Andre Nel. Picture: SUPPLIED
Andre Nel. Picture: SUPPLIED

“Go green” has become the rallying call of people conscious of the urgent need to protect the natural environment.

Andre Nel, CE and founder of the start-up Eco-V, has heeded the call — with groundbreaking results.

Nel has been engaged in the development of green solutions for a decade.

In 2011 he turned his attention to finding a more energy-efficient way of heating water.

“A geyser is responsible for 40%-60% of a household’s electricity use,” says Nel.

Bringing to bear three decades of experience as an electronics engineer, he focused on heat pumps (used extensively in energy-efficient heating and cooling devices).

In 2012 he won a contract to replace 25 geysers with heat pumps at the Zuid-Afrikaans hospital in Pretoria.

Though the heat pumps yielded energy savings, he wasn’t satisfied. “Savings were claimed to be 70% but were actually only 55%,” says Nel.

He applied himself to vastly improving heat-pump thermo-dynamics, with the ultimate goal of replacing electricity with solar power.

His work won him recognition in the form of a grant from the Austrian Development Agency and a German grant to advance his skills at the Renewables Academy in Berlin.

The result of his efforts is Green Tower, a solution he patented in 2014.

“Green Tower uses 90% less energy to heat water than a conventional geyser,” says Nel. “It lends itself perfectly to the use of solar-generated electricity.”

During the development of Green Tower he became something of a serial innovation competition entrant.

“It is part of the strategy. It provides exposure and good peer reviews,” he says.

It has also helped with funding, with R250,000 coming to him so far from competition awards in 2014 and 2015.

Nel is now one of four finalists in the African Innovation Foundation’s 2016 awards, which carry a US$150,000 winner’s prize. If the prize comes his way, it will be at the time when Green Tower is going commercial. And those plans are on a larger scale than Nel first envisaged, thanks to a 2015 prize-winning effort.

“It included a trip to San Francisco, where I visited the Tesla factory,” says Nel. “It was a great inspiration to me to scale up Green Tower for large-scale housing projects.”

To do this, a transportable containerised version of Green Tower has been developed. With a 2,500l hot-water generation capacity it is designed to serve 20 standard-size houses or 25 smaller RDP houses.

The challenge for Nel is to demonstrate to a housing developer that the containerised Green Tower can serve 1,000 houses. If he can, and he believes strongly that he will, he envisages delivering 50 containers by early 2017.

Nel believes the container version of Green Tower can be used for RDP homes where the current hot-water solution is roof-mounted solar panels.

“The solar panels are causing problems,” says Nel. “They are low-tech. In summer they overheat, causing a huge loss of water through safety valves, and in winter they cannot provide enough hot water.”

Beyond RDP homes, Nel will also tackle the broader household market.