While accompanying a group of American secondary school teachers through South Africa a couple of months ago (on the Toyota International Teacher Program), I had a great surprise. We were on a bus north of Durban, traveling to a reforestation project when I realized that nearly every house we passed had a solar hot water heater on the roof. This went on for at least a couple of miles. As you can see from the picture, the houses didn’t fit the stereotype of yuppie green homes. This was a none-too-wealthy rural area with small cement block houses.
South Africa is the second largest emitter of CO2 per capita on the African continent (after Libya) and much of that is associated with electrical generation. In South Africa, as in the U.S., coal-fired power plants produce most of the electricity, so using solar hot water heaters rather than electric ones makes a lot of sense, both from a carbon standpoint and from an economic one.
I had hoped to get off the bus to take more pictures and talk with residents, but our schedule was already overbooked and the chance to stop at the “solar neighborhood” never happened. Still, it was exciting to see — especially since the solar homes just happened to be on the route to another climate change initiative, where “tree-preneurs” raise indigenous trees for a large-scale reforestation project. But that’s another story.