Solar: Clean and limitless energy


When we took over this hotel, to develop it into Vida Nova Retreat, our chief concern was ensuring it aligned with our portfolio of eco-properties. Each of our eco-tourism locations fit in with our ethos of living sustainably and in harmony with nature.

How could we do this, with a hotel in the mother city?

The wonderful thing about the hotel’s location is although it is in Cape Town, it’s in a coastal suburb called Hout Bay. The benefit of being outside of the heart of the city, is having more space, and being free from the shadow of towering buildings.

So how does this lead to being eco?

With space comes unimpeded sunshine. Despite the original Victorian architectural design, the hotel has the ideal rooftops to accommodate solar panelling. Solar power offered the perfect solution to ensuring our hotel is as sustainable as possible.

Why do we care about being eco?

We were troubled when we discovered that the hotel sector accounts for approximately 1% of global carbon emissions. In fact, the average hotel room produces between 5 and 15 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. The last thing we want, with any of our properties, is to create a negative footprint. We understand that it is our responsibility to not only take ownership of our impact on the environment but to actively reduce our CO2 emissions.

South Africa is responsible for over a third of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the whole of Africa. The country relies on coal to fire the power stations and produce 30,000MW of electricity… around 80% of South Africa’s annual energy requirements. Greenpeace has even discovered that the South African government allows the coal-fired power plants 10 times more nitrogen oxide emissions than the Chinese and Japanese governments allow theirs.

Despite efforts finally being made towards renewable energies, this year, global electricity demand is still set to increase by 5%. This is largely due to the requirement for fossil fuels, namely coal, as described above. Another really disturbing fact is that CO2 emissions are due to hit a record of more than 34 billion tons, from the power sector alone, in 2021.

What’s so bad about carbon emissions?

Carbon, or CO2, is a naturally occurring gas in our atmosphere, commonly known as a greenhouse gas. Centuries ago, there was a balance across the earth and the greenhouses gases produced did their job of controlling Earth’s temperature. CO2 is actually the most important of all the greenhouse gases for their part in absorbing energy, including infrared from the sun, then reemitting it to warm our planet. In fact, without CO2, we’d see a return to the ice age and suffer life on a frozen planet. However, when the CO2 emissions are too great, we see the opposite effect and a rapidly warming planet.

Every decade, for the last 60 years, has been warmer than the last. Alarmingly, worldwide emissions of CO2 have increased by around 50% in just the last 30 years. The result of this can be seen and felt across the globe. We’re experiencing extreme weather events, witnessing the melting of the polar ice caps, and in turn, the rising of sea levels. We’re facing the acidification of our oceans and seeing an impact on many animal species and their habitats. This is to name but a few devastating effects.

Most of the CO2 entering our atmosphere occurs naturally, and our earth can actually handle 750 gigatons of CO2 every year. However, humans are forcing an extra 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually, through various activities, and our poor planet simply cannot cope with that massive additional volume.

What’s being done to address carbon emissions in the hospitality sector?

Sustainable Hospitality Alliance is an organisation that is driving action, by encouraging the hospitality industry to have a lasting positive impact on the planet. Their tagline is “Responsible hospitality for a better world”. Through their research, they have announced that the hotel industry needs to reduce its carbon emissions by 66% per room by 2030, and by 90% per room by 2050.

How does solar energy help our planet?

Solar power is renewable and generates clean electricity, without emissions. The deployment of solar panels also has a domestic benefit. It reduces the energy required for air-conditioning by around 12%. Solar panels have been proven to keep roofs cool, by providing shade during the day, and they also provide warmth at night, by keeping more heat in. Research also shows that with enough panels, the air temperature is reduced within an Urban Heat Island, which is a metropolitan area that’s a lot warmer than the rural areas surrounding it.

Who has allergies? Did you know, that the burning of fossil fuels diminishes the quality of the air that we breathe?

During the burning process, power plants spew carbon dioxide and methane gases into our air. This polluted air is thought to cause health issues, such as allergies, asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia, and has even been linked to heart attacks and some cancers.

Solar power also reduces water consumption. Global electric power generation is estimated to use more than three trillion gallons of water every year. There is an essential cooling process involved when power plants produce electricity, and this is the stage at which most of the water is consumed.

With South Africa having one of the highest solar irradiation levels in the world, and year-round sunshine, turning to solar power was the most logical answer to ensuring our hotel has little impact on the environment.

Vida Nova Retreat is 100% off the grid. Even our Disa Spa and Green Orchid restaurant and bar are fully powered by solar. Our set-up actually enables our grid to store extra solar energy, since it generates more than we use. At night, we draw our power back from the energy stored in the grid, ensuring that we never have to rely on the fossil-fueled energy supply of local electricity.

Is Vida Nova Retreat doing anything else to help reduce its carbon footprint?

Around one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions come from food. Agriculture is responsible for two-thirds of these emissions, and the rest gleans from the transportation, retailing, cooking (fuel production), waste management, and packaging of the food. According to the latest data, meat and dairy are accountable for around 15% to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Our Green Orchid restaurant chefs focus on plant-based ingredients in our menu. We also cut down on carbons emissions by using fresh, locally sourced foods. Our goal is to expand our newly established herb and vegetable garden so that, in the future, we will primarily grow and use our own organic produce. I’m sure you’ll be happy to read that alcohol, especially wines, have a relatively low carbon footprint if sourced locally. We have an amazing selection of local wines and spirits in our bar.

We pride ourselves on our commitment to sustaining our planet for future generations, and we also take strides towards reducing our water usage and producing minimal waste. We currently use borehole water, which we have confirmed to be in plentiful supply, and with our due diligence, it has no negative impact on the environment. The sustainable use of a natural water source is reported to have a lesser impact than using the national water supply.

We are also in the process of installing a rainwater harvesting system.

This manner of water use has lots of benefits for the environment. Since we will be collecting the majority of rainwater that lands on our hotel, we will be keeping it out of the storm drains and waterways, which will reduce the potential for streambank erosion and flooding. It will also decrease the demand for municipal water. Another great benefit for both our hotel guests and restaurant patrons, is that rainwater comes close to having a neutral pH and is free from salts, fluoride and chloramines (chlorine) used to disinfect municipal water. Our herb and vegetable garden will likely thrive under rainwater irrigation and we hope to taste the difference.

All things considered, staying in our beautifully designed, high-tech rooms, has a low impact on the environment. We harmonise luxury, style, innovation, and comfort, while leaving only the lightest of footprints.

Read about how we are also helping the environment through our Earth Legacy Foundation and community projects.

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