Durban - Gratitude and happiness were the general feelings of the members of the Frere community in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal as Shell SA put their project of supporting access to energy into motion.
Speaking during the project’s soft launch on Friday, the transformation adviser for Shell SA, Ntobeko Mogadime, said the initiative formed part of their corporate social investment’s focus area called ‘Access to Energy’.
“The objective is to assist communities which do not have access to electricity, and to also uplift their livelihoods,” she said.
“As we know, access to electricity opens opportunities, so that is why we decided to venture into this project.” She added that the company was on a journey to transform itself from not only being a petrol supplier, but to providing clean, renewable and affordable energy as well.
Mogadime added that the Estcourt town was chosen as the first to receive the solar systems following an intense needs analysis. “We began by identifying the province with the largest number of people without electricity, and then narrowed it down to the area in most need.
“Shell SA also has a large presence in KZN, with establishments such as garages, blending plants and depots, so we began here, also because we have a Shell Ultra City nearby,” she said.
Mogadime said that the project also yielded job opportunities for unemployed graduates who were tasked with assisting in conducting the needs assessment, while other unemployed locals were hired to assist in the process of lifting and installing the solar panels.
Local shop owners were also provided with the training and resources to sell electricity vouchers to the recipients of the solar systems.
The first-of-its-kind pilot project, which began on Friday, will see Shell SA install solar systems for 200 households in total, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of September this year.
They aimed to install 50 solar systems in Frere and 150 in Weenen, a neighbouring town. A monthly electricity and maintenance fee of R200 would then be paid by each household, prior to the transfer of ownership, over five years.
Recipients would receive a grace period for the first month of installation. Isaac Mkhonto, project manager for NuRa, a solar service provider in KZN, said that they were grateful to be a part of an initiative of this magnitude.
“Shell SA got into contact with NuRa, and tasked us with designing a system that is able to accommodate many electrical appliances.
“The solar system will enable the user to have electric light, use a TV set, fan, fridges, charge their cellphones and can play their radio sets. “The solar system comprises two insulated solar panels which entail a 460 watt-peak, and a lithium iron battery which carries four kilowatts of power.
The energy would be drawn from the light,” he said.
One of the recipients of the solar system, 57-year-old Octavia Gabela, was over the moon after receiving the system. Gabela, who has been without electricity for well over a decade, said she was extremely grateful for the installations and the immense change it would bring for herself and her big family.
“We did not have a fridge because we did not have electricity. It was harder in summer due to the hot weather conditions, because our perishable foods would deteriorate at a much quicker rate, which was a loss because we would then have to throw it away.
The children faced difficulty as they had to use candlelight,” she said. She added that although there was a fee attached to the systems, she did not mind having to pay R200 as opposed to the constant cost of candles and paraffin.