14 Mar 2012

An ambitious plan to provide 5000 homes with alternative electricity in rural KwaZulu.

The rural area of KwaZulu was traditionally called the Valley of a Thousand Hills. This sparsely populated area where subsistence to small scale agriculture is practiced, is probably last on the list to receive grid power from the national electricity supplier, Eskom.


An Alternative Electricity solution had to be found that could fulfill the following criteria :
1. Provide basic home electrification via alternative means
2. Be suitable for rural areas – reliable, not expensive, and easy to understand
3. Be ready for implementation immediately
4. Must have a reliable track record and proven reliability
5. Must have a plan for extended service and maintenance

All these qualities were met by a company called Specialized Solar Systems, in George. The model that they proposed was their DC Microgrid – the Rural 30 model. This is a solar panel powered home electrifications system that drives 3 interior LED lights, one exterior LED spotlight, and a cell phone charger. The most profound quality of this system is that it is upgradable and that a unique range of appliances can be added to the basic unit by enlarging the solar panel and battery capacity. The added extra appliances include a TV and DVD player, radio, laptop charger, extra lights, and even a fridge. With all these appliances that are driven off a solar panel and battery bank the rural community can truly say that a complete home electrification system is now available to them.

The development of this system has taken years and Specialized Solar Systems are considered as a leader in the field of DC Technology that they exclusively use for their off grid systems. In a launch project a DC system was installed in Thembalethu, a settlement near George. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University did a prolonged social impact study on the informal home that was electrified by this system and found that it had a profoundly positive effect on the household. In Enkanini near Stellenbosch, a community electrification project was undertaken in cooperation with the Sustainability Institute of South Africa. The results here we equally encouraging with a clear vote of confidence in the DCMG and a solid request to enlarge the amount of units already installed!

The good news is that the basic electrification unit as proposed comes at a very affordable price tag – much cheaper than Eskom’s budget for electrifying a residential home. It can also be installed immediately as the technology has already been developed and tested. There is no doubt as to the practicality of the units and its suitability to a rural area. To ensure that the novelty of the solar powered system is well received amongst the recipients, the developers are offering a training program to the rural community where individuals will be trained in the running of the maintenance of the systems as well as the installation of the additional appliances that will be installed at a future date and on payment by the recipients themselves, as they require. This structure that has already proven itself to be a success recipe for the company also ensures that there is a continuous upkeep and advancement of the system. It gives a sense of hope and personal belonging ! A key ingredient to the longevity of a social upliftment program of this nature!

All in all this seems like the best plan to electrify rural Kwazulu! At last a solution has been found and somebody is prepared to put his stamp of approval on it for the benefit of this community! Has anybody mentioned that this is also a green project and adds no negative pollution or harmful carbon emissions to a rural area? Win-win comes to mind in a big way!

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