Renewable, Sustainable Energy. Can it help the poor?

Oct 20, 2016Alternative Energy, Sustainable Development0 comments

By Zanele Majebe


So many people have no access to electricity

Nearly one third of the 15 million households in South Africa have no access to electricity. Many of these vulnerable households are found where I live in Khayelitsha on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. This blog is the third in our series on energy and explores potential solutions for vulnerable people with no access to electricity.

How do we meet our growing demand for energy?

According to the Department of Energy South Africa needs energy solutions to support visible and tangible socio-economic growth and the demand for energy will grow as the economy grows. The question is how do we meet these energy demands?

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Do we continue burning fossil fuels?

According to Earthlife Africa, South Africa relies heavily on the burning of fossil fuels for energy and the government is planning to continue do so even in the medium term. This is despite the fact that the South African Department for Environmental Affairs acknowledges the accepted position that temperatures should not rise above 2° Celsius in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. The poor are hit the hardest by the negative effects of climate change: disrupted water supplies and flash floods, longer and more intense heat waves and negative health impacts affecting employment opportunities as well as food security.  Makoma Lekalakala, Programme Officer at Earthlife Africa Jhb, states:

“We need to act now. We need to start shifting towards clean and renewable energy technology and drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases – otherwise we will bring our livelihoods even closer to collapse.”

Given the impact on the poor, I tend to agree with Mr Lekalakala, but what about using nuclear energy, which is surely cleaner than the burning of fossil fuels?


What about nuclear energy?

Koeberg nuclear power station is about 30km north of Khayelitsha where I live. According to Eskom, South Africa’s major power producer, Koeberg is the only nuclear power station on the African continent, and has ensured a reliable, safe supply of electricity to the fast growing population of the Western Cape for over 21 years. Is building more nuclear power stations the answer?

Green Bishop Geoff Davies (founder of the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Institute) and Kumi Naidoo (former Executive Director of Greenpeace International) don’t think so. They see the potential threat to health posed by nuclear energy, and the time and cost involved in building nuclear plants as being prohibitive.

After reading about the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear disasters and shocking results of dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I tend to agree with them. Nuclear energy may be a better option than the burning of fossil fuels, but the cost and potential danger posed by developing more nuclear plants shouldn’t be ignored.

But what then is a solution for those vulnerable households without electricity?

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What about renewable, sustainable energy like solar power?

I noticed that a crèche in Khayelitsha had solar power, so I did a bit of investigation and found out that a company called Grey Green had helped them.

Solar and wind energy sources have proven to be cost effective and efficient, and generate electricity with no associated air pollution. South Africa, like other countries, has internationally competitive companies able to produce green energy and help meet the growing energy demand.

Grey Green is a South African sustainable energy engineering company established in 2010. It is based in Cape Town and operates throughout Southern Africa. Their “Eco-Container” concept won a Mail and Guardian Greening the Future award in the Community Renewable Energy Innovations category. It was also voted as one of the top eight energy efficiency consultants nationally by the PSEE (Private Sector Energy Efficiency) NBI programme. The programme was endorsed by the Department of Energy and UK Aid.


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Strong Value Proposition

I spoke to Mr Nishen Brijraj the Director of Grey Green energy to find out more about the Company.

He said that “our reason for existing is to harness our skills and experience to develop projects with a strong value proposition for our clients – to help them make use of sustainable energy that is accessible, cleaner and more efficient, in order to conserve our natural resources and preserve the environment, while promoting socio-economic development”.



Grey Green’s approach is driven by a responsible social and environmental ethic.  

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We strongly believe that the greatest potential to reduce carbon emission and live more sustainably lies in the youth and have therefore committed to try and provide this much needed education. Our entire business portfolio is focussed on being 100% socially and environmentally responsible.

Accordingly, Grey Green have helped various large industries and NGO’s to supply technical energy solutions in areas on the Cape flats such as Langa, Kensington and Khayelitsha, as well as in Gauteng and Soweto.



The container crèche I noticed in Khayelitsha is a good example of how their off-grid solar PV solutions can help bring electricity and light to vulnerable communities with no access to the grid.

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Solar panels on container roof at the crèche, lights installed, enclosure used for the battery.
Grey Green have developed a light box which uses a portable solar panel to charge a battery for powering lights, radios and cell phones. In collaboration with the Breadline Africa NGO they have brought this solution to the rural area of Umsobomvu in the Eastern Cape as well Kwa-Zulu Natal. “We have also helped to supply energy beyond our borders in the Congo’’, said Mr Brijraj.

To find out more about Grey Green’s projects follow the link

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Benefits of Renewable, Sustainable Energy

After talking to Mr Brijraj there is no doubt in my mind that renewable, sustainable energy solutions can help bring electricity to those who have no access to it and play a vital role in supporting socio-economic growth, as well as helping to look after our environment, health and well-being.

Call to action

Over the course of the last few months, Gondwana Alive has published a series of blogs exploring energy.

  • The first was published on the 1st September and introduced the pros and cons and alternatives to nuclear energy.
  • The second looked at what motivated Green Bishop Geoff Davies and Faith communities to stand together in saying NO to nuclear energy and YES to God given solar and wind energy.
  • In this blog we explore how renewable, sustainable energy solutions can aid vulnerable communities.

We understand that the related technology has developed so fast over the last few years that the policies and plans governing energy in South Africa may be based on outdated information.

We reiterate our call for experts in the field to please help by developing a current, constructive plan that shows how we can meet our current and future energy needs through renewable sources, avoid the potential dangers and cost of nuclear energy, and how we can convert from fossil fuels to renewable sources without causing an economic meltdown. Germany has done it – why can’t we?