How solar technology is improving informal settlements

Solar power technology is playing an important role in empowering disadvantaged communities that don’t have access to electricity, providing better safety and work opportunities along the way. A number of creative and innovative projects have been implemented in an effort to improve the living conditions of people living within informal settlements across the country.


Millions of South Africans cannot afford housing and are left with no other choice but to live in shacks made of corrugated iron. One of the main problems with this is that corrugated iron is a highly flammable material. As there is usually no access to electricity, many people living within these settlements make use of candles or paraffin for lighting, and wood fires for cooking, meaning that shack fires have become dreadfully common.


Solar technology advances and cheap solar power projects aim to save lives and remove the fear that your home and belongings may disappear in a puff of smoke.

Let’s take a look at some of the fantastic renewable energy projects that are improving informal settlements:


Generating Electricity – Shining a Light in the Darkness


The iShack Project


Started in 2011, the iShack Project uses solar technology to improve household living conditions and meet basic energy needs at an affordable price. The project drew the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the government’s Green Fund, with both playing a part in funding.

The iShack Project consists of a photovoltaic solar panel capable of producing enough electricity to power two lights, a cell phone charger, an external security light and a television set. Over 1000 solar home systems have been installed in the Enkanini informal settlement to date.


Shacurity Solar Lighting Kit


Shacurity, by i Power SA, is a solar powered shack fire prevention kit. The kit consists of a solar panel, panel mounting stand, LED lights, 12 V socket for a cell phone charger, a mini fire extinguisher and a control unit that includes a 120 DB siren that can be triggered by a panic button or an optical smoke detector.

Kits are built with locally manufactured panels, designed for robustness, cost effectiveness and long service life. Kits are easily expandable with more lights and power to ensure that every home is well catered for.


“The Lightie” Solar Bottle Light


South Africa is filled with incredible inventors like Michael Suttner, who developed The Lightie. Built into a cheap acrylic soda bottle, this low cost solar powered light makes use of lithium battery technology to supply homes with 40 hours of light from just 8 hours of sunlight. This simple solution outputs 12x more light than a paraffin lantern and can even be charged during cloudy or rainy weather.


Total Awango solar range


Total Awango offers a range of solar powered products that are aimed at providing a reliable and affordable energy solution to disadvantaged communities. Products range from simple solar lamps which can stay lit for up to eight hours to more advanced lamps with built-in universal cell phone chargers which can last up to 100 hours. Lights have been manufactured to deliberately be moved around the house, making them portable and easy to carry.

In 2014 Total Awango sold over 500,000 lamps in South Africa, and they are aiming to sell at least 1 million lamps by the end of 2016.


Lumkani’s Fire-Detection Device


Lumkani is a fire detector and alert service that uses radio technology and solar power, making it perfect for informal dwellings. The initiative was recently chosen as one of the overall winners in The Venture, a competition that rewards the next big idea in social enterprise.

What sets this device apart from others is that it is designed to detect heat, rather than smoke, since a great deal of heating and cooking equipment used within informal settlements are often smoky by nature.

If the alarm is not switched off within 20 seconds, it will trigger all the neighbouring alarms within a 60 metre radius. This promotes a community-wide response. The alarm has a solar powered internet gateway that sends an alert SMS to community leaders. This feature can also be set to alert disaster management services, sending the GPS co-ordinates of the device for convenience.



Solar Powered Geysers


In 2008, when load shedding first took hold of South Africa, government launched its solar water heating rebate programme. While Eskom was unable to meet their target of a million solar geysers installed by 2013, having only installed 400 000, the solar technology potential still looks promising.

The project plans to be moved to the department of energy by the end of January 2016, where it will hopefully be bolstered. The installation of 400 000 systems makes this one of the largest solar water heating programmes worldwide, which will hopefully bring hot water to many more low cost homes in the years to come.


Going solar with Soventix


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