Engineering Knowledge and Research Program Revisited

Simon Batchelor from Gamos on the potential changes in citizen behaviour over the last decade from some previous research, and how the SAMSET project will help to investigate this.

One of the things that excites me about the SAMSET research project is that we potentially get to revisit earlier research and consider the changes in citizen behaviour over a decade or more.  Back in 2005 we researched the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, as part of the Engineering Knowledge and Research (EngKaR) Programme of the UK Department for International Development (DFID).  A sample of 226 households was drawn from four neighbourhoods, representing informal settlement without services (at that time), informal settlement with basic services, RDP[1] houses with services and a community of ‘core houses’[2].  Unusually for that time the electricity supply in the township was operated by an intermediary energy supply company, PN Energy.  PN Energy was set up in 1994, had expanded its customer base from 6,000 to 60,000 households, and reduced non-technical losses from around 80% to nearer 5%. They used prepayment technology exclusively, and the connection fee for a household wa 150 R.  Nearly 10 years after, I took another look at the PN Energy website and I have to admit that I found the current website fairly uninformative, and I am not sure whether PN Energy has retained its autonomy from Eskom?

Gamos Blog March 14 Image

For us at that time it was fascinating to see how people managed energy use in the home.  The study divided the sample into two groups according to whether household income was above or below R1,500 per month.  Energy costs were relatively high for both groups, and amongst the poorer group energy was actually the second highest item of household expenditure.  Obviously the exact data is out of date now, and updates are required, but to us it was fascinating that in 2005, electricity appeared to be the preferred means of cooking, at least where people had access to electricity (either formally through a prepayment meter, or informally).

Main cooking appliances

Type of electricity supply
Main cooking appliance Pre-payment meter Extension cord No electricity

Electric stove / oven

68% 53%

Gas stove

8% 8%

Paraffin stove

24% 47% 92%

N (households per group):

151 36 37

‘Extension cord’ means just that.  For example, one side of the road which had electricity would run a ‘frayed wire’ across the road to give other households electricity – not sanctioned officially but practical and expedient.  Such wiring of course can dangerously overheat if too much power is drawn through it.  Households with extension cords had a more negative experience of electricity supply than those with metered connections – marginally more households with extension cords experience power cuts, voltage drop that prohibits use of appliances, and damage to appliances.  Theft of cables was, naturally, more of a problem amongst households using extension cords. Although more households using extension cords experienced electric shocks, perhaps surprisingly there was no difference in the reported incidence of fires caused by electricity.

However I remember that life was more of a challenge to those who did not have electricity.  21% of the overall sample said they did not use space heating appliances and a further 23% did not respond (indicating they have no appliance).  At that time energy poverty was contributing to high rates of pulmonary / respiratory disease in the Western Cape.  Also most households without electricity used paraffin, which also presented health hazards.  26% of non-electrified households use an imbhawula which can also be dangerous when used in enclosed spaces.

Imbawula Image

I hope we get a chance to find out how life has changed over the ten years?


[1] Reconstruction and Development Programme

[2] Formal houses built when people first started moving into the area, these houses have basic servces, but are much bigger than RDP homes.

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