Tag Archives: Peri-Urban

Energy Poverty in Peri–urban Communities in Polokwane, South Africa – Identifying the Issues

Hlengiwe Radebe from SEA writes on energy poverty issues affecting peri-urban communities in Polokwane Municipality.

According to Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) Polokwane municipality, capital of the Limpopo Province in the north of South Africa and a SAMSET partner municipality, is 40% urban and 60% rural. In South Africa, most rural areas have basic service delivery challenges, and are still under the authority of traditional leaders. Part of the function of traditional leaders is to allocate land for new settlement. This traditionally-owned land does not have a typical market value and is usually far cheaper than land in urban areas.

Although 60% of land is described as rural in Polokwane, parts of the rural areas in Polokwane are transitioning from rural to urban areas (peri-urban), presenting a particular set of challenge to urban development. Some degree of agriculture still persists, but most people residing here are already dependent on urban jobs or grant payments. As part of urban municipalities, these areas have access to electricity, piped water and what one may call semi-adequate infrastructure. However, as ‘traditional land’ households are not part of the municipal rates and taxes system, presenting fiscal challenges to municipalities providing the services. Given that the land cost is very low, there is a strong incentive for the working municipal residents to obtain land and build in these outlying, but semi-serviced areas, rather than purchase expensive land in the urban areas. This does not lead to efficient settlement structure and increases the cost of servicing residents, including with adequate public transport.


An example of a house in Dikgale (Image: Alberts, M. et al (2015))

A good example of this situation is Ga Dikgale community in Polokwane municipality. Ga Dikgale has a population of 36000 residents in 7000 households. Dikgale is found approximately 40 kilometers north-east of Polokwane. The population lives in dwellings that range from shacks to brick houses. Mostly people are of Paedi ethnic group, all-African, and are an ageing population. The majority of the populace is economically disadvantaged in an area characterized by high unemployment rates, poor road infrastructure and poor service delivery. My visit to Dikgale brought back childhood memories – a sense of community where people could still walk to their neighbours and ask for salt or mealie meal.

A recent household energy survey (funded by Brot) conducted in partnership between Sustainable Energy Africa, University of Limpopo and Polokwane Municipality, covering 388 households in Dikgale, showed that 98% of households are electrified. The has been made possible by the South African government, that made a strategic decision to electrify all South African households both rural and urban, informal and formal, post the first democratic elections in 1994. This successful and globally leading National Electrification Programme was funded by national grants. As of 2016, according to Statistics South Africa, the South African government had electrified 91.1% households both in rural and urban areas although electrification rates in urban areas are significantly higher than in rural areas.

The survey revealed that electricity is indeed the primary energy source for household lighting, cooking and heating in most Dikgale households. Interestingly, in the area electricity is often referred to as “mabone” meaning light, as many households use the electricity for mostly lighting purposes. The survey indicated that wood is the secondary source of energy most commonly used for cooking, water and space heating. This is because households often run out of electricity due to lack of money, once their monthly Free-Basic Electricity (FBE) allowance provided by the municipality is used up. Other key energy challenges emerging from the survey in the area were:

  • Lack of awareness around the Free Basic Electricity grant: This grant promotes the Constitutional right of all South Africans to modern, safe energy services, and provides indigent households with the first 50 – 100 KWh free of charge (Eskom supplied areas are provided with 50KWh and the municipality supplied areas receive 100KWH). The survey indicated that, of all of the indigent households, far too few are registered to receive the FBE grant from the municipality;
  • Houses have no ceilings and corrugated iron roofs: this reduces the thermal performance of the house significantly. Houses without ceilings are colder in winter, where outdoor nighttime temperatures often drop to around zero degrees, and hotter in summer, where outdoor daytime temperatures of 30 degrees and above are common;
  • Lack of awareness around energy-saving options such as the ‘wonderbox’. A wonderbox, also commonly known as a ‘hot box’, is an insulating bag which holds the heat of the pot after boiling and thus reduces the amount of fuel needed to cook the meal, lowering energy costs. This works with most common meals, such as ‘pap’ (a traditional porridge made from mielie-meal), samp, beans, rice and stew. (Image: Marole Mathabatha)

Having identified the above challenges, Polokwane Municipality and other municipalities in similar situations can address the current energy needs of peri-urban communities more effectively. From the Dikgale household energy survey, it appears that alternative energy approaches can reduce costs, improve comfort levels and reduce the use of traditional and other problematic energy sources, with associated pollution and environmental degradation improvements. Even where FBE is delivered to indigent households, this is not enough to keep households going for a month. Alternative technologies such as solar lights, wonderbox, tshisa box (a 10 litre portable solar kettle) and solar cookers are some of the technologies that could benefit households. They may also create small business opportunities in the area. However, the past has taught us that community acceptance of such technologies thoroughly needed for any rollout to be successful. Social acceptance factors are not easily understood without trying them out in practice.

Access to modern, safe and reliable electricity is a key challenge in many African countries. Peri-urban areas can sometimes fall through the cracks – not being adequately addressed by either urban or rural service delivery programmes. Polokwane municipality, in partnership with Sustainable Energy Africa and a steering committee of key stakeholders, is pioneering a rollout of alternative services, starting with hot boxes that will be made locally as part of a small business development initiative. How Polokwane deals with these challenges and this pilot project could provide useful lessons for other municipalities in improving energy delivery to low income households.

Hot box locally produced by 5 young women from Ga Dikgale (Image: Hlengiwe Radebe)

3 of the 5 young women from Ga Dikgale running a small business producing hot boxes (Image: Hlengiwe Radebe)

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Energy and Sustainable Urban Development CPD Course – Day 3

This blog is part of a series on the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development in Africa workshop, 17 – 21 November, 2014, University of Cape Town. For more details on the purpose of the workshop, see this blog.

CPD blog day 3 image 1 part 2Charcoal briquette production and use. Image: GVEP International

Day three of the CPD course concentrated on the household energy poverty challenge in African cities, focusing again on Uganda, Ghana and South Africa for case studies. Energy is a cross-cutting issue in the household services sector, affecting areas such as health and life expectancy, food service and nutrition, water supply, and other basic life experience factors.

Currently 43% of South African households are living in energy poverty, defined by the government as having a greater than 10% expenditure of total monthly income on energy services. Informal households make up approximately 70% of the 3.6 million households in the country without electricity access currently. A number of factors lie behind this: from a policy perspective, the inclining block tariff and free basic electricity policies in the South African electricity sector only apply to electrified households, meaning households without electricity services, often the poorest, do not benefit from these initiatives.

A lack of access to appropriate, clean, safe, sustainable energy sources also forces households across the three countries to use expensive, unsafe but accessible fuel choices, such as paraffin or traditional wood fuels.

Following presentations on the current situation, City of Cape Town municipal energy & climate change department’s representative Andrew Janisch gave details on the City’s low-income energy services strategy. 265,000-360,000 households are currently part of the backlog for electrification by the city, and 500,000 households in the city live on less than R3,600 per month. In the face of this challenge, the city has embarked on a wide array of initiatives to improve urban energy services for the poorest, from Solar Water Heater dissemination on social housing projects to improving coordination and innovation in service delivery models and approaches. Key opportunities and lessons from the strategy include the necessity of coordination between municipal departments on energy, from tertiary education to housing to labour. “Radical” approaches and risk-taking, including the need for agility and flexibility institutionally, were also highlighted as useful approaches and factors. Finally, the critical nature of making the financial and business case for sustainable energy and energy efficiency was once again highlighted, as a route to improving acceptance and buy-in from municipal departments.

CPD blog day 3 image 2

South African informal settlement. Image: Melusile Ndlovu

Professor Trevor Gaunt from the University of Cape Town led the afternoon session on informal settlement electrification. Challenges to the common perception of the goal of electrification were a key theme of this presentation, and Prof. Gaunt proposed considering electrification on a socioeconomic and social basis, as well as the purely economic case for development. In addition, in challenging the common perception and approach, arguments were made for grid electrification in peri-urban areas, given the fact that dense populations can benefit most from grid economies of scale, rather than using off-grid solutions in these circumstances.

The latter half of the afternoon was dedicated to two field trips for the workshop participants, to the Blackriver Parkway office complex, and the iShack project in Enkanini, an informal section of Kayamandi, Stellenbosch,, a sustainability and off-grid electrification organisation.

cpd day 3 image 3

Part of the Blackriver Parkway office park’s 1.2MW photovoltaic installation. Image: Daniel Kerr

Blackriver Parkway is leading the way in embedded generation in South Africa commercial institutions, and currently has 1.2MW of installed photovoltaic capacity over three buildings. This mitigates the vast majority of the complex’s grid electricity demand, and great care has been taken to optimise the installations to closely match the demand curve of the complex. This has been achieved partly on the supply-side, through panel positioning to provide constant peak outputs over the course of the day, as well as on the demand-side, through the managing company investing in user education and buy-in for the complex’s client organisations. As legislation in South Africa is preventing organisations being net electricity contributors to the national grid, the complex generates the vast majority of its needs across the day from this solar installation. This project has become the first to legally transmit electricity back into the City of Cape Town’s electrical distribution network.

The iShack project in Enkanini is designed to provide the gamut of sustainability options to informal settlement dwellers, acting as a demonstration on how informal settlements can be more energy efficient. This covers insulation, biogas, wastewater treatment and water collection/saving, as well as off-grid electricity solutions through solar home systems. More details on the iShack project can be found in the following blog.

The Challenges of Low Carbon Urban Development

Mark Borchers from SEA comments on the C40 City Mayors Summit, held in Johannesburg in February.

There are plenty of ideas about low carbon urban development. These tend to circulate in policy documents, reviews and conference presentations. The challenge is to take these ideas and let them take root and gain life in the messy engine rooms of cities where the aircon may have been broken for many months, the average qualification basic, a receptionist painting their nails, the engineer gone and the finance officer unwilling to do anything new. It may take 3 months just to appoint a staff member; up to six months to issue a tender and appoint a contractor. I have heard of instances where money for retrofit of public lighting ended up paying staff salaries; and funds for solar water heating installation could not be spent as there was no engineer to sign off that the houses could structurally bear the load.

Scratch the surface, however, and there is also a wealth of experience, irreplaceable on-ground technical knowledge and institutional memory. I have also experienced, across almost every municipality in South Africa at least, a massive commitment to meet the environmental challenges facing us.

In February city leaders met in Johannesburg for the C40 City Mayors Summit. Political analysts Richard Calland and Jerome van Rooij (‘African cities need to work together’) posed the question: will African cities be able to ‘catch the wave’ of cities being “where it’s at” with regard to sustainable development and green-growth, given their fiscal and political/legal limitations? Not without a major gearing up, they conclude.

SAMSET aims to address this, following a model that has been enormously successful in South Africa to date: taking an sustainable energy/urban development idea, working on it hand in hand with city staff; when it hits a snarl-up, deepening the investigation, exploring a number of possibilities and moving closer to a solution – a programme of real intervention. As the work happens, the finance begins to flow in, the capacity to do the work expands, new offices develop and the institution reconfigures itself. Incremental, but potentially powerful.

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.

Municipalities: The Cities of Tomorrow

Alex Ndibwami of Uganda Martyrs University offers his perspective on urbanisation in Uganda, and its energy challenges.

Today’s municipalities as we know them are the cities of tomorrow.  I have come to terms with the fact that cities are inevitable but, much as development of any sorts borrows from global trends, it is also possible to plan how sustainably a society will harness the resources the environment provides.  If only as a warning, it has been predicted that the least developed countries unfortunately, will have the least resilience in the event of any [imminent] natural disasters – the consequence of a wasteful attitude toward our natural resources.

Top of the list of resources is energy, or rather where it is harnessed.  Energy at a social level contributes to how we live, how we work, how we relate, how we think and how we consume.  But for some time and now, today – the main question is about how efficiently it is used and how accessible it is.

In Uganda, like any other (Sub-Saharan African) society, there are a number of different sources of energy and end uses.  Hydro is a ‘popular’ albeit unreliable source of energy and in households for example, this electricity: is used for lighting, cooking, among other household needs or luxuries.  Nationally though, wood based fuel is the most utilised resource because it is not only affordable, but fits within the traditional way of living and preparing meals.  The urban dimension of things however, requires us to look beyond that household threshold to how accessible for example electricity is and how efficiently oil/gas is used and perhaps what alternatives there are in order to mitigate the impacts of (uncontrolled) consumption at both domestic and commercial scale.

But, this is not a concern of many a consumer, because all they need to know is how to survive.  Research initiatives are one way to fill this gap – to advance knowledge on how to deal with some of these issues.  As such, it is a great privilege to be part of such a formidable team.  Indeed, SAMSET is well situated to cater to as wide a context for Africa in West Africa (Ghana), East Africa (Uganda) and Southern Africa (South Africa); and such seasoned partners from the United Kingdom.  The Faculty of the Built Environment at Uganda Martyrs University is committed to research on energy and SAMSET adds an action-oriented dimension for which we are eager to undertake.  The level of service delivery and how far issues to do with energy are understood varies in each context; what is common though is that it ought to be improved.  In this regard, the first network meeting reiterated the need for a careful stakeholder analysis and appreciation of cultures of reception.  As such, for SAMSET to make significant strides, the selection of stakeholders has to take into account the contribution they will make and how strategically situated they are – in local government, community based organisations and the like.  In addition, we will be dealing with municipal councils and their constituents whose context we have to appreciate for them to embrace any interventions.

We look forward to a successful project.

60 Years of the UCL Development Planning Unit

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The Development Planning Unit from University College London has been working on urban development and planning in developing countries since its establishment in 1954. It is part of The Bartlett, UCL’s global faculty of the built environment.

Research at DPU focuses currently on ‘urban transition’, notably institutional paths in service and infrastructure production with understanding of the spatiality of urban poverty. Particular attention is given to the peri-urban context, characterised by rapidly expanding unmet needs. The DPU looks notably at the social complexity in policy planning linked to rapid urbanization. It also has a growing interest on how urban planning can improve city resilience to shocks notably linked to climate change.

DPU is not just involved in research but also in capacity building and action-oriented work in developing countries. It has accumulated a considerable body of research over the last decades. An international conference to celebrate the 60 years of DPU entitled “Thinking Across Boundaries: Re-Imagining Planning in the Urban Global South” will be held from 2-4 July 2014.

https://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/dpu