Powering off-grid communities with renewable energy

The solar panela are ready to be installed. Picture: Lerato Ngakane
The solar panela are ready to be installed. Picture: Lerato Ngakane

Could streetlights help turn the tide in the fight against crime in poor, unserviced areas such as Diepsloot?

In conjunction with The Philile Foundation, Green Peace have partnered up for an initiative called #ProjectSunshine, which has seen them installing solar panels at Diepsloot Early Childhood Development Centre.

As part of this project the two parties will also be installing solar streetlights within the vicinity of the centre.

Diepsloot, Afrikaans for “deep ditch”, is a densely populated township in the north of Johannesburg.

The township is fraught with abject poverty and a lack of basic necessities such as electricity and water.

“Like many informal settlements in South Africa residents struggle with the daily challenge of bread and butter but above the rest, Diepsloot has built its reputation on crime,” said Nhlanhla Sibisi, coal campaigner for Greenpeace and Project Leader for #ProjectSunshine.

“The inhabitants live completely off the grid and are deprived of the benefits of street and home lighting. Dark streets and crime work well together – crime rate is rife,” Sibisi said.

However, according to Sibisi installing bright, reliable, solar-powered streetlights could turn things around for this community.

According to Sibisi, before the installation of the rooftop solar panels, the Greenpeace Africa team engaged with The Philile Foundation staff and crèche teachers.

This engagement was later followed by several meetings with the parents of the children as well as neighbours of the crèche to profile the project.

Ideally “the awareness created through this community participation, teacher participation as well as engagement with the school children will develop buy-in and a sense of ownership of the project by the community,” said Sibisi.

The project has other benefits. For example, the literacy programmmes that the centre hoped to make available to older members of the communty can now o ahead.

The project stalled because classes would have taken place at night – when it was dark.

“This initiative will not only improve the quality of education received by students but the availability of electricity will also allow this community to implement literacy programmes for older community members that had to be put on hold due to the lack of electricity,” said Violet Nzimande head teacher at the centre.

To date 12 rooftop solar panels and an anaerobic bio-digester have been installed.

The final phase will see the installation of solar streetlights around the crèche by the end of July.

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