Wifi-Enabled Solar Street Lights Stimulate SA’s Smart City Ambitions

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  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Think WiFi and GreenCape is set to deliver wifi-enabled solar street lights to a community in the Western Cape, South Africa.
  • This project, which will be introduced in Witsand, Atlantis, is directly linked to GreenCape’s vision for a thriving prosperous Africa mobilised by the green economy.

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

Traditional models for off-grid electrification have struggled to be replicated across different geographies, especially in South Africa.

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. 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, the City of Cape Town’s 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. 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 cooperation 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, the energy programme manager at GreenCape.

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

Why wifi-enabled solar street lights?

From this process, the Witsand community prioritised area lighting and connectivity as their 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. To date we have deployed more than 50 of the solar lights around our WiFi Hotspots, and will continue to roll this project out in existing areas as well as install more lights in new areas, like Witsand,” said Janine Rebelo, CEO of Think WiFi.

“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 loadshedding challenges in South Africa. We have also seen micro-business start to evolve around these Think light stations, which enable them to stay open after hours, furthering our vision to create local economic empowerment opportunities in the communities we serve,” she added.

The MoU also outlines that there will be 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 (ASDU) and wifi infrastructure (Think WiFi) were relevant,” said Radmore.

While Vos added: “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.”

Over the past three years, GreenCape 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 approximately 6,000 homes and ~16,800 people

Author: Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl

This article was originally published on ESI Africa and is republished with permission with minor editorial changes.

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