A remote village located 300km north of Polokwane, Gwakwani now has access to energy and water through sustainable interventions, thanks to a partnership between the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Science and Schneider Electric South Africa.
A highlight of the project was the installation of a new solar-powered off-grid bakery, which not only caters to the villagers’ needs, but also provides a successful business opportunity for the community to sell their loaves to surrounding villages. The introduction of the bakery has also assisted with skills development in the area, from the necessary baking skills to learning to run and manage a small business efficiently.
“More recently, Schneider Electric has been working alongside UJ to make use of the Schneider Electric Solar Variable Speed Drive technology to support the installation of a cold storage facility for the village, introducing a modern-day convenience to the village we would normally take for granted,” says Zanelle Dalglish, Head of Sustainable Development for Schneider Electric South Africa.
The community had previously relied on water supplied from a diesel-powered borehole, which was insufficient for daily use. Through this initiative, both a second borehole pump and newly installed drip irrigation system were installed, allowing them to pump water and use the excess water through drip irrigation to plant and grow vegetables to support themselves and sell their produce to surrounding villages.
Malaria cases in the area have also reduced significantly, as residents no longer need to walk to the river to fetch water, where there is high malaria risk.
Households were also supplied with solar lamps, especially suited for the demanding rural environment, ensuring the village’s children are able to complete their homework at night.
“Paraffin lamps and candles were the primary sources of lighting for the village, before our donation of solar lights, which now provide a safe lighting alternative and an opportunity for cell phone charging. Solar streetlights were also installed to provide light in the pitch-dark evenings, and to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the project, entrepreneurs from the village have been trained to sell and maintain our solar-powered portable LED lamps,” she explains
Addressing the lack of preschool facilities in and around the community, a new containerised crèche was installed, which now boasts the first solar TV in the history of the village.
The company recently participated in the #GivingTuesday campaign, a global campaign intended to kick off the charitable season.
“In line with our sustainable development strategy, Schneider Electric partners with academic institutions, NGOs, NPOs and funders to establish an electrification model for off-grid communities. In this instance, our technology was embraced by UJ students, enhancing their own learning experience. For the Gwakwani community, we have made sure that this is a fully sustainable solution, where there is no ongoing dependence, and the village can continue to thrive on its own,” says Dalglish.