Following on from Andre’s recent post I thought it would be useful to provide an example of how Solar Water Heaters (SWH) are part of the reconfiguring of the energy network in Cape Town’s low income communities to engage with the dialogue he began…
Kuyasa is located in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township and not far from Mandela Park (see previous post). The residents have lived here for 10 years with residents moving from informal housing with a lack of services including electricity or water to the Government built RDP housing that was built here. Kuyasa itself means ‘dawning’ in Xhosa and has come to represent a new dawn for the residents as they moved from their old challenging conditions to this new housing. But this is not the end of the story and Kuyasa has moved forward again as a community. The installation of 2,300 solar water heaters (SWH), insulated ceilings and energy efficient lighting has helped the community become an African energy icon, a project that is continually cited as a success of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and a vision of the energy futures across Africa.
This was not an easy process with over 10 years of work by a wide range of actors including the community, the NGO, SouthSouthNorth and the City of Cape Town struggling to raise the required capital for the project, deal with the verification process of the CDM and organise the installation of the technologies. Although over 2,300 households have received these interventions (through the Department of Environment and Tourism’s (DEAT’s), Social Responsibility Programme and Provincial Government’s Department of Housing) there are still many households waiting for the next stage of the project.
The impact of the ceilings and SWH is currently being evaluated and it will be interesting to see which retrofit technology the households value the most. Its clear that with water heating accounting for a third to half of the average South African households energy costs that the SWH system is a beneficial intervention across Kuyasa. Yet site manager, Zuko Ndamane hinted, when I visited Kuyasa that it could be the less glamorous ceiling that has provided a greater level of comfort for the households; “Kuyasa has changed but I think the real issue during the last 10 years has been not having a ceiling”.
I think this partly comes back to the problem of winter and the lack of enough solar radiation to recharge the SWH as Andres has mentioned. For energy poor households the need for hot water is greatest in the periods of coldest weather and thus the SWH can provide only a limited level of support for families during the cold Western Cape winters. So although I like the idea of the poetic dance between technology and nature that Andres describes when considering the SWH I think there is a need to interrogate this from a social justice perspective. Thus my questions would include; does this seasonal variability make the technology redundant in the face of the energy needs of poor households? Are there better suited technologies that can provide a constant source of hot water? Furthermore, when we consider the idea that the SHW reinforces a low water consumption practice is this limited to poorer households as middle and high income houses are able to rely on electricity to heat water when there is not enough sun?
I think these questions raise some interesting pathways when considering the role of the SWH across urban energy networks of the global South and it will be interesting to note the similarities and differences that both South Africa and India will present as our research progresses.