Project 90 lights up rural households

Richenau mission station

Gary Fahy, our renewable energy and energy efficiency consultant, has spent the last few weeks installing renewable energy in a remote area of Kwa Zulu Natal. He and his team have been installing solar lighting kits in 50 extremely poor rural households, a hydro project for the local school at Richenau mission station and a solar tracker system at the Durban Botanical gardens. This is all part of Project 90’s renewable energy demonstration sites project. He sent us an email update earlier and we thought his experience was well worth sharing.

A happy resident with her new solar lighting kit

 “Things have been a little crazy lately. I am running on adrenaline at the moment! It’s been a tough few days and there are still many more to come. I’m up at 5am each day and on the road by 6, first collecting the guys working with us and then heading out to site. This involves dodging cattle, pedestrians, dogs, chickens and taxis, then driving through rivers, over mountains and along rocky cliffs. It’s been a bit like a camel adventure. We almost got stuck (and came unstuck!) a few times, which was especially stressful with expensive equipment in the back of the bakkie.  We have also got lost on many occasions, since my GPS does not seem to be comfortable with rural roads. And this is before we even get to the site! 

The houses

“Once we arrive at the site, each house is a unique challenge.  The walls are made of mud and the roofs are constructed out of thin sheets or thatch in most cases, so installing equipment requires a great amount of patience and creativity. The houses are far apart and some are situated on steep mountain side so walking back to the car when we forget something (which happens a lot since we are carrying sixty two thousand different tools) is not easy.  It’s also very hot and there are no shops or taps nearby. I’m sunburnt, I fell off a ladder this afternoon (actually it collapsed under me, I didn’t fall) and I have several cuts, stings, bruises and bites. 

Solar panel for the lights

“Then at the end of the day, we have to pack up and take another 2 hour journey back through rough terrain, this time in the dark, to drop everyone off and get back home. So when I eventually get home I just fall straight into bed. I have never worked harder in my life, and we still have 26 of the 50 systems to install! 

Turning on the light

 “But seeing the residents’ expression when they turn on their lights (the very first light they have ever owned) it makes everything worth it!! One lady came out of her hut yesterday and started dancing and singing! It’s just priceless, and makes every hair on my body stand on end. 

Dancing with happiness

“The guys we have working for us are complete legends. They are getting a very good crash course in renewable energy, and I will call on them wherever I can in future. The same can be said for the guys at the local school who have helped. Not only are people getting lights for the first time, 5 or 6 very poor people are getting a great opportunity to get involved in a blossoming local industry. I have committed to ensure that these guys stay involved with renewable energy supply one way or another.”

Well done to Gary and his team, and we look forward to hearing about your next adventure.

4 responses to “Project 90 lights up rural households

  1. Looks great, guys! But – terribly South African thought, I am afraid – are panels installed at that level not very vulnerable to theft? And is it possible to get a sense of how much illumination is provided?

  2. Hi David,
    The community where the panels are being installed is very small and rural, so hopefully theft won’t be a problem. And to answer your question, each panel can power three 6W LED lights.

  3. oliviaandrews

    Hi David, I also just found out from Gary that all the bolts used for the panels are glued in with a special glue to stop them from being stolen.

  4. This is really impressive – well done Gary & team, and Project 90×2030!

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