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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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