kg of carbon emissions per school per day. So, if we could expand our programme to incorporate all 1 600 schools in the Western Cape, it will translate to taking out 90 million kg of carbon emissions per year.”

Roos believes they are creating a blueprint that could be duplicated across the country and internationally. “Our initial focus is schools whereafter we will roll out to corporate and government buildings across the country.”

For Grobbelaar, the business model they have created will allow the company to grow while retaining a solid link to SU’s engineering research expertise. “Initiatives such as these is bringing SU’s research into the real world and actively changes the lives of people – currently starting at school level; a place where all people need to move through at some point in their lives.”

At a function at Cloetesville Primary in Stellenbosch today (10 June 2021), Deputy director-general: education planning of the Western Cape Education Department, Salie Abrahams, handed the school’s CPT certificate over to school principal Rodger Cupido on 10 June 2021.

For Cupido becoming a sustainable and energy efficient school is high on his list of priorities. “Our school is also known as the ‘Green School’,” he says, referring the temporary green structure that served as the original school building when the school was established in 1969. “Now we are green because we are energy efficient and for that I am very grateful.”

Congratulating Cloetesville Primary with their EPC certificate, Prof Stan du Plessis, Chief Operating Officer at Stellenbosch University, said it is very symbolic to handover this certificate at a school. “It is not my generation, but that of my children’s who will suffer if we do not make a difference to our environment through energy saving projects such as this one. With this project we see what the impact is when we move ideas into the market – we built great companies like GreenX that can help a school like Cloetesville Primary save 20% on their monthly energy bill.”

Abrahams says there is immense pride in the approach that shaped this partnership between the WCED, local authorities, the University, school and the private sector. “My vote of thanks goes to all that contributed to this project and to the leadership of this school that, despite challenges and constraints, could made this happened and introduced our children to the development of entrepreneurial spirit – how young mind can give flight to their ideas. We hope to be part of a bigger project leading out of this.”

Note: EPC certification refers to the measurement of the net energy consumed in kilowatt hours per square meter (kWh/m²) to meet the different needs associated with the use of the building. Energy Performance Certificates are now mandatory for private sector, non-residential buildings with a total net floor area of more than 2 000 m², and government buildings of more than 1000 m². The certificates must be displayed at the building’s main entrance; and must be submitted to the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI). The certificate is valid for a period of five years whereafter it must be renewed.

Photograph (left): Cloetesville Primary receives its Energy Performance Certificate. From the left Deputy director-general: education planning of the Western Cape Education Department, Salie Abrahams, Cloetesville Primary School principal, Rodger Cupido, and Prof Stan du Plessis, Chief Operating Officer of Stellenbosch University.

Photograph (right): Jason Samuels, Managing Director: GreenX Engineering