Sophia is a grandmother who has been living in an informal dwelling in the Gaaitjie settlement in Smutsville in Sedgefield, for almost 20 years. Gaaitjie is located on an old dump-site and the Department of Water Affairs won’t approve formalisation of the area because of concerns regarding sinkholes and potential methane gas release. In the meantime, over 120 households in the settlement share 5 communal toilets and 2 taps. Sophia used to run a generator for lighting and TV, but that became too expensive with the increases in the petrol price, and she had reverted to using candles and paraffin lamps for lighting, and doing without TV.
Sophia was selected at a community meeting held by the local branch of SANCO to be one of the 4 recipients of DC Microgrid systems from Specialized Solar Systems in George, partly sponsored by a private couple from Sedgefield. Each beneficiary had to pay R500 towards their system, the sponsor paid the other R5 000. For this she received a system which runs 3 independently switched inside lights, a motion-sensor outside light, a cellphone charger and an FM/AM radio. All the components run on 12 volts DC so are very energy efficient compared with AC mains appliances. The radio can be used for 12 hours per day, the lights for 8 hours per day, the cellphone charger for 2charges per day.
The systems were installed on 12 June 2012 in four informal dwellings in Smutsville-Sizamile. Sophia’s 8-year-old grandson Avile and his siblings would at last be able to finish their homework without the dim flickering of a candle or paraffin lamp.
Sophia’s daughter lives with her mother and wanted to bless her for her years of taking care of her and her son, so on 28 June she enquired about upgrading the system to run a TV and also a fridge-freezer. A payment scheme was worked out with SSS whereby she would pay a lay-by amount each month and when enough had been paid, the TV would be installed and then the fridge-freezer when the rest had been paid.
On 15 October, Sophia’s daughter had paid enough for the extra PV Panel and larger battery required to power the additional appliances, as well as the cost of a 54cm colour TV and DVD player. The upgraded DC Microgrid system is designed run the TV and DVD player for 6 hours per day. These were duly installed in the course of the afternoon of the 16th October, but it was found that the TV reception was too weak to provide a usable picture. After unsuccessfully trying an amplified aerial, Sophia’s daughter asked whether DStv would work on solar power, and on hearing that it would, she immediately put in an order. The DVD player, however, worked excellently and when I visited early the next week, there were 10 little heads parked in front of the TV, watching a gospel DVD!
On 31 October, in a matter of hours a satellite dish was installed at the house in Gaaitjie and a DStv decoder powered directly by a solar-charged battery was activated, to give Sophia and her family access to a wide world of information, education and entertainment.
Sophia’s daughter’s plan is to carry on with lay-by instalments so that the DC-powered 225-litre fridge-freezer can be installed in the middle of December, just in time for Christmas. Who knows, perhaps she will aim for a solar-powered laptop computer next!?
SANCO and SSS are looking for sponsors for more DC Microgrid systems, as there are over 400 households in Smutsville-Sizamile without electricity. For more information on Rural Electrification please contact Ed Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org