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Interviews with SS20 Users

Specialized Solar Systems is involved as the primary supplier of DC micro-grids for the iShack Project that is providing mass renewable energy electricity, on a pay-for-use basis, to residents of an informal settlement in Stellenbosch (Enkanini), South Africa using only solar energy. The off-grid system that is supplied, the SS20 DC Micro-grid baseline smartbox, uses advanced technologies to build in remote management and is produced by Specialized Solar Systems. Basically, the end-users (customers) of these off-grid DC micro-grid energy producing systems, are allocated payment packages for energy usage. This is all managed remotely by Specialized Solar Systems web-based management platform, SSS-EPOWER, which is an advanced remote energy management utility that has proven to be a very effective tool in off-grid energy management (more to come on SSS-EPOWER).

The project aims to provide the service to over 1500 clients. They are training a group of local franchisees called “iShack Agents” to install and maintain the solar systems and to market the service in their community. The clients pay a monthly fee for the service to ensure long-term operational sustainability. The energy service provides lighting, television, cell-phone charging and additional energy for music, DVD players, and radios. The utility is scalable and in future, fridges and water heaters will be added.

This project is using solar electricity to demonstrate how ecologically sound technologies can be used appropriately to incrementally upgrade slums and at the same time build local enterprising capacity within the community. This enterprise development model recognizes the significant existing social, human and physical capital within slums. A key objective of the iShack business model is to harness this existing capital to unlock a range of social and economic benefits and development opportunities for the community. Our vision goes far beyond simply providing clean, safe and affordable energy. Other technologies and services that can be incorporated into the model include off-grid sanitation, ecological housing, water services and food production.

In May 2014 Nobelusi Kenyana and Gwendolyn Meyer interviewed and photographed (with their permission) a group of iShack Clients on their experiences of the iShack Solar electricity service since joining the iShack Project. The clients were interviewed by Nobelusi in isiXhosa and this document is the transcript of five interviews translated by her into English.

 

  • Interview 1:

1. How are you finding the systems

“I find that solar is very helpful to me because in many things it prevents my kids from vagabonding – wandering up and down the community. Like for instance, my children like to watch programs like ‘Generations’, so now I think in that case it has really helped me a lot in that regard because now we sit in one place”.

2. Has the system made a difference to your life? How?

“It has made a difference because I no longer buy Paraffin”.

3. What do you like most about the system?

“One thing that I think, and that I have realized is that it’s not easy for us to get electricity here in Enkanini. And what I wish for as the iShack develops is that maybe it could make things like fridges as well”.

4. Are you spending less money on candles and paraffin?

“I mean now I am able to buy one liter of paraffin for a single room, for R11.00 and the rest I’m using solar for the lights. I’m spending less money”.

5. Do you think your children benefit? How?

“Yes, I do think they are learning something, because there are certain things that they like to watch on the TV”.

6. Do you think the TV can help with educating your children? How?

“Yes, I do think it’s helpful. Sometimes…How can I put it? I mean in some instances, for example, they could learn about other countries and how those countries operate”.

7. Do you feel more secure, less risk of shack fires, healthier from not inhaling smoke and gasses from candles and paraffin?

“Yes, I can say that I am safe”.

 

  • Interview 2:

1. How are you finding the systems?

“We got the system through the advertisement and meetings that were conducted by the iShack Agents (Victor). They were walking around the area calling meetings, even though we never went to the meetings. A guy who attended the meeting told us about it that they are looking for people. They were still taking people in groups of four; each person to pay R320 for the registration, and the money to be deposited in the bank. So we paid the amount last year October, and thereafter the system was installed”.

2. Has the system made a difference to your life? How?

“Yes, there is, it has made a huge difference. Because as we are living here in this area with no electricity, we use paraffin and candles, it has been very helpful because during sunny days we can use the Solar lights which mean the use of paraffin and candles is very minimal, like now that the lights are dim due to Solar not charging properly because of the weather that’s when we use paraffin and candles”.

3. What do you like most about the system?

“It’s the TV. Because the kids used to stay in an area where there is electricity. And when they got here they did not get what they were used to watch on TV. So when they got the TV, at least things were different. And the time the kids come home has also improved because they have programs that they rush home to watch”.

4. Are you spending less money on candles and paraffin?

“It’s a very small amount of money that I now spend. I think from October until April I did not use any money. I only paid money for Solar and continue lighting. I did not spend any money on paraffin and candles because I always have my Solar lights on”.

5. Do you think your children benefit? How?

“They are benefiting, a lot. Because there is the study period in the evenings and when using a candle you always worry that the candles will get finished and must be set off, and everyone must go to sleep. But now they can light and study up until they feel tired and they can switch off the light and go to sleep”.

6. Do you think the TV can help with educating your children? How?

“It does help in educating the kids, a lot. Because we have our kids that are slow but with the airing of Cartoons in the English language they try and imitate and make a mistake, at least they do get something. Because when they make the mistake you also as a parent you correct them and say no this is how you say it, so it does help a lot. It educates in that regard”.

7. Do you feel more secure, less risk of shack fires, healthier from not inhaling smoke and gasses from candles and paraffin?

“Yes, I am safe from the fires, especially the candles”.

 

  • Interview 3:

1. How are you finding the system?

“I have been using Solar for 6 months now. I find my solar right because it’s helping me a lot. Before I did not have an understanding of what’s happening out there but now I see. We are now able to watch the news at 7:30. The kids used to go up and down the area but now they watch cartoons they are no longer wandering around the area. Even my Husband is now able to watch soccer, and no longer going out anymore. So….I mean, it has really helped us a lot, it’s not the same anymore”.

2. Has the system made a difference to your life? How?

“The difference that I have noticed is that we are now the same as the people who live in an area where there is electricity because most of the time we were not the same, we lived in a dark area not knowing when will the situation change. Since the Solar came, we are now the same as those people living in right areas. So now even at work if people are talking about what happened on TV, I am also able to take part in those conversations. So it really made a huge difference”.

3. What do you like most about the system?

“One thing that I like about the solar is that you can rely on it, unlike electricity. It’s always working. I mean there is a huge difference. Some people who are using electricity will be telling us that there is no electricity, and I’ll be certain that with solar I have a light. So solar is always there, working”.

4. Are you spending less money on candles and paraffin?

“I no longer buy candles or paraffin ever since I started using solar. For warming water and cooking, I use gas”.

5. Do you think your children benefit? How?

Yes, they do benefit, for instance, my child Ntsika used to go out with friends after school, but now at 1 pm, he rushes home so that he can watch cartoons. The first thing that he does when he gets home after school is switching the TV on before he puts his school bag down”.

6. Do you think the TV can help with educating your children? How?

Yes, it has been helpful, because, for instance, I have never had a TV before. My children, they talk about things now. They even know the time. They know at a certain time a particular program will be on. I’m sensing that they have gained something. I feel now that they know more than they did before. It has been really helpful”.

7. Do you feel more secure, less risk of shack fires, healthier from not inhaling smoke and gasses from candles and paraffin?

“Yes, I do feel safe, because with solar I don’t even worry, especially if I’m at work, unlike
electricity that is dangerous, solar is safe. So my children are safe, they just switch the TV on”.

 

  • Interview 4:

1. How are you finding the system?

“I find my Solar is still treating me right”.

2. Has the system made a difference to your life? How?

“Yes, there is a difference. Because I used to stay in the dark, however now I have lights, and I
can even watch TV”

3. What do you like most about the system?

“I like the TV. I get so many things from TV like I can see retail advertisements”.

4. Are you spending less money on candles and paraffin?

I don’t spend any money on candle and paraffin.

5. Do you think your children benefit? How?

“Yes, I think so. They are happy, and they no longer go wandering around, they stay at home now and watch TV. They are enjoying the lights as well”.

6. Do you think the TV can help with educating your children? How?

“Yes, it does help, a lot. They find so many things on the TV, like education programs in
mathematics and so forth”.

7. Do you feel more secure, less risk of shack fires, healthier from not inhaling smoke and gasses from candles and paraffin?

“Yes, I think I am safer because it’s impossible now that my house will burn because of a
candle, since I no longer use candles”.

 

  • Interview 5:

1. Has the system made a difference to your life? How?

“Yes, there is a huge difference. Because I was using candles for lights and paraffin which I knew it was not good for my health because it causes Asthma. So since I got solar things are much better now, we are able to light and my children are safe now because they used to go and watch ‘Generations’ at the neighbors at night, now they are at home most of the time, so we are very safe now. I no longer pay R3 to charge my phone at other people’s homes; I can do that at my house now”.

2. What do you like most about the system?

“Since we don’t have electricity, solar has filled that emptiness of not having electricity even though we don’t use other appliances but it has made a huge difference. So I can even say; we can rely on it. For instance, in the Eastern Cape sometimes there would be days with no electricity, especially in winter. I like solar because even on rainy days we are able to come home from work and switch on the lights. It’s always working; there is no day whereby it’s not working”.

3. Are you spending less money on candles and paraffin?

“I no longer spend money on buying candles and paraffin as I used to. I sometimes buy paraffin, but mainly for heating”.

4. Do you think your children benefit? How?

“Yes, because they do watch TV, and sometimes they watch programs they like, such as cartoons and other educational programs like YOUR TV. So they do benefit, and they know which programs to watch and at what time”.

5. Do you think the TV can help with educating your children? How?

Yes, a lot; not only to the kids but to me as well. Because before, I did not know what was happening out there but know I am able to watch the news. So in many things, it’s very helpful”.

6. Do you feel more secure, less risk of shack fires, healthier from not inhaling smoke and gasses from candles and paraffin?

“Yes, I am very safe, because I no longer have candles at my home. I’m only using gas for cooking. It’s even safer now, for instance when there is a knock at the door at night or someone tries to break in, we are able to switch on the lights. I can say we are very safe

 

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