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About the iShack Project

Specialized Solar Systems (SSS) is primarily involved in the supply of all solar technologies to help facilitate in creating a sustainable renewable energy environment to The iShack Project managed by The Sustainability Institute Innovation Lab (Pty) Ltd, a division of the Sustainability Institute.

The iShack Project uses off-grid energy produced by DC micro-grid technologies developed by Specialized Solar Systems to supply end-users with DC electricity that is also used by energy efficient DC appliances, also supplied by Specialized Solar Systems.

This process is sustained through a pay-for-energy-usage business model.

The installed DC micro-grid systems are soft-managed by a web-based management platform, SSS-EPOWER that was developed by Specialized Solar Systems for large-scale remotely manageable de-centralized solar energy supply.

The solar technologies supplied by Specialized Solar Systems for the iShack Project include:

  • Smart solar energy producing DC micro-grids with remotely managed hardware – SS20DC75 Managed
  • Efficient DC appliances powered by the DC micro-grid systems
  • Online Off-Grid Energy Management Utility with remote switching, payment facilitation, vendor management, solar system and end-user management services – SSS-EPOWER
  • Product/service support


The iShack Project: A Sustainable, Scalable, Solar Electricity Social Enterprise

The Sustainability Institute Innovation Lab (Pty) Ltd, (SIIL), a division of the Sustainability Institute, has developed the iShack Social Enterprise to deliver smart, sustainable and scalable energy utilities to poor, underserviced communities in the global south.

The iShack Project is a large-scale energy utility that provides a pay-for-use solar electricity service to residents of an informal settlement, called Enkanini, in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The off-grid utility uses the technology of SSS to provide household electricity to power lights, television, and other small media appliances.

The iShack roll-out started in October 2013 and by April 2015 the electricity service had been delivered to over 800 households. Over 1500 families will receive the service by the end of the initial roll-out in early 2016.
A key objective of the enterprise is to demonstrate the modular scalability of each household installation so that the electricity supply can grow incrementally as the technology evolves and as costs come down. In this vein, the iShack Project has started to pilot solar fridge upgrades and is developing a financial model to make such upgrades affordable and accessible.

The business model
SIIL received funding for infrastructure and start-up capital from the Green Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. However, the business model is designed to ensure that the energy service is financially sustainable without having to draw on ongoing grants and donations. Thus the long-term running costs are paid for largely by the end-users, subsidized by the local municipality (via a Free Basic Electricity subsidy). The project has already proven that end-users will pay for an energy service that they value. The iShack Project is a ‘social’ business and does not extract profits.

Maximising local economic development and capacity building are core components of the business model. Selected residents from the target community are recruited as ‘iShack Agents’ to market, install and maintain the Solar Home Systems. The Agents undergo a comprehensive training program and are supported indefinitely to deliver a consistently high-quality service to their clients. Sophisticated quality management systems, adapted to the local context, have been developed, and are continually refined to ensure that the service runs efficiently and that the end-user experience is very satisfactory.

SIIL will support the replication of the iShack model elsewhere in the global south by working with funders and local implementing partners (local government, NGOs, or private social-impact companies) to design, plan and implement off-grid utilities on a similar basis to the flagship iShack enterprise.

Follow the progress of the project on’


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