Tag Archives: Polokwane

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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Bring Me Sunshine…

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the Witkop Solar Farm in Limpopo Province, South Africa,

At our recent network meeting in Polokwane, we visited Witkop Solar Farm which is within the municipality’s boundaries.  Witkop is a 30 megawatt solar farm built and maintained by SunEdison in the province of Limpopo of South Africa.  There is remarkably little on the internet to describe this installation although that may be a function of the ease of installing and running solar farms?  It was part of South Africa’s push to get Independent Power Producers to install renewable energy.   In an overview of the processes involved, Eberhard, Kolker & Leigland  (2014) note the difference between South Africa’s competitive tender approach and a Feed in Tariff as used in many other countries.   “South Africa occupies a central position in the global debate regarding the most effective policy instruments to accelerate and sustain private investment in renewable energy. In 2009, the government began exploring feed-in tariffs (FITs) for renewable energy, but these were later rejected in favor of competitive tenders. The resulting program, now known as the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP), has successfully channeled substantial private sector expertise and investment into grid-connected renewable energy in South Africa at competitive prices.”

Witkop was cited in the preferred bids in 2011 by the South African government, named in the pipeline in 2012, and construction started in 2013. As part of the terms of the financing agreement, power generated from the two facilities will be purchased by Eskom, the national utility in South Africa, through a 20-year power purchase agreement.

As part of our network meeting, SAMSET created a video ‘Aide Memoire’ of the visit, as seen below.

Energy and Africities Summit 2015

Mark Borchers from Sustainable Energy Africa writes on  the recent Africities summit, and the role that SAMSET played in advancing sustainable energy themes at the summit.

The Africities Summit is held every 3 years and is possibly the foremost gathering of African local government politicians and officials on the African continent. It is also well attended by national government and other players such as local and international NGOs.

The SAMSET team attended the 2015 Africities Summit in Johannesburg in November, and SAMSET organized a session on Sustainable Energy in urban Sub-Saharan Africa: the Role of Local Government (see the background paper here). It was competently chaired by the Executive Mayor of Polokwane (a South African municipality), Cllr Thembi Nkadimeng, and key recommendations emerging were included in the Summit outputs.

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Panel Discussion, Africities Summit, Johannesburg, November 2015: Source: Mark Borchers

In addition, SAMSET, in partnership with SALGA, GIZ and the City of Johannesburg, organized fieldtrips to sustainable energy installations in the area – rooftop solar PV, landfill gas electricity generation, sewage methane electricity generation, mass solar water heater rollout, and public transport and spatial planning systems (click here for an example).

Overall, however, although our event was relatively well attended, it was interesting to me that energy and climate change did not seem to be a priority in the minds of the majority of attendees. There were a few energy and/or climate change sessions held, and these did not attract much attention compared with many other sessions. Let us not forget that this relatively low level of participation in the energy events is in the context of a great range of parallel sessions of central importance to local governments, such as those around transparent governance, demographics, financial resources, decentralization and relationships with tribal authorities. In addition, the energy related events were not the only ones with unexpectedly low attendance. Nevertheless, it was apparent to me that energy issues were more peripheral to local government than I had envisaged.

On reflection, this isn’t surprising. Dr Vincent Kitio of UN Habitat Nairobi hosted one such energy event at the 2015 Africities, and told me that a similar event he organized at the previous Africities was the first ever that focused on energy. So energy is a relatively new consideration for local governments. In most African countries energy is considered purely a national function, and the important influence of local government on sustainable energy, such as in transport and spatial planning and building design, and the renewable energy opportunities from waste management, amongst others, has still not been internalized by any sphere of government other than in a scattering of pioneering municipalities across the sub-continent.

Yet, as noted by the Cities Alliance “…as long as cities and local authorities are not put in a position to take initiatives and be at the forefront of actions to make African cities more inclusive, competitive, sustainable, safer and better managed, there is little chance that Africa will overcome the challenges posed by rapid urbanization” (Assessing the Institutional Environment of Local Governments in Africa, 2014, p10).

This need to capacitate and resource local government applies to their role in promoting sustainable energy as well, and is of added urgency given the monumental challenge of meeting SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 7 in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the area SAMSET is working in, but, given how far we still have to go, many more players and resources are needed to achieve the huge shifts necessary.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Town Planning

Bernard Tembo from UCL writes on the benefits of bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and their integration into new urban planning ventures.

In our last article, Africities, 2063, and Time, Simon Batchelor and Sumaya Mahomed looked at the disjoint in project timescales used by donors, CSOs etc. and the municipalities. They elaborated the complexity process and stages that projects have to go through for them to see light of day, stating that instead of the commonly used timescales of 1-3 years, most municipalities’ projects have a longer timescale of between 10 to 30 years. This article gives an observer perspective on how town planning approvals and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in South African cities link.

Major South African municipalities have embarked on projects that will not only improve the efficiency of the transport network but also reduce emissions from the transport system. Municipalities such as Durban, Polokwane, Johannesburg and Cape Town are implementing BRT projects.

In Polokwane for instance, this project targets the areas that are densely populated. These area is currently serviced an inefficient public transport network and private transport. The City experiences loss of man-hours during peak time because of traffic jams. The City therefore, hopes that by providing a safe, reliable and efficient public transport network, the citizens’ social and economic livelihood could be improved.

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SAMSET team members and bus rapid transit lanes on a highway in Polokwane, South Africa. Image: Hlengiwe Radebe, SEA

The City of Cape Town on the other hand has an already functioning BRT system, not covering the whole City though. One of the objectives of this system is to encourage modal shift: from private to public transport system. In one section of Cape Town called the Northern Suburbs, there a new shopping mall called Bayside Mall. This mall is serviced by a well-functioning BRT system. However, despite availability of this functional public transport system, the shopping mall has a huge private car parking space (lot).

This raises questions about how well coordinated internal City development approvals and plans are: on one hand you want to encourage use of public transport yet on the other incentivising private transport system. It is an established fact that building infrastructure such as malls have a long life span (more than 40 years). And secondly and perhaps more importantly that because without putting in place stringent measures, private transport will continue to grow in the City. As private transport offers better safety and convenience for the user. Apart for convenience and safety, private transport is perspective as a symbol of esteemed status. With an increasing middle‑class, most transport users particularly those with enough disposal increase to shop in places like Bayside Mall will most likely desire to use private transport.

It would therefore be important that the City authorities relook at requirements for new developments before they approve building plans. One such requirement would be size customer parking space in shopping malls. I am aware that they are a lot of power and political games at play with such developments (shopping malls that is) but there is always a first.

This is an interesting challenge of synchronising long term plans with short term desires. A challenge that cannot be solved using a one size fits all approach, it requires consented efforts from all stakeholders.

Africities, 2063, and Time

This is a joint blog by Simon Batchelor from Gamos and Sumaya Mahomed, Professional Officer in Renewable and Energy Efficiency in the Cape Town Municipality.

At the recent Africities conference, some of the SAMSET researchers had a conversation with municipal partners, and this article tries to capture its essence.  Their subject – timescales.

In the development sector, donors, civil society, NGOs, researchers, all tend to speak in terms of 1 to 3 years projects. While the planning processes of logical frameworks and business cases allows for an impact after the project end, there are few agencies willing to commit to more than 3 years. SAMSET is actually a four year project and in that sense quite rare.  Most of the other USES projects were 1 to 3 years. Yet within SAMSET is the aspiration to assist our partner municipalities to gather data, create a state of energy report, to model the future (based on that data), to take decisions and create a strategy for ‘energy transitions’. And, within the timeframe of the project, to take some first steps in that strategy, some actions.

In a slight contrast to this, Africities has as its slogan – “SHAPING THE FUTURE OF AFRICA WITH THE PEOPLE: THE CONTRIBUTION OF AFRICAN LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO AGENDA 2063 OF THE AFRICAN UNION.”. It is looking at 2063!  That is (nearly) a fifty year horizon. Africities knows that municipal planning, changes in infrastructure, raising the finance for those changes, takes decades not years.

SAMSET is funded by UK donors and some of the researchers come from the UK, so lets take the London Cross rail link as an example. First of all, lets remember that the essence of London Underground – the transport system that effectively keeps London working – that the essence was established in 1863 (The Metropolitan Railway, using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives!). That’s nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. The cross link is a new tunnel that will join east London (the banking and business hub) to west London, and beyond. This tunnel has to go ‘in a straight line’ while at the same time missing existing underground tunnels, water mains, etc. At times it will be created just 1 metre from an existing underground structure.

So its perhaps surprising that it was apparently first mentioned in 1941, was written on a plan in 1943, serious consultations in the seventies, serious proposals in the nineties, commercial proposal in 2001, and decided on in 2005 (10 years ago) and construction started 2009. Despite the huge advances in tunnelling, it will still take another 5 years to complete.

And of course it is only one part of an ongoing dynamic change in infrastructure of one of the worlds leading cities.

So imagine now trying to raise funding for a Bus Rapid Transport system in Polokwane. The changes will require that roads be changed, new lanes created, negotiations with landowners of key areas, procurement of the equipment. It is not surprising that it has taken over 9 years since serious planning started (2006), and that it will take until 2020 before it is fully implemented, with all the associated traffic disruption of road works etc. Infrastructure in cities takes time to change.

SAMSET modelling shows what the energy consumption of a partner city might look like in 2030. It starts with a ‘business as usual’ model and then explores possible changes, assisting the partners to identify a key change that will make a good (low carbon) longer term change. In the case of Cape Town, the municipality asked for projections to 2040, as the felt 2030 was too close. The timescales in municipality minds are of 10 year, 20 year projects, not 1 to 3 year disconnected projects.

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Figure 1 Cape Town Growth in energy consumption per sector for ‘business as usual’ scenario.

And consider the energy impact of a building. A building will last 40 years or more, so if planning permission is given to an energy inefficient glass tower, the air-con commitment is there until 2063.

So municipal planning has a very long term view. Of course in a counter flow to this long view of the municipal civil servants are the politicians who have a very short term view. Politicians are often concerned with short term benefits and easy wins, so they or their party gets re-elected.  For city planners it is a difficult balance.

So when we think of energy transitions what is the right timescale? Well in a complex world we have to think of all the actors, their different needs and juggle all of them together. We do need to find early easy wins so that donors to research projects and politicians are happy enough to fund a phase two.  We do need to build capacity so that despite the movement of people from job to job, a municipality gradually gains the required skills to consult, plan and implement longer term energy transitions.  And we do need to have a long term view. Building infrastructure, even building buildings, commits a city to a particular energy path for decades not just years, and so those long term implications need to be taken into account.

Third SAMSET Network Meeting – Kalk Bay, Cape Town, 13 – 15 November 2014

The third SAMSET network meeting was held in Kalk Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, from the 13th – 15th November 2014. This meeting was intended to bring together project partner organisations with representatives from the project’s municipality partners, in order to share the current state of the project, as well as discuss ideas for further collaboration, provide further insight into the challenges facing municipal energy transitions in Sub-Saharan Africa, and discuss strategies for expanding the reach to urban energy stakeholders (for example, municipal/national policy-makers) of the SAMSET knowledge exchange model and research outcomes, mobilising support for energy transitions in the project partner countries.

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SAMSET Network Meeting, Kalk Bay, Cape Town, 13 – 15 November 2014 – Image: Xavier Lemaire

The SAMSET project is working with six partner municipalities: Cape Town and Polokwane in South Africa, Jinja and Kasese in Uganda, and Ga East and Awutu Senya East in Ghana. A broad spectrum of urbanisation and energy consumption exists in these municipalities. Both Cape Town and Jinja municipalities have a diverse manufacturing base and a growing (or in the case of Cape Town, developed) service industry, although Jinja still has some platinum smelting installations. Jinja is also a major transit hub between Kenya and the west of Uganda. Polokwane and Kasese are both rapidly urbanising manufacturing cities. Differences also exist between Ga East and Awutu Senya East, with Ga East being predominantly more affluent and better-serviced, whilst Awutu Senya East has a higher proportion of informality in the residential and commercial sectors.

Several commonalities exist in the state of energy picture in these three countries: significant energy expenditure in the residential and transport sectors is a common theme, as well as high proportions of informality, both in the residential and commercial sectors. This is most notable in the Ugandan context, with large part of the residential and commercial sectors combined in Jinja municipality being informal. The challenges of accurate data collection on informality were another common theme throughout these reports, focusing on the need for house-to-house surveys in some cases.

Project team-specific sessions on the first day revolved around the production of academic papers for the project, and a wide variety of topics were proposed to focus on, ranging from outputs from the University of Cape Town LEAP modelling, to case studies from Ghanaian municipal experiences with waste-to-energy, to more qualitative outputs from the Ugandan data collection experience.

Strategies for dissemination and awareness raising for the project were also discussed, including further promotion of the SAMSET blog and website, as well as new media resources, such as the beta SAMSET app for iOS and Android developed by Gamos, available for download from the Google Play store.

The second day of the network meeting revolved around input from municipal partners as to the ‘dream” of sustainability and sustainable energy transitions in their municipalities, i.e. what goals do the municipalities have for energy transitions, what barriers exist to these goals, and what opportunities are there to overcome these barriers. A wide array of propositions came out of country group discussions.

South African municipalities Polokwane and Cape Town noted the issues in disconnection of key departments in municipalities for energy planning, and saw networking with stakeholders as a primary barrier. Greater integration of departments, more engagement with the national regulator NERSA, and revisiting municipal energy strategies were key goals of the municipalities. SAMSET team members could assist Polokwane and Cape Town in facilitating knowledge transfer and lessons sharing within other municipalities to achieve this.

Ghanaian municipalities notably focused on LPG transport integration, BRT piloting and waste-to-energy piloting. Given the large portion of energy consumption attributable to transport in Ghanaian cities, fuel-switching to LPG, supported by the government’s national LPG dissemination program improving availability, is seen as a route to lower emissions and petrol/diesel consumption. Controlling emissions with transport by-laws, and continuing the piloting of BRT corridors in Ga East are  targeted. Investigations of waste-to-energy in both households and commercial developments are also targeted by Ga East and Awutu Senya East, both in terms of landfill-to-energy and household biodigester promotion, building on the work done by SAMSET project partner ISSER at the University of Ghana already.

Urban environment transitions including pedestrianisation in Jinja municipality and the creation of pedestrian-friendly zones in Kasese, were the primary goals in Ugandan partner municipalities. Key stakeholders were assessed as the municipal council and technical departments, transport operators, landlords, parking service providers, corporate organisations and the local community. The transitions targeted focused around improving the pedestrian built environment, both in terms of seating/lighting/other physical factors, to the improvement of safety. The partner municipalities’ methodology in this transition focuses on awareness-raising and campaigning to build public support for pedestrianisation projects, including regular meetings with community leaders and stakeholders to improve engagement and harmonise priorities.

The wide array of factors behind energy transitions were also highlighted in the concrete next steps definition component of this session, for example the huge political and public relations dimension of solar water heating rollout in South Africa, and the importance of data sharing and identifying data gaps between municipalities across the Sub-Saharan African region, achieved through knowledge exchange, lessons-sharing and the championing of the energy transition portfolio in municipal government. Considering energy transitions in isolation was warned against, due to the inherently cross-cutting nature of energy across all spheres of municipal activity. Finally, reflections were also had on the numerous sources of finance for municipal energy projects that exist across sectors, for example donor funding, corporate social responsibility promotion, and bilateral/multilateral partnerships.