Electricity is a necessity in modern life, but South Africa is a country with vast tracts of rural areas, some of which are without access to power grids. Many citizens need the safety, conveniences and opportunities that electricity provides, but cannot afford large alternative energy systems.
Fortunately, new technology has given rural and remote South Africans a chance to get electricity into their homes.
The Old Ways
In previous decades, those without access to electricity mostly used fossil fuel burning generators. Communities would commonly use diesel generators to power their homes or create “mini-grids” that connected multiple domiciles and buildings.
Electricity from this system is unreliable and costly in the long run. It also harms the environment with the gasses it emits and the spills that are prone to happen. This system is not sustainable for the future, so South Africans have begun to look elsewhere.
New Technologies Emerging
New off-grid energy solutions are appearing more and more in South Africa. They are less expensive and easier to implement giving them clear advantages for rural users
Since sunlight is readily available in most areas, solar power is a popular way to generate electricity for a self-sustaining home. However, high installation and maintenance costs make it prohibitively expensive for remote and lower-income areas. Companies like Kingo have sought to rectify this problem by offering prepaid, portable solar energy systems. These systems come with a small solar panel and battery. The battery itself has outlets, USB ports and light bulbs. The whole system is durable, and Kingo takes care of all the maintenance. Users pay for power in advance, eliminating long-term costs.
One of the main drawbacks of solar power is its production capabilities. It sometimes cannot meet the needs of larger or more modern households. Some have found a solution by combining more than one off-grid energy source.
Hybrid systems such as the Eveready-Kestrel off-grid solution commonly use wind turbines as well as solar panels. These components charge batteries that a house can then draw from.
A municipality in South Africa is experimenting with one of these hybrid systems, using it in conjunction with existing power grids. The current technology eases the reliance on the municipal power grid and could one day lead to widespread energy independence.
A Clean and Independent Future
With more support from the government and investment from the private sector, South Africa could bring cheap and clean power to those who need it. New technologies like portable solar or hybrid systems can help by being more affordable and accessible.