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Towards Renewable Solar Energy in Informal Settlements

An integrated solar energy model aimed at the upgraded development and economic empowerment of local slum communities in South Africa.

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The proposed design incorporates solar technology into the upgrading of informal settlements in South Africa, a country currently dependent on major fossil fuels like coal to supply the majority of their electricity needs. In the drive to upgrade informal settlements, this project suggests that governmental planning authorities and local NGOs alike have the capabilities to develop alternative solar energy techniques which benefit the end users, the communities. It proposes an integrated roof-PV system that is connected to the grid. All surplus energy produced from the PV’s is fed back into the grid, and used to power other parts of the city. Revenue is then generated from the sale of this electricity to the city and used to fund upgrades on site or to pay back initial investors. The key to making such a scheme a success is that firstly, it is essential that the informal settlement is a net producer of energy and secondly, that PV maintenance and security is very carefully considered. Furthermore, due to the relatively uncertain future of informal settlements it is necessary that the integrated roof is movable, ensuring security for investors, as even if the original shack no longer exists electricity will continue to be generated.


While the proposed scheme is primarily focused on providing affordable and renewable energy to the BT community in the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa, it also opens up opportunities to provide other services. It is imagined that the shared inverter per cluster could also provide services that can be shared amongst the cluster including (1) billing via sms and cellphone, (2) wifi/data, (3) satellite television.


Eskom is South Africa’s power producer, generating and distributing roughly 95% of the electricity in SA. Majority of Eskom’s power generation is driven by coal, meeting 90% of the country’s electricity capacity. This high dependency on fossil fuels means that South Africa contributes to over 40% of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions and is considered to be one of the world's largest emitters. As South Africa’s economy has continued to industrialize and more communities have gained access to the electricity grid, demand for energy has increased. This increase in demand, coupled with a lack of investment in infrastructure, has pushed South Africa’s electricity grid to its limits. Addressing this situation at all levels has become a priority and strong talking point which offers an opportunity for this proposal to receive serious attention. The proposed solution is a grid connected, but non-feed in based system collectively servicing a cluster of eight to twelve dwellings sharing a common inverter. This system represents the most cost effective solution and demonstrates how collective ownership based on a social grouping might assist with concerns around theft and maintenance aligning with other shared amenities like common courtyards and washing areas. The inverter technology would allow to export if allowed and could also communicate to a billing system.


  • Yes, for two or more years


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years


  • Yes


Urban-Think Tank has been developing this project in collaboration with PJCarew Consulting and Ikhayalami Development Services located in Cape Town, South Africa. It is part of a larger housing initiative called EMPOWER SHACK:

Attachments (1)


Abridged milestone report for Empower Shack project detailing planned solar model.

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