Green IT centres target rural SA

Alex Kayle
By Alex Kayle, Senior portals journalist
Johannesburg, 14 Jun 2011

Advent Green Energy Solutions has rolled out a pilot project to begin distributing mobile IT centres that are self-sustainable and solar-powered.

The container units, dubbed Mobi-Tek Mobile IT Centres, each feature 15 thin-client PCs, a wireless and V-Sat Internet connection as well as security cameras.

According to Jan Smit, MD of Advent, the first prototype is set to be distributed to the Kuruman Community Trust and will assist ICT training in the community.

“It took us three months to design and build the first centre. We expect to build 15 within a month,” says Smit, adding that the project has already received interest from a few large corporates.

According to the company, the Mobi-Tek centres generate their own electricity supply using solar power; have an air conditioning unit to cool the centre; and a satellite link to connect to the Internet from anywhere in Africa.

“We are pushing these centres to be distributed into Africa to under-serviced communities. We are also planning to roll out training programmes to teach people how to use these centres.”

IT literacy

Each unit weighs eight tonnes, and is three metres by 12 metres in size. The centres are capable of storing up to two days of power when there's no sunlight.

They were designed to be used in rural areas where in the past, communities would not have had access to computers. The IT centres aim to provide facilities to enable people to become IT literate and to provide IT resources to nearby schools.

Advent says each Mobi-Tek Mobile IT Centre will require maintenance and support. Each centre creates an opportunity for job creation such as an IT maintenance and support officer, IT training staff, entrepreneurs and staff to clean the centre, it adds.

Smit believes that while SA is becoming more energy conscious, it is still a relatively immature market in terms of government regulation and demand, and he says the country has a long way to go before becoming a truly green economy.

“SA is still 15 years behind Europe in terms of maturity in renewable energy. One of the biggest challenges is the high capital costs of green technologies such as solar panels and LED lighting. Most of these technologies still have to be imported.”

Smit explains that green initiatives can fund themselves in the long-term. “Carbon credits earned through green initiatives can be used to fund further greening phases in a project.

“The operating costs saved in the first phase one can be used to fund technologies for phase two. We are also starting to see that banks are willing to fund projects based on sustainability.”

Resource depletion

According to Smit, in 20 to 30 years' time, SA will experience a resource crisis, as water and energy resources, such as coal, are running out.

“That's why it's critical for both government and business to start looking at these problems now and turn to alternative forms of energy.”

He adds that businesses can no longer use electricity as they did in the past, as it is becoming unsustainable.

“Electricity costs are becoming very expensive, especially with Eskom's 25% year-on-year tariff hike. Municipalities also regularly add price hikes on top of Eskom's increase. This means if an organisation sits with an average R30 000 electricity bill per month, it will see this figure escalating to R60 000 within the next three years.”

Advent Green Energy Solutions was established a year ago and offers energy-efficient solutions to reduce waste, improve environmental sustainability, and reduce the total cost of ownership.

According to Smit, 49% of the company is self-owned, while an unnamed BEE partner owns 51% of the company.

Advent operates across all sectors and is working with government and municipalities on building solar energy systems for RDP houses, as well as solar panels and solar geysers. The company also provides renewable energy to communities that do not have access to electricity.