The African Utilities Week conference held from 16– 18 May is an internationally recognised water and energy platform for ministers and managers, financiers, scenario planners and technology companies to network and discuss the opportunities and challenges of new technology and business models. Between sessions dedicated to megawatts and mega water schemes were many exciting presentations on low cost technologies.

AUW Innovation Hub for water & energyLike seedlings in a forest these small scale innovations open access to resources at a local level. More than just filling the gaps in infrastructure provision, they offer new models for service delivery based on community management and or co-ownership.  Many are enabled by the growth of and increasing accessibility of smart technologies. Most encourage social empowerment and provide environmentally sustainable options.

What are some of the exciting seeding innovations in clean and affordable energy and water provision and can they be scaled up?

Localising Energy generation.

The same technologies that are disrupting the old model of large utilities providing grid tied electricity are bringing affordable electricity to local communities.  Three of the many innovative community based models showcased at the African Utilities Week were iShack, Zonke Energy and the Solar Turtle.

solar turtle cropped 2The Solar Turtle is an award winning secure solar power station in a shipping container designed to support rural schools.  Soon after the government provided solar panels to off grid schools, syndicates of thieves stole them.  The Solar Turtle provides a secure office and charging station for shelves of batteries for communities in the dark. The batteries are rented out much like refilled gas cylinders for lighting, charging cellphones and even running TV sets.  They are charged by solar panels that fold open each sunny day. The Solar Turtle provides rural schools with electricity to run their internet and emails, provides a printing service and charges phones.  Instead of using corporate social responsibility financing to give the solar turtles to schools, they are rented to woman entrepreneurs and based on school grounds. The pilot project affirms this approach.  The leases are long term so that the women can pay back the capital outlay of R400 000 over 20 years, earn an income and provide a valued service to the school and village community.  For more info go to:

The Ishack solar home project is an option for urban households in informal settlement areas who were on long waiting lists for grid electricity. It is an initiative of the Stellenbosch Sustainability Institute Innovation Lab. Essentially iShack is a mini home solar system that provides LED lights, a TV and cellphone / laptop charging for a monthly rental.  The system includes a solar panel, battery and controller for each home that subscribes.  In Enkanini, Stellenbosch, 1200 solar home systems have been installed. Much of the monthly rental is subsidised by the free basic electricity grant for low income households.  It demonstrates a financially sustainable and scalable model for providing clean energy which also builds local understanding about the independence that PV can offer and creates local jobs through installation and maintenance contracts. For more info go to:

Zonke energy PV installationZonke Energy is a micro-grid system with batteries for off- grid communities. They market themselves as alleviating power poverty in Africa. Currently they are based in Cape Town, Phillipi, where they have installed a nano grid pilot in Jabula community to satisfied clients.  The PV panels and batteries are on private property which is leased from the owner and the nano grid radiates from this location.  Zonke sells time based electricity consumption with a daily cap at less than R1 per hour rather than kWhs.  This works because the system only powers LEDs, a radio and a USB charger and consumes between 2- 3 kWhs per 24 hrs. One option does include a TV and DSTV. Remote monitoring of the system maps generation with consumption and battery status.  Zonke believe they have a financially viable and scalable model which they envision rolling out to energize informal settlements throughout Africa. For more info go to: or

In the water sector

A simple, but significant invention for rural and urban communities who do not have access to safe drinking water is filter paper impregnated with silver nano particles.  The sturdy FoliaWater filter paper fits into a large funnel, even one cut from the top of a large water bottle. It kills 99.9% of E-coli, cholera, typhoid, bacteria and worms and physically filters out protozoa, and dirt. Finally it looks as if there is a no energy, low cost, effective and easy to use solution to safe drinking water. The marketing phrase Paper for Pennies. Water for Billions sums up the low technology folia FoliaWater that can provide safe drinking water affordably.  For more info go to:

ArumLoo by IsidimaWhile the severe drought in Cape Town awakened many to the absurdity of flushing our toilets with 6 to 11 litres of drinking water, Jonny Harris of Isidima Design and Development has been working on a low flush toilet.  Using the genius of nature as his starting point he looked beyond low flush mechanisms to shapes in Nature that facilitate flow.  Meet the Arumloo – when nature calls!  Based on the vortex spiral of an arum flower, the Arumloo flushes with less than 2 litres of water.  Jonny smiled awkwardly as he explained that its elegant design and small cistern in no way detract from its ability to shift loads.  We should all be smiling to hear that the Arumloo is already in production. Now there is an alternative to flushing large volumes of drinking water down the toilet in our water stressed country. For more info go to:



Kim Kruyshaar June 2017