Vodacom solar powers rural village

2013-02-11 11:06
Vodacom has used solar energy to power a rural school. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Vodacom has used solar energy to power a rural school. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Solar energy can benefit rural communities far from grid infrastructure a Vodacom project has shown.

The mobile operator has used solar energy powering its base station near the rural village of Emfihlweni in northern KwaZulu-Natal to power a school and community shop.

"What Vodacom did after long discussions with community leaders and the chief in the area is to look at: How do we use our existing network to give back some kind of assistance to the community that uses our existing infrastructure?" Suraya Hamdulay, Vodacom’s executive head of CSI and Sustainability told News24.

The base had previously been running on diesel because of its isolation, and solar energy represented a cost saving to the operator.

"We retrofitted [our base station] and got off diesel and started using solar panels to power up our base station. We ran some cables to the nearby school.

"We powered a block of the school using solar energy - 100% clean energy for the school's purposes: All their admin purposes. We gave them computers for the first time; switched on their lights," Hamdulay said.

Access

The local community shop, which also received solar panels, has resulted in the community having improved access to cellphone service.

"What the community is now doing is set up a cellphone recharge station in the community shop. Members of the community who previously would have to take a taxi to the nearest town, and pay to have their cellphones charged, are now getting their cellphones recharged," said Hamdulay.

This project mirrors a similar one in Vleiland, near Laingsburg in the Western Cape province where the community received a solar-powered base station.

Vodacom said that an unintended consequence of the project has been that the school and shop have become community centres.

"We intended the project would boost education and give the kids access to technology and allow matriculants to come to the school in the evening and study, but what has actually happened, is it as now become a hub of community activity.

"The little school hall is now being used for community activities because we now have electricity," Hamdulay said.

Community benefit


In addition, the electrification has resulted in access to government services, Hamdulay added.

"Members of the community now come and make copies of their IDs; they're able to print documents from government websites for birth and death certificates and they now have access to a whole range of government services purely because Vodacom is powering their admin block at the school."

The operator warned that while these projects had seen communities benefit, it was not in the business of rolling out electricity and would a careful case-by-case study for further projects.

"We're not an electricity provider; this is a CSI project, but what we're saying is that is real remote communities where we want to do good, we have existing infrastructure and it's our network," said Hamdulay.

"People may think there are many sites in the country that are off grid, but not many fit the criteria. You may have many off-grid sites, but not with a community that close by."


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