Urban areas are responsible for 70% of global CO2 emissions and the rapid growth in urbanisation presents a significant risk to cities. It is predicted that by 2030 more than 70% of the South African population will be living in cities. The decarbonisation of urban systems, especially building and energy infrastructures are therefore strategically important in mitigating climate change. Although reaching the goals of sustainability is complex and with few straightforward answers, experimentation is deemed necessary, and the biggest challenge of our time is for our carbon-based economy to transition into a circular economy ultimately. Some intentional communities globally have been experimenting with re-imagining socio-technical aspects of this nature. Four of these communities have been examined in this study - having not just adopted specific facets of sustainability but incorporated a whole sustainability system within different contexts. The similarities and differences of three have been compared with the fourth, the main case study.
Lynedoch EcoVillage is an intentional community in the Western Cape province of South Africa that has applied alternative building practice. Recently twenty-seven households also became part of a micro-grid pilot project by Eskom Research, Testing and Development Laboratory. This micro-grid is an embedded photovoltaic (PV) solar system, inclusive of smart meters, with the aim of producing energy locally.
This study assessed the current sustainable infrastructure in Lynedoch EcoVillage and interrogated the low carbon neighbourhood’s sustainability claims, inclusive of the influence the human factor has had on implementing these experiments. This was accomplished by analysing four neighbourhood sustainability assessment (NSA) tools and comparing these with the ecological design framework of Bill Reed. The aim was to determine the best tool set for measuring restorative sustainability in the light of embodied energy, design (energy efficiency) and flow (energy use).
Although this thesis highlights the limitations of NSA tools and features the valued experimental sustainable performance of these intentional communities outside of conventional practice, possible context-specific uniquely-developed measuring tools could reach into these gaps and measure sustainability more accurately. A further comparison was done between the sustainable infrastructure in Lynedoch EcoVillage and conventional infrastructure within middle class neighbourhoods and how experimentation with materials, building design principles and energy systems could decrease embodied energy, advance energy efficiency and lead to less overall energy use.
Through indicative data collection of embodied energy, energy efficiency and energy use, the alternative building materials, sustainable building design principles and specific socio-technical aspects used in Lynedoch EcoVillage, has shown to outperform the energy efficiency of the same micro-grid system in a conventional building application by 60-70%.