Solar system specialist and engineering design company ZRW Mechanika has, since 2012, supplied and installed up to 25 000 units of their solar direct current (dc) home power solution in low-cost housing units, called Siyakhanyisa. This renewable- energy capacity of up to 500 kWp was installed in numerous informal settlements across Gauteng.
This project is part of the Solar Home Lighting Programme of the Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipality. It aims to provide cost-effective and energy efficient solutions to greatly improve the quality of life of residents with no grid access in informal settlements at a capacity level comparable to the free basic electrification (FBE) component of power supply.
ZRW Mechanika CEO Dr Kamalluddien Parker tells Engineering News that the company designed and developed full dc solar-powered lighting kits, which incorporate three indoor lights and one outdoor light. The lighting kits can be placed outside the front door to provide light in front of the house and onto the yard and light up part of the street. In so doing, the home lighting systems are able to create area lighting around the dwelling, offering improved safety and security where previously high masts were the only form of area lighting.
He explains that ZRW’s lighting kits are unique, as the manual is supplied in isiZulu, English and Afrikaans. The development of the product is based on community needs through stakeholder engagement, where an ergonomics engineering design specialist assisted in designing the electricity box.
‘Siyakhanyisa’ means ‘let there be light’, and how apt it is when you see hundreds or thousands of these units light up pathways and dwellings of communities such as the Emloteni, Chis Hani, Steve Biko informal settlements. It is rapidly deployable and we managed to install up to 5 000 units in one month, making it cost effective, flexible and expedient. What better way to effect positive service delivery instead of waiting weeks and months for conventional methods,” notes Parker.
The power supply box is small and compact at about 250 mm × 150 mm × 100 mm and incorporates decals and pictograms to guide the user on how to operate the system, as well as to alert them to the safety requirements.
Parker notes that, at the start of the project, the concept had to be proven to the municipality and the communities and so ZRW took the risk and initiative to demonstrate and develop the product in a community in Daveyton to experientially define the user requirement specification that would be acceptable to beneficiaries.
He mentions that banks felt it too risky to finance, government departments thought it was not a solution to their electrification problems, and the communities felt it was a second-class solution being forced on them. However, over a period of six months, ZRW came to understand and improve its unit to a point where communities are now calling for Siyakhanyisa.
“We have even supplied Siyakhanyisa to projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe,” Parker notes.
He highlights that, although there are many variations of four-light solar kits around the world, ZRW’s unit is locally manufactured and has evolved, and has been Africanised.
The installation of the dc lighting kit has saved residents between R100 and R125 a month on candles, paraffin and other methods of providing light and has further removed the risks of fossil fuel fires, which can often start as a result of these methods being used.
The quality of light emitted from the light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs is far superior to candles and improves learners’ ability to read and write in the dwellings.
ZRW believes that it is important to upskill the community by creating job opportunities for residents, and, in line with its mission and vision, ZRW also provided community awareness programmes in collaboration with Ekurhuleni. More than 100 jobs were created from the Tsakane, Duduza, Thembisa – all in the East Rand – and surrounding areas by allowing the youth to assist in installing the lighting kits.
“The opportunity for stokvels to work in support of downstream maintenance of these units is real and sustainable and ZRW is also engaging the municipalities to access the FBE component of electricity billing to support after-sales maintenance and small to medium-sized enterprises’ potential,” he highlights.
Further, the system can also charge cellphones and charge a radio, as well as extend battery capacity with an external battery charger.
Residents were also trained to install and maintain the lighting kits so that there is a first line of maintenance, a front-line engagement and a level of expertise available to the community, if there are any faults in the kit or general maintenance is needed.
He adds, however, that the kit has been designed to be mostly maintenance free and includes affordable fuse protection in case of overload, overtemperature or overvoltage. The kit uses colour-coded LED light that points out what the problem is and indicates battery levels to alert the user.
Meanwhile, the company has been recognised by the departments of Trade and Industry and Science and Technology as finalist in the DaVinci Innovation Awards, as well as the Technology Top 100 – contributing to the development of emerging young black engineers and technicians, and promoting social development in impoverished communities. In 2014, ZRW Mechanika was a finalist in the Africa Energy Awards.
However, Parker laments that ZRW has not been able to convince more municipalities to adopt Siyakhanyisa. As a result, he hopes to participate in an extension of this programme and has approached the disaster management agencies in the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo to consider these dc lighting kits as a long-term sustainable solution, which could assist in preventing fires and the production of carcinogens in informal settlements but also create job opportunities for the youth if implemented in the manner successfully used by ZRW.
Other Ongoing Projects
ZRW Mechanika is also involved in other renewable-energy projects. ZRW is continuing its work in Mozambique on the Trans African Concessions (TRAC) Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme. The company is leading the greening effort in mainline tolling along national highways with its energy efficiency and alternative-energy programmes. Through the vision and drive of TRAC CEO ², TRAC has retrofitted more than 20 000 luminaires along the N17 and N4 routes. This has led to potential savings of over 300 MWh, while offsetting grid power by up to 300 kWp through solar photovoltaics.
At the main Maputo toll plaza and operations centre, the activities include high-mast lighting retrofits, streetlighting retrofits using LED technology from Philips and installing motion sensors where applicable. Parker states that it is plausible that a reduction in energy consumption of up to 35% has been achieved.
In 2014 and 2013, ZRW worked on Gauteng projects along the N17 route – the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) Dalpark Mainline Toll Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme and the Sanral Gosforth Mainline Toll Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme, in Wadeville.
Both projects involved decentralised heating ventilation and air conditioning and the LED retrofitting of the roughly 50 000 m2 of mainline toll facilities, which included LED bulbs, floodlights, the installation of motion sensors, central energy management and the installation of inverter-type alternating current split systems, which has reduced consumption by up to 38%.
Parker explains that Sanral wanted to reduce its carbon footprint and energy costs. ZRW’s aim is to stop using the high-pressure sodium and mercury vapour in use at its toll plazas. Besides using much more electricity, these produce carcinogens and contain mercury, which could potentially end up in dump sites and could be extremely hazardous.
In 2013, ZRW provided LED tubes, LED bulbs and LED floodlights, as well as motion sensors and energy management for the Avionics building as part of the South African Airways Technical Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme at OR Tambo International Airport, in Kempton Park.
ZRW partnered with State-owned power utility Eskom, as part of its Integrated Demand Management (IDM) standard offer programme, when it completed the energy efficiency retrofit programme of airline catering group Lufthansa LSG Skychefs, in Jet Park, Gauteng.
The IDM programme aims to reduce the electricity demand of high electricity users, including industry and local authorities. ZRW’s installations reduced this facility’s energy footprint by between 38% and 45%. With over 80 MWh saved, LSG recovered over 70% of the capital investment cost through the Eskom programme.
Parker highlights that ZRW Mechanika’s energy efficient solutions can be applied to the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. ZRW is now a channel partner to Philips, allowing it to offer the best performance guarantees and after-sales service in the market, with highly innovative and attractive lightfittings and solutions. ZRW offers a turnkey solution through its design and supply, enabling the user to install, monitor and verify energy use.
“We believe in using next-generation technology, staying ahead of the game, because technology is constantly evolving and improvements are unavoidable – so, using the latest and most reliable LED technology reduces the energy footprint of our clients while improving their energy efficiency and offers better returns on investment if applied over the life cycle of the equipment,” he concludes.