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Solar gets behind recycling

Sun Exchange, a Cape Town-based online solar energy marketplace, has announced a crowd-sale for a solar project that will power a Cape Town-based recycled plastics manufacturer.

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Through the crowd-sale, users in South Africa and across the globe can buy into the Nioro Plastics solar project and then earn income from the electricity it generates. 

Sun Exchange has won several awards and broad recognition for its innovative platform and for promoting sustainable business practises by connecting “conscious capital” to commercial solar projects. Nioro Plastics will be the largest Sun Exchange crowd-sale to date, and will focus on minimising negative environmental impacts of the plastics industry. 

The increasing use globally of single-use plastic items such as bottles and packaging is garnering much public attention following recent headlines and studies on the matter. For example, a recent edition of National Geographic revealed how hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastics are entering our oceans each year, threatening wildlife with potential catastrophic impact on the entire food chain. 

“Plastics aren’t inherently bad, it’s what we do, or don’t do, with them that counts,” said Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

The good news is that much of the plastic we use is 100% recyclable. Thanks to the ongoing campaigning efforts of organisations such as PETCO, South Africa is one of the top countries for collecting and recycling  PET, a form of plastic predominantly used to make drinking bottles. 

However, electricity is still required to repurpose recycled materials, and while this process is powered by fossil fuels, the industry can hardly claim to be a sustainable “cyclical” solution. 

Enter Sun Exchange, described by its founders as the “AirBnB for solar panels,” which enables users to generate an income stream powered by the sun in just a few clicks. Through the Sun Exchange platform, practically anyone can buy solar cells installed onto the roof of Nioro Plastics, which are leased to give the plastic producer low-cost access to clean energy for a period 20 years. This presents a unique opportunity for individuals to put their money to work and earn income while promoting clean energy and sustainability in one of South Africa’s fastest growing industries.

The project also highlights how manufacturers and companies of all sizes, across industries and geographies, can leverage Sun Exchange’s innovative platform to go solar with no upfront cost and minimise their energy costs and carbon footprint. 

“We encourage the use of recycling and certainly having some of the energy required for the production of these plastic bottles being solar-driven would be a very good and positive thing,” said Simeon Penev, Managing Director, Nioro Plastics. “It’s a good investment for the people leasing solar cells, because they will be making money.”

How Sun Exchange Monetises Sunshine

Sun Exchange has won global recognition for its disruptive approach to solar finance. The company won the Mondato Award for Social Impact in Sub-Saharan Africa and has been named the best Blockchain Business In Africa at the African Fintech Awards for the past two years running. The United Nations Development Program also recently selected Sun Exchange to pilot blockchain-based solar finance in Moldova.

The Sun Exchange approach to “monetising sunshine” can be broken down in four key phases:

  • Solar Project Crowd Sale: Through its buy-to-lease solar marketplace, Sun Exchange sells batches of solar cells for projects that have been vetted for social and environmental responsibility, and for economic viability. During the crowd sale, virtually any individual or organisation, anywhere in the world, can purchase solar cells for only ZAR 60 per cell, and then rent them to be installed in the solar project.
  • Solar Plant Installation: Upon completion of the crowd sale, when all solar cells for a project have been purchased, Sun Exchange works with local engineering, procurement and construction partners to build and install the solar power system.
  • Electricity and Income Generation: Once the installation is complete (typically within two to three weeks), the solar plant starts generating electricity and solar cell owners start earning rental income based on the amount of electricity their solar cells produce. Owners can choose to receive rental payments in local currency or Bitcoin (BTC), and bonuses in the platform’s own SUNEX digital rewards token. 
  • Real Time Tracking: Through the Sun Exchange online dashboard, solar cell owners can track the real-time performance and electricity generation of their cells. While solar cells are typically leased under a 20-year contract, owners can choose to cash out instantly at any time.

“Nioro Plastics and Sun Exchange are setting a global precedent for the use of solar power and sustainable practices in the plastics industry in South Africa and beyond,” said Abraham Cambridge, CEO and founder of Sun Exchange. “Anyone interested in conscious capital should participate in the crowd sale and capture the opportunity to earn money while doing good and promoting clean power, all of which can be done with the click of a button through TheSunExchange.com.”

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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