University project lights up ‘iShacks’

2012-11-03 16:34

Mziwamandla Mthelo and his family enjoyed their warmest winter yet, thanks to a Stellenbosch University project that’s putting renewable energy at the top of the agenda.

The shack Mthelo, his wife, Lungiswa Khedana, and son Likhona live in has been retrofitted with special modifications as part of an initiative dubbed the “iShack” project.

The iShacks are part of Stellenbosch University’s TsamaHUB and Sustainability Institute’s ­pilot project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The pilot project is being rolled out over the next 18 months and will see up to 100 shacks in ­Stellenbosch’s Enkanini informal settlement powered by ­renewable energy.

The “i” in iShack stands for ­“improved” and involves cost­effective and sustainable modifications to corrugated iron shacks.

With the Stellenbosch Municipality on board, the postgraduate student initiative aims to ­improve living conditions of residents in informal settlements.

Some shacks will be built from scratch, while others – such as the one the Mthelo family call home – will be retrofitted with insulation material, fire-retardant paint and a solar power system.

Mthelo told City Press that ­before the improvements, the shack was cold in winter and the “wind was getting everywhere”.

They had been much warmer this winter, he said, no longer at the mercy of cold draughts.

Mthelo had no power in his home before the installation of the solar power system, which stores enough energy in a 12-volt battery to power three light bulbs and a cellphone charger.

Although the system does not provide enough energy to run a stove or fridge, it has improved their lives.

“It’s a brilliant idea and people support it,” Mthelo said.

Professor Mark Swilling, the TsamaHUB project leader, said residents in informal settlements wait “for a long time” for energy and water grids to arrive, and then for houses to be built.

“Research shows this can take eight years. What happens in the meantime?” Swilling asked.

He said the iShack demonstrated what organised communities could achieve short term.

Email correspondence about the project indicates that building an iShack from scratch costs between R7 000 and R10 000.

– West Cape News

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