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Cape Town informal settlement gets WiFi-enabled solar lights

Read time 4min 30sec
From left: Mike Mulcahy, CEO, GreenCape; Janine Rebelo, CEO, Think WiFi; Jack Radmore, energy programme manager, GreenCape; Marnus Kruger, COO, Think WiFi; and alderman James Vos, mayoral committee member for economic opportunities and asset management, City of Cape Town
From left: Mike Mulcahy, CEO, GreenCape; Janine Rebelo, CEO, Think WiFi; Jack Radmore, energy programme manager, GreenCape; Marnus Kruger, COO, Think WiFi; and alderman James Vos, mayoral committee member for economic opportunities and asset management, City of Cape Town

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed this week between Internet service provider Think WiFi and non-profit organisation (NPO) GreenCape to deliver WiFi-enabled solar street lights in Witsand, a Cape Town-based informal settlement in Atlantis.

Through GreenCape’s Alternative Service Delivery Unit (ASDU), the organisations’ vision is equal and unhindered access for all South Africans to an open, technically sound, socially inclusive and commercially resilient energy economy.

The NPO was established in 2010 to support the development of the green economy in the Western Cape province.

The MOU comes a week after Think WiFi’s partner in rolling out free public WiFi in SA, Google, announced it will close its Google Station service in the country.

However, on its exit, Google said: “We are transferring our Station operations in South Africa to Think WiFi, which will now carry out the project independently.

“We’ll work with Think WiFi on a plan to transition the service to them, and continue to support them until the end of 2020. We remain committed to looking for ways to make the Internet more accessible to users around the world.”

Unserviceable communities

According to GreenCape, traditional models for off-grid electrification have struggled to be replicated across different geographies, especially in SA.

The ASDU has been established by GreenCape to design, facilitate and manage the provision of energy services to unserviced and unserviceable communities, on behalf of relevant stakeholders.

It said the ASDU applies an adaptive co-design framework to facilitate community-led energy provision.

“ASDU is driving the rapid provision of reliable, affordable and safe energy innovations to address basic needs, drive social development and create jobs,” said alderman James Vos, City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management, who was present to witness the signing of the MOU at GreenCape.

“ASDU builds the foundation for accelerated socio-economic development and turns the current lack of infrastructure into an opportunity for empowerment,” he added.

ASDU’s electrification approach is built to allow for increased stakeholder buy-in by providing stakeholders with a collective space to re-imagine energy provision solutions in new and innovative ways, GreenCape said.

Together with key stakeholders, the ASDU team designs and adapts the process of electrification in close collaboration with existing local community organisations, academia, government and industry.

“This multi-stakeholder co-operation allows for the culture of participation to develop, giving owners of the social challenge control over how technical systems are used, and which functionality underlies the usage of these systems,” said Jack Radmore, energy programme manager at GreenCape.

The partnership with Think WiFi originated after ASDU enumerated more than 2 500 households in the Witsand informal settlement.

The NPO said this was done with a focus on creating a strong social foundation for service delivery, building an inclusive platform for local community members to express infrastructure preferences and to understand the communities’ propensity to pay for infrastructure services while also mapping existing infrastructure assets.

From this process, the Witsand community prioritised area lighting and connectivity as its most pressing energy-related needs.

“We are excited to partner with GreenCape to help solve some of the connectivity and lighting challenges in the areas we operate in,” said Janine Rebelo, CEO of Think WiFi.

“To date, we have deployed more than 50 of the solar lights around our WiFi hotspots, and will continue to roll out this project in existing areas as well as install more lights in new areas, like Witsand. These solar lights, or lollipops as they are called, not only provide area lighting, they also enhance safety and security in the surrounding area.

“We have found that combining our lighting lollipops with WiFi greatly improves conditions in an area and has created a demand for these services, especially with the current load-shedding challenges in South Africa. We have also seen micro-business start to evolve around these Think light stations, which enable the them to stay open after hours, furthering our vision to create local economic empowerment opportunities in the communities we serve,” she added.

Continued collaboration

The MOU also outlines continued collaboration on new sites to explore the overlap of energy services and connectivity, in this case, the provision of public WiFi infrastructure.

“As GreenCape (ASDU) and Think WiFi enter and explore new areas and communities, we want to collaborate further on community engagement, the provision of electricity services and WiFi infrastructure where relevant,” said Radmore.

“Access to energy is a prerequisite of human development and, with ASDU now driving energy provision in each of these areas, there is the potential to increase in-home education, create meaningful employment, reduce unsafe and illegal connections and build a safe and united community,” Vos added.

Over the past three years, GreenCape said it has launched and funded three ASDU sites, with interventions ranging from WiFi-enabled solar street lights to home solar systems and microgrids. These three sites cover about 6 000 homes and 16 800 people.

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