Re-energised by greener pastures

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Copy of ca p6 Zwelethu and Bulelwa Ngewana6809 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS STATE OF THE ART: Bulelwa and Zwelethu Ngewana's home has been transformed into an energy-saving sanctuary. Picture: David Ritchie

Cape Town - Blinking LCD panels and shiny meters are uploading everything about them to the internet. The Ngewana family is being watched closely. It’s their Orwellian moment, but it isn’t Big Brother’s face looming over them on the television set.

In fact, the TV is hardly turned on anymore because it uses too much electricity, said mom Bulelwa.

Instead, the data – pulled from eight meters installed around their home – is being pored over by experts in an attempt to make them a “greener” family.

The family of four won a competition to have their Pinelands house transformed into an energy-efficient zone by the Green Building Council of SA. The catch: the facts, figures and facets of their lives would be uploaded to the net.

Right now, a feed on the company’s website is counting how much water they have used today. It’s just one feature buried among an array of videos exploring the family’s changing lives, from Lutholuthle’s new electric bike to the closed combustion fireplace.

While their first week under the watchful eye of the council may have been weird for Zwelethu, it was also an eye opener. They were told to do everything as normal. “So we did,” said Bulelwa. “But when we got the results back, it was like we were seeing our home through a new pair of eyes.

“I had always been into saving energy, and I thought I knew a lot. The reality is we knew nothing at all, we were wasting so much,” she added.

A chief executive of a private company, Bulelwa has probably embraced her their new life with gusto. Where Zwelethu just wanted a warm shower, she is already having dreams of storing the energy produced by the solar panels around her home and selling it back to the grid.

Every month has brought new additions to the home, courtesy of their sponsors, and gadgets can be seen glinting in every corner in the house.

Since the beginning of the year they have started composting, taking shorter showers (a process that even involved a time trial) and have installed a state-of-the-art system that allows them turn off the water or heating with the press of a button.

Every step of their journey has been broadcast on the website.

“The other day I was buying some takeaways and the woman behind the counter asked me if I was saving on electricity,” said Bulelwa.

Bulelwa said it had all been worth it. The family is now using 70 percent less energy than before, a number they want to improve on before the final phase of the transformation is completed by the end of the month. - Cape Agus

l Visit to track the Ngewana family’s progress.

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