In­no­va­tive think­ing is driv­ing the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties

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The enor­mous chal­lenge of tak­ing elec­tric­ity to thou­sands of re­mote, ru­ral ar­eas through­out South Africa de­mands in­no­va­tive en­tre­pre­neur­ial think­ing. Lay­ing cables is a costly af­fair, and de­liv­er­ing elec­tric­ity to some of our poor­est cit­i­zens is never go­ing to be a very prof­itable ven­ture. But it’s a govern­ment im­per­a­tive, and one that bright think­ing by Pre­to­ria-based en­gi­neer­ing firm Mpha­phuli Con­sult­ing is help­ing to re­solve. The com­pany also has of­fices in Lim­popo.

Un­til the com­pany stepped in, pro­jec­tions were that it would take un­til 2025 be­fore ev­ery home in South Africa had elec­tric­ity. But elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer Lu­funo Mpha­phuli has de­vel­oped a model that could see the task com­pleted far sooner.

He and his com­pany are cur­rently work­ing on Pro­ject Mabone, tak­ing power to more than 26 vil­lages in the Greater Tu­batse mu­nic­i­pal­ity. When that is com­pleted, they will have con­nected more than 30 000 ru­ral house­holds to the elec­tric­ity grid.

Govern­ment ini­tially aimed for uni­ver­sal ac­cess to elec­tric­ity by 2012, yet more than 2 mil­lion house­holds are still in the dark, and more houses are be­ing built all the time.

KwaZulu-Na­tal, the East­ern Cape and Lim­popo have the high­est num­bers of un­con­nected homes. In fact, Mpha­phuli doubts whether even the most ef­fi­cient of South Africa’s 284 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can claim full elec­tri­fi­ca­tion.

Mpha­phuli Con­sult­ing has de­vel­oped an ef­fi­cient way of work­ing within the con­straints of mu­nic­i­pal bud­gets, and the com­pany ex­pects to wire up an­other 20 000 houses in more than 40 vil­lages this year.

His model works by help­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to ac­cel­er­ate their con­nec­tion rates through his com­pany draw­ing down from elec­tri­fi­ca­tion grants al­lo­cated for fu­ture years, which the depart­ment of en­ergy and Trea­sury are happy to al­low.

With­out this ap­proach, what of­ten hap­pens is that a mu­nic­i­pal­ity starts an elec­tri­fi­ca­tion pro­ject but stops when that year’s money runs out, leav­ing some houses in the dark. Mpha­phuli Con­sult­ing, by con­trast, ap­proaches mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with a large back­log and helps them to present a case for per­mis­sion to fin­ish the elec­tri­cal roll-out on the ba­sis of guar­an­teed pay­ment.

“I stud­ied govern­ment poli­cies and looked at the sta­tis­tics and the al­lo­ca­tion of money in the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties,” says Mpha­phuli.

“Now when we do a vil­lage, we don’t leave any houses be­hind, be­cause we know the money will come

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