From SHS to grid electricity in low-income rural households

  • JM Green University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • DI Zwebe University of Twente


The Maphephetheni area is a unique area. First of all, it was the first rural area with Photovoltaic (PV) experience in KwaZulu-Natal. In 1996 a project was started by Solar Engineering Services to install Solar Home Systems (SHSs) in 50 households in this area. Secondly, Maphephetheni is now one of the few areas with both SHSs and grid accessibility. This survey investigated the experiences of households with access to both SHS and grid electricity. Specific objectives included comparing the usage of grid electricity and SHSs; to compare the daily lives of the households when using the SHS and using grid electricity; and to find out if a SHS is seen as an inferior energy source. All six households that qualified were interviewed, two households with grid electricity and a functioning SHS and 4 households with grid access but a non-functioning SHS. The survey was conducted through structured interviews of approximately one hour, with some space for unstructured discussion to express feelings about the usage of the different kinds of energy sources. There was a warm welcome in most of the families and they loved to talk about the subject. Results indicated that SHSs were not seen as inferior energy sources in the rural area of Maphephetheni. Half of the households preferred SHS to grid electricity, and all households were very content about the working of the SHS, while there were some complaints about the functioning of the grid. All those families who did not have a working SHS at the moment wanted it fixed. The households themselves did not have the feeling that much changed after they accessed the grid, but the equipment used with electricity increased, as did the number of lights in use. Refrigeration, cooking and bulk water heating changed slightly because most families already had a refrigerator before they accessed the grid (a move from gas to electricity), and cooking and water heating were still mostly done with paraffin. Kettles were now used for making tea.


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