Joburg pilots scheme to improve energy access in informal settlements

21st April 2017 By: David Oliveira - Creamer Media Staff Writer

To address the challenges of supplying electricity to informal settlements in Johannesburg, the city’s electricity utility, City Power, is managing a pilot project to supply residents in the Lawley and Thembelihle informal settlements.

At the Power and Electricity World Africa conference, which took place in Sandton earlier this month, City Power supply- and demand-side management manager Paul Vermeulen explained that the New Energy Mix project aimed to provide residents in informal settlements with free gas appliances, such as gas stoves, which would enable them to access an alternative source of energy.

The city will also provide 3 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) solutions that will provide electricity for six to ten households, which will be coupled with energy storage.

To date, two systems had been installed and would have been operational by the end of last year had they not been vandalised, Vermeulen noted, adding that security of the systems was an ongoing challenge that City Power was looking to resolve.

He explained that the system, which can be expanded to reach 7 000 households in the two settlements, would apply only to regularised settlements, where households had been laid out in such a manner that allowed for connection to utility infrastructure in the future.

As part of the project, City Power will engage with communities, which Vermeulen highlighted as an important aspect of the project, to introduce training and mentoring to help residents understand and efficiently use the proposed combination of alternative energy sources.

He suggested that the project also created the opportunity to develop local entrepreneurs as gas distributors.

Households will need to register to receive the solar power and gas appliance. The solution will still be billed, but the key is its affordability.

Vermeulen explained that there was an early morning and evening electricity-consumption peak in informal settlements. Thus, the project aims to develop a solution to manage this peak by replacing demand with alternatives and reduce the load with energy storage.

Storage can be situated either within or on the border of the settlement, which can then be fed through a grid.

During low-consumption periods, the storage system will be recharged using the solar PV structures.

Additional services, such as streetlighting, can also be powered using this system.

Vermeulen pointed out that the roll-out of the project required greater adoption of energy efficiency strategies, tailored tariffs, adoption of gas-to-thermal alternatives, battery storage, demand-side management, smart metering and load limiting, as well as utility-scale rooftop solar PV.

Currently, households in Lawley and Tembelihle have less than 2 kVa supply.

The system is designed in such a way that when grid supply is limited, stored energy can be used to supplement demand.