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Renewable energy’s time has come in SA

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Experts and leaders within the renewable energy industry believe the time to champion renewable energy is now – as South Africa’s energy mix is currently being decided and debated.

There is also an urgency to convert a general awareness and understanding about renewable energy into tangible action.

These were some of the key issues teased out and discussed at the U.S. Embassy Pretoria’s Energy21: Exchange Hub on telling the renewable energy story differently, which wrapped today.

The event, which drew over 60 people working in the renewable energy sector, focused on tactics for telling the renewable energy story differently in South Africa.  Participants considered how to best reach, touch, inform and convert new audiences, which is especially relevant following the announcement of South Africa’s updated Integrated Resource Plan 2020-2030 and the resounding success of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme (REIPPPP).

“South Africa is at the beginning of a very important renewable energy journey,” said Elizabeth McKay, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy.  “Finding new champions of renewable energy and encouraging more action will require us to shift the renewable energy narrative,” she added.

Driving this message home at Energy21: Exchange Hub – a partnership between the U.S. Embassy South Africa, World Bank’s Connect4Climate and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – were communications, climate change and renewables experts, including the World Bank’s Max Edkins, Green Cape’s Aman Baboolal, FirstRand Limited’s Madeleine Ronquest and Intellidex’s Colin Anthony.

“South Africa’s renewables story is truly inspirational. We are transitioning towards a renewable future, which opens up opportunities.  By communicating more, we strengthen the possibility of a renewables-focused future. It’s also the most pressing challenge of our time and our generation’s time,” said Edkins, Climate Change and Communications Expert at the World Bank’s Connect4Climate programme.

David Shelby, Director of Public Engagement at the U.S. State Department, said: “In the last five years South Africa has made tremendous headway for renewables – as evidenced by the highly successful REIPPP programme roll-out.  This, in turn, has played an important part in building the economy and job creation. Now is the time to start telling this story and to communicate the benefits.”

Energy21: Exchange Hub saw communications experts paired with current and future leaders in the private sector, non-government organizations, and government who work on renewable energy policy and promotion to partake in strategic discussions and training.

Through discussing tactics – ranging from strategies for creating compelling, sticky content, reaching rural communities, designing communications campaigns to data visualization – influential industry minds explored new solutions for achieving greater awareness and public support for the renewable energy movement.

One of the main messages about renewable energy: it is no longer as expensive as people think.

Dr. Tobias Bischof-Niemz, Manager of CSIR’s Energy Centre, said solar and wind energy cost competitiveness studies build a strong economic case and sound positioning for renewables.

This is especially important at a time when the Department of Energy’s updated Integrated Resource Plan will be discussed to determine the country’s energy mix structure.  “Building new energy capacity from wind and solar is less costly than coal. Additionally, these also offer CO2 and water reductions,” said Bischof-Niemz.

“While educating the public on renewables must be grounded in science, there is also the need to work together to create public awareness on renewables, to stimulate community interest – in both urban and rural areas – and engage meaningfully.”

This sentiment was echoed by Edkins who believes that success lies in developing strong partnerships to drive a focused message on renewables. Connect4Climate is already testimony of what can be achieved.

Established partnerships with stakeholders, ranging from non-governmental organisations to the United Nations, have helped to harness Connect4Climate’s mandate of combating climate change through actions driven by solutions.

The conversations and outcomes from Energy21: Exchange Hub will continue with the intention of creating a strong and connected network within the renewable energy and communications industry. Participants acknowledged their shared passion for and commitment to  telling the renewable energy story differently, leading the way in creating narratives that touches the hearts and minds of all South Africans.

An agreed Action Plan by all Energy21: Exchange Hub participants will continue its momentum throughout 2017.

However, change really begins with each participant and their will to drive home change in their renewables environment.  “For us, success is for each person within the renewables industry to go home and implement one idea from Energy21 in their respective environments,” said Shelby.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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