Leading kitchen manufacturer and the largest kitchen retailer in South Africa, Easylife Kitchens, is pioneering the use of renewable energy in the kitchen manufacturing sector.
The company has taken significant steps towards a renewable energy future by implementing a brand new solar energy solution at its Johannesburg-based manufacturing plant. This included the recent installation of over 700 solar panels on the rooftop of its 6600 m² manufacturing plant in Strijdom Park.
Since going live two months ago, the company has succeeded in using solar energy to power the majority all of its factory’s energy needs and in the process has thus far reduced the factory’s C0² emissions by over 40 tons.
At maximum output, the inverter based grid tied photovoltaic installation produces 165kw of energy, that’s 10% more energy than the factory needs at any given moment. The installation produces on average 950kW of energy a day, and was specifically designed to ensure that the solar energy supply could handle any factory expansion needs going forward.
“It’s taken five years for the idea to go solar to become a reality, says Easylife Kitchens MD Philip Kirby, “and for it to become a viable proposition for the company. We had to wait for the technology to catch up with our ideas and for it to become financially and operationally viable for the company while still enabling us to serve our customers as we’ve always done. We expect to see a return on our renewable energy investment within six years.”
The factory now uses a mix of solar power and City Power energy to operate. On overcast and rainy days, and at night, it uses energy from the grid.
Easylife Kitchens has also installed a 400 kVA diesel-run generator at the plant to ensure that its business as usual when there are power outages.
“We installed a generator in addition to solar power to ensure that we are able to continue the manufacturing process at all times and deliver to our customers at the agreed time, without delays caused by load shedding or other power outages.”
There is also a system in place that will allow the generator to be fed by solar power instead of diesel fuel during peak daylight hours, thereby saving on fuel costs.
Kirby says the move to solar energy has created a lot of interest among suppliers and competitors in the kitchen industry. “People are looking to learn from our experience. My advice to others who want to go this route is to do their homework.”
Easylife Kitchens’ management team has always taken its environmental and social responsibilities seriously. It sources its chipboard from manufacturers who run sustainable forests. This means that forestry companies Easylife Kichens does business with replant trees where they have chopped them down.
It also disposes of factory waste in an environmentally-friendly manner, ensuring for example that any contaminated water produced by the factory is properly treated and does not find its way into South Africa’s rivers and streams.
And with the current water crisis in South Africa, it is also looking at ways to harvest rainwater and use water resources more efficiently in the factory.
“By going solar and looking at ways to become more environmentally friendly and efficient, we are further able to reduce any harmful impact our business has on the environment,” he adds.
Easylife Kitchens is also planning to expand on its CSR projects. “We feel we have an obligation to act to benefit the local community and society at large, and will be exploring ways that we can really make a difference.”
With Easylife Kitchens going green, customers concerned about their own carbon footprint have piece-of-mind knowing that the kitchens they’re buying are environmentally friendly.
The company’s kitchen designers also help clients to make their kitchen environments as energy efficient and environmentally sound as possible by suggesting the installation of fixtures and appliances such as recycling bins, aerated water mixers that save water, and inductions hobs that save energy.
Looking ahead, Kirby would like to see the Johannesburg factory receiving an energy-efficiency star rating. He would also like to see the Cape Town factory going green.
And as for the future of green energy: “When the technology becomes available to store clean energy efficiently and cost effectively, we will be the first to look at that as a solution,” he concludes.