Ngangonwandle, 50km from Coffee Bay, is the largest school in the district with more than 2000 learners, none of whom had electricity at home – but that was before SolarTurtle. In case you haven’t heard of one before, the SolarTurtle is a small or micro for-profit business operating close or inside a poor or rural community to provide the same services as a standard utility provider. Unlike standard utilities, SolarTurtles rely on renewable energy (RE) to generate the electricity sold to their customers.

“Standard providers have trouble servicing these communities for various reasons.” SolarTurtle founder James van der Walt says on the Ugesi Gold website. “Firstly, these communities are typically far from the national grid. Secondly, the households in these areas are often scattered far apart, sometimes over difficult terrain. Thirdly, these communities are poor, which makes it difficult to finance the infrastructure required to connect them to the grid. Fourthly, cable theft is a massive problem in South Africa” van der Walt says.

A standard 6m shipping container is converted into a mobile power station where locals can purchase electricity by the bottle (special battery packs) as well as energy efficient devices. The franchises require very little maintenance or skills to operate and no on site infrastructure is required. “Ugesi hopes to start as many of these micro-utility businesses throughout South Africa expanding to Sub-Saharan Africa in the near future.” explains van der Walt. “A good analogy is that of a water-well. The SolarTurtle serves as the source of electricity (well), which the local community visits with batteries (buckets) for recharging. These battery packs are then taken back home where they can power smaller electrical appliances like lamps, radio, small TV etc. The fact that there is no transmission infrastructure required cuts down on set-up time and costs. In addition, battery packs can be carried to where they are needed, which means the inaccessible terrain associated with rural communities is negated. With a cheap RE generator and a simple distribution network, the SolarTurtle can provide power to rural households without them needing to house RE systems of their own.” he says.

Visit Ugesigold for more on this smart project.