For a community in deep rural Limpopo, a successful and on-going partnership between the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Science (Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment) and Schneider Electric South Africa has ensured that the Gwakwani Village has had access to basic services through sustainable interventions. Gwakwani is a small rural village – with about 70 to 100 villagers – located in the northern part of the Limpopo province in South Africa.
Over the past three years, this partnership has empowered the community through its eco-friendly sustainable contributions to an area that is devoid of basic services or roads. Schneider Electric’s collaboration with the University of Johannesburg on the access to energy project started with the installation of solar lighting solutions to the homes and a solar streetlight followed soon thereafter.
This collaboration, between private industry, academia and the community, has created a legacy for many years to come. A legacy that has the advantage of Schneider Electric’s global commitment to sustainable solutions and the collective academic knowledge and skill sets of the University of Johannesburg School for Electrical Engineering. “The success of community outreach projects not only depends on the technical solution provided but also on the social and cultural acceptability of the solution and of the solution provider,” says Professor Johan Meyer, Head of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at UJ.
“Initially, we trained entrepreneurs from the village to sell and maintain our solar powered portable LED lamps, with its mobile phone charger, the Mobiya TS 120S,” said Zanelle Dalglish, Head of Sustainable Development for Schneider Electric Anglophone Africa. The units are especially suited for the demanding rural environment of Gwakwani, as it is an energy efficient, eco-friendly and robust portable lamp producing 120-lumen light output.“
Working in collaboration with UJ is in line with Schneider Electric’s sustainable development strategy, which focuses on partnering with academic institutions, NGOs, NPOs and funders to establish an electrification model for off-grid communities.
Equally passionate about creating sustainable, long term solutions, UJ Engineering students were provided with an opportunity for community engagement and on the job experience, ensuring they learn practically and not just academically.
A future re-imagined for the Community of Gwakwani Village through Access to Energy and Education Community members would need to travel some distance to fetch water from the river each day, where there was also significant malaria risk. UJ students identified that a high quality water system was a core need for the village, as water supplied from a diesel-powered borehole was insufficient for daily use.
“Schneider Electric South Africa assisted with the installation of a second borehole pump, donating its ‘Water of the Sun’ solution, which consists of variable speed drives to power the water pump, and a 4Kw solar panel solution, provided by UJ. Now the community has access to a reliable water supply for everyday use and a newly installed drip irrigation system, which allows them to plant and grow vegetables to support themselves and sell their produce to surrounding villages,” continues Dalglish.
UJ suggested containerised solutions were needed for a solar powered bakery and the village’s first crèche. Schneider Electric, a global leader in energy management and automation, supported the set-up of the solar powered containers, ensuring community members’ access to education for their children and economic opportunities for many years to come.
The bakery, which had to be designed and installed in a very remote location, is now fully operational and delivers between 120 – 140 loaves of bread per day, which generates income for the community.
The University of Johannesburg Electrical Engineering Department, with the support from Schneider Electric South Africa, continues to monitor the performance and optimisation of the solar system.
“Project Connect at Gwakwani Village has provided students with an opportunity, not only to learn, but to give back to the community. Here we have seen private business working together with engineers, students and academics in an effort to connect people to their surroundings, to the economy and just as important, to the outside world. The importance of this project cannot be measured, both as a learning tool and a means to make meaningful social change in this country,” says Prof Meyer.
He goes on further to add “Through this initiative 35 households were supplied with
lights, enabling the children of the village, who walk 6km to the nearest primary school and 18km to the nearest high school to complete their homework at night. In a containerized crèche, with the first television set in the history of the village, the youngest in the community are exposed to educational channels on television and the wider world has now been brought to Gwakwani. The bakery also employs nine people, we’ve upskilled villagers, and their income is supplement,” says Prof Meyer.
The people of Gwakwani have expressed their heartfelt gratitude for access to running water, electricity, education and skills transfers. Through the intervention of a successful collaboration between industry and academia they continue to benefit from access to sustainable energy and education.
Not only does the community no longer rely on candles as their primary source of lighting, but one of the Mobiya entrepreneurs was also able to build a house with the money that he had raised through Mobiya sales.
“We are very proud to have had the opportunity to work so closely with the University of Johannesburg School for Electrical Engineering Faculty on this incredible project. A collaboration of this kind, one between private industry and academia, has had many advantages, and thanks to our commitment to sustainable solutions, collective knowledge and skill sets, we have created a legacy we can be proud of for many years to come,” concludes Dalglish.