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Getting off the grid

| August 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Taralyn Mclean

As a successful South African Green Schools Initiative (SAGSI)1 pilot school, Merrifield Preparatory School and College in East London in the Eastern Cape would like to share with other schools a simple, sustainable and cost-effective way to reduce their carbon footprint.

Merrifield executive head, Dr Guy Hartley, says the school is very aware of the global depletion of natural energy resources and climate change. “Our objective is to change students’ thinking about what can be achieved in the face of high electricity costs and the depletion of the earth’s resources. We aim to encourage the emergence of creative, resourceful individuals who will make a difference in our world,” says Hartley. SAGSI is a programme conceived by the energy forum of the Border Kei Chamber of Business (BKCOB).2 It has been running since 2011, and launched officially last year. Chairperson Chris Ettmayr is adamant about the need for the forum to help implement energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies in schools. “And,” adds Ettmayr, “by using alternative energy supplies, schools could realise real savings in their energy bills – a practical, welcome spin-off.”

Working with WESSA

SAGSI has been handed over to the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) to integrate the initiative into the Eco-Schools programme – an international programme of the Foundation of Environmental Education, operating in 51 countries.3 The programme gives recognition to schools that can show how they have improved the quality of environmental learning and sustainable management in their schools and communities. Eco-Schools recognises whole school involvement, with lessons with an environmental theme encouraged as part of the school curriculum and outside of what is prescribed.

A lightbulb moment

Merrifield volunteered to be SAGSI’s pilot school. An energy audit conducted by East London-based company, Daygra,4 identified lighting as the biggest culprit of wasteful energy consumption at the school. A subsidy from Eskom was used to refit older light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs. This alone resulted in the school’s power bill being slashed substantially.

A Spanish company, ILB Helios – a recent investor in the East London Industrial Development Zone – came on board with the donation of solar panels for the science laboratories, and First National Battery5 donated batteries to be used in conjunction with the panels. Foxtec-Ikhwezi6 also donated a solar geyser. This means that the science labs are effectively ‘off the grid’7 for their lighting and hot water needs.

Another East London school, Hudson Park High School, is following Merrifield’s example and has undertaken an energy audit.


1. See, for example: initiative-officially-launched/

2. Ibid.

3. See:

4. See:

5. See:

6. The term ‘off-grid’ refers to not being connected to a grid, mainly used in terms of not being connected to the main or national electrical grid. (Source:

7. WESSA is a South African environmental organisation with a mission to implement high-impact environmental and conservation projects that promote public participation in caring for the earth. (Source:



Category: Spring 2014

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